115b - Bala Matza

  • Rav Ezra Bick

            Today's shiur is on the sugya of "Bala Matza" (115b). The webscan is at


            As usual, you should answer the questions posed before continuing past the dotted lines.

            We are on daf 115b, "amar Rava" (line 19). Once again, it is a totally new sugya. (The numbers before the different parts of Rava's statement in the translation below were added by me).


Amar Rava

Rava said:

(1) If he swallowed matza, he has fulfilled (the obligation).

(2) If he swallowed maror, he has not fulfilled the obligation.

(3) If he swallowed matza and maror, he has fulfilled the obligation of matza but not that of maror.

(4) If he wrapped them in fiber and swallowed them, he has not fulfilled even the obligation of matza.

            Being already experienced students of Talmud (two months!), let us try and figure this out on our own. DON'T LOOK IN RASHI OR THE RASHBAM (yet)! We will start with the first two parts of Rava's statement.

            First question: What does "swallow" mean exactly? Obviously, it is different than "eat."

            Second question: Why does swallowing matza suffice, but not swallowing maror?

            Methodological hint: The two questions are interdependent. We will know that we understand what swallowing means when we have an acceptable explanation for the difference between swallowing matza and swallowing maror.


            Answer 1: "Swallowing" means eating without chewing. In other words, "swallow" means "only swallow."

            Answer 2: Eating is defined halakhically as swallowing. Hence, it suffices for matza, where the mitzva is to eat. However, for maror, there is an additional requirement that the bitterness be TASTED, and therefore one must chew a bit, so that the experience of the BITTER herb be felt. The assumption here is that "swallowing" (i.e., swallowing without chewing), is equivalent to "swallowing without tasting."

            Accordingly, the third part of Rava's statement is obvious. If he swallowed both matza and maror together without tasting either, he fulfills the mitzva of matza and not that of maror. In fact, this is so obvious, and follows so directly from the first two statements, that the commentators will wonder why it appears at all.

            We will wait with the fourth part of Rava's statement until later.

            The Rashbam, in fact, explains exactly as we have.

Rashbam (s.v. "bala matza") ("1" on the webscan)

Bala matza

If he swallowed matza - and did not chew it, he has fulfilled (the obligation), since he has fulfilled "In the evening you shall eat matza" (Shemot 12), since this is eating for him. However, l'chatchila (for preferable fulfillment), the taste of matza is required.

S.v. "bala maror"

Bala maror lo yatza

If he swallowed maror, he did not fulfill - for we require the taste of maror and it is absent. For this is the reason that the Torah insisted on making the mouth of the eater bitter, in order to commemorate "And they made their lives bitter" (Shemot 1). This is as I have found written in all the books and in the commentary of the Rach.

Other than the last line (which we shall address shortly), the Rashbam follows the reasoning above, adding only the textual basis for requiring taste of maror - the maror commemorates the bitterness of the slavery in Egypt, and therefore it is appropriate to require that the bitterness of the maror be experienced personally by the eater.


But now we have a new sort of problem, which we have not yet come across in our learning. As you might have surmised from the last line of the Rashbam, there exists another textual version of the gemara. The text we have explained is the one found "in all the books" that the Rashbam looked at, but he knows that there is another one. ("Books," "sefarim," for the commentators of this period, which predates the invention of printing, refers to manuscripts, which of course are copied one by one. Hence, to ascertain the correct text, one examines as many manuscripts as possible, since each one is theoretically independent.) In fact, the other "girsa" (textual version) is found in none other than Rashi, the Rashbam's grandfather and teacher. Take a look now in Rashi (s.v. "bala maror"). ("2" on the webscan)


            You notice immediately that the printed Rashi has two sets of parentheses, one round and one bracket. The rule in Talmudic printing and almost all printed books is that rounded parentheses surround text that the editor is taking out (and should not be read), while brackets surround text that is being added (and should be read). The resulting (corrected) text of Rashi then reads as follows:

Bala matza yatza

If he swallowed maror, he HAS fulfilled (the obligation) - It is impossible that he not taste the taste of maror.

            Rashi has a different girsa (textual version) of the gemara. Rava is stating that even maror can be eaten without chewing. This in itself would not be difficult, as it merely equates eating maror with eating matza (and all other eatings in halakha), where swallowing suffices. However, this raises the question of the next line in Rava, (3) "if he swallowed matza and maror, he has fulfilled the obligation of matza but not that of maror." Here Rashi has the same girsa as we do. Why does swallowing maror alone suffice, even without chewing, but swallowing matza and maror suffices only for the matza but not for the maror? Rashi answers in the next comment:

Bala matza u-maror

If he swallowed matza and maror - together, and he has not yet eaten either of them, he fulfills the obligation of matza, which does not require taste, but has not fulfilled the obligation of maror. Since he did not chew it, and he eats matza with it, he has no taste.

            The assumptions of the Rashbam were:

a. Matza does not require taste;

b. Maror requires taste;

c. Swallowing without chewing provides no taste.

            With what does Rashi agree and how, specifically, does he disagree?


            a. Rashi agrees that matza does not require taste.

            b. Rashi agrees that maror DOES require taste.

            c. Rashi claims that swallowing MAROR even without chewing DOES provide some taste.

            Explanation (in reverse order):

            c. Rashi (s.v. "bala maror") states that even though he has swallowed the maror, "it is impossible that he not taste the taste of maror."

            b. From point c above, it is clear that Rashi does require the taste of maror. He simply claims that even when swallowing without chewing, there exists a taste of maror. Presumably this is true because of the sharpness of the bitter herb.

            c. When swallowing both, Rashi claims that the presence of the matza prevents the taste of maror. Therefore, he has not fulfilled the obligation of maror (which, as we stated above in point b, does require taste according to Rashi). However, he does fulfill the mitzva of matza. There is no reason to assume that when swallowing both without chewing, the taste of matza is more noticeable than that of maror. It must be that Rashi agrees that there is no need for the taste of matza, unlike the requirement that there be a taste of maror.

            What exactly is the logic that states that maror is tasted when swallowing alone, but not when being swallowed together with matza? I assume that when swallowing without chewing, one does not get a full taste, but only a hint. This is sufficient to fulfill the commemoration of  "And they made their lives bitter." However, if there is matza that is also being swallowed (although not tasted, since it is not being chewed), this suffices to mask that hint of bitterness in the throat.

            (There is an interesting phenomenon that took place in the text of this Rashi. The corrected text which we read is undoubtedly the correct one, as it fits in with the explanations in Rashi and is corroborated by the Rashbam (in the continuation of his comment, which we have not yet read). But the manuscript from which Rashi was printed had two changes, which the editor of the printed text corrected. Where did those two mistakes come from? The answer is obvious. Since the gemara text before the copyist of the manuscript was that which we have in our gemarot, he naturally, and mistakenly edited his text of Rashi to match the gemara. Once he returned the word NOT to the statement about maror ["If he swallowed maror, he does NOT fulfill"], he had to take out the negative from Rashi's explanation ["It is (im)possible that he not taste the taste of maror]. The comment now appears to make sense, though the next comment in Rashi will not. I have separated and diagrammed the two versions of Rashi's text on the webpage -

http://www.gush.net/talmud/11rashi.htm )


            As I mentioned, the Rashbam corroborates this reading of Rashi. The Rashbam's explanation of the sugya continues:

This is as I have found written in all the books and in the commentary of the Rach. But our master (= Rashi) explained, if he swallowed maror, he HAS fulfilled (the obligation); it is impossible that he not taste the taste of maror….

Based on what is written in the books (i.e., the girsa found in our gemarot and not Rashi's girsa), we must explain that when he swallows matza and maror he nonetheless fulfills the obligation of matza, for you should not argue that even the obligation of matza is not fulfilled, since there are two negative points - that he has not tasted the matza and that it has not touched his throat, since the maror interferes.

            What is the final point in the Rashbam? The major question is, what is bothering him, so that he is forced ("we must explain") to offer an explanation for the case of "swallowing matza and maror"?


            This is an example of a principle of interpretation that is often explicit in the Talmud and sometimes used by the commentators. According to our girsa, we have already stated that swallowing matza suffices and swallowing maror does not. The third statement, where one swallows the two of them, concludes that the combined swallowing suffices for matza but not for maror. This seems to be obvious, and is no more than a statement of the two previous conclusions, about swallowing matza and swallowing maror, combined into one. The Rashbam sees this as a question and therefore explains that I might have thought that a combined swallowing would not suffice even for matza, because the maror interferes with the contact of the matza with the throat.

            Why does the Rashbam discuss this immediately after his citation of Rashi's alternative girsa?


            This should be clear. According to Rashi, this particular problem, what is being added in the third part of Rava's statement, does not exist. Swallowing maror does suffice according to Rashi (part 2 of Rava), but in a combined swallowing, one does not fulfill either mitzva. The Rashbam suspects that this point is the main advantage of Rashi's girsa, and therefore moves to neutralize it.


            We have one last line to explain from Rava's statement (part 4). "If he wrapped them in fiber and swallowed them, he has not fulfilled even the obligation of matza." The Rashi explains:


If he wrapped them - the two of them with the fiber of the palm, he has not fulfilled (his obligation), since it was not actually in his mouth, neither one nor the other.

            Wrapping a food in something else, so that the food is not in direct contact with one's mouth, apparently negates the definition of eating. The Rashbam (s.v. "korchan") adds, "and it is like throwing a stone into a container;" by which I think he means that it is like an injection into your system - the food gets to its final destination, but has not been EATEN.

            Question: A few lines above, the Rashbam stated that I MIGHT have thought that the maror interferes with the eating of the matza, since it prevents the matza from touching the throat, but this is denied by the third part of Rava's statement. What is the difference between being wrapped in fibers and being eaten together with maror?

            The answer will appear in Rav Kahn's shiur, below.

            One more question (for those with memories that go back a month or so): On 115a we learned that there is a problem in eating maror and matza together, as the maror de-rabbanan cancels the matza the de-oraita. Why is that not a problem here, where he swallows matza and maror together?

            The answer is in Tosafot, s.v. "yedei" ("3" on the webscan). I have posted the translation of the Tosafot on the webpage -


Read it yourselves, in the original or translation.


            Please review the shiur until now, before reading Rav Kahn's shiur on this topic. [My comments on the shiur are in brackets and signed - eab.]




by Rav Yair Kahn


Bala Matza Yatza

            Our gemara seems to lead to two conclusions. Firstly, swallowing is halakhically categorized as eating. Secondly, regarding matza, there is no additional requirement that demands tasting. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that according to the Rashbam, it is definitely preferable to actually taste the matza.

            Our second conclusion must be evaluated in light of a seemingly contradictory gemara in Berakhot (38b), which discusses whether the process of boiling alters the status of an item, thereby effecting its blessing. The gemara there attempts to demonstrate the significance of boiling based on a halakha that states that one cannot fulfill the obligation of eating matza once it has been boiled. The sugya there proceeds to deflect this proof, claiming that boiled matza is disqualified on the grounds that there is a special requirement to retain the TASTE of matza (and not because boiling changes the status of food). At first glance, the gemara in Berakhot directly contradicts our sugya, which denies the need to taste matza. In fact, the Me'iri suggests that the Rif omitted our sugya BECAUSE he maintained that one IS required to actually taste matza, and swallowing matza is not sufficient.

[The Rif does not cite the statement of Rava at all. This is puzzling, as any statement with halakhic ramifications should be in the Rif. Just as commentators comment on what is written in the gemara, so commentators on the Rif comment on what is NOT in the Rif. In this case, the Me'iri suggests that the Rif leaves it out because it is rejected by the gemara in Berakhot. -eab] 

            Most Rishonim, however, accepted our gemara, and apparently distinguished between the gemara in Berakhot and our sugya. One possible distinction is that the sugya in Berakhot focuses on the identity of the object. Is this object considered matza or not? Initially, the gemara thought that the boiling process re-defines the status of foods in general. Therefore, boiled matza, which is no longer considered baked, loses its status of matza. The gemara subsequently modified this formulation, and suggested that, in general, boiling does not alter status. However, regarding matza there is a special requirement that it have the taste of matza in order to be classified as matza.. Therefore, any matza that undergoes change which alters its taste loses its identity as matza, and consequently cannot be used to fulfill the mitzva.

            In our sugya, the matza has retained the appropriate taste. However, the person who swallowed the matza failed to taste it. There is no deficiency in the identity of the object, which is therefore acceptable. As far as the performance of the mitzva of matza is concerned, tasting the matza, although preferred, is not indispensable.

[Rav Kahn is here distinguishing between the object, called in halakhic parlance the "cheftza," and the action, called the "maaseh." Taste of matza is a requirement in the definition of the cheftza of matza, but not an essential ingredient of the masseh ha-mitzva. Hence must eat (swallow and not necessarily taste) matza, which is defined as unleavened dough with the taste of normal matza. -eab]

Bala Maror

            We have suggested that the mitzva of maror demands the normal act of eating as defined by the halakha, with the additional requirement of tasting the bitterness of the herbs. Accordingly, the mitzva of maror would conform to the standard norms of "akhila" (eating), which demand eating the minimum amount of a kezayit (the equivalent of an olive).

            However, the Rosh (25) suggests that the mitzva of maror does not require a full kezayit. The only reason a kezayit is in fact necessary is because our sages formulated the BLESSING as "al AKHILAT maror" ("the EATING of maror"), which thereby obligates "akhila." Evidently, the Rosh maintained that an act of akhila is not required with respect to maror. In fact, the Torah never demands the eating of maror independently, but views it as supplementary to the korban pesach - "al matzot u-merorim yokhluhu."

            Perhaps, the mitzva of maror, due to its auxiliary role, is defined as te'ima (tasting), as opposed to akhila (eating). This is in contrast to the mitzva of matza which is defined as akhila and not as te'ima. Normally, when eating, one performs both te'ima and akhila. However, there are certain examples where only one of the two is performed:

1) Beli'a (swallowing) is a case of akhila without te'ima. Therefore, it suffices for matza, which requires akhila, but not for maror, which demands te'ima.

2) Less than a kezayit is an example of te'ima, which is not categorized as akhila. Hence, in contradistinction to matza, the basic mitzva of maror can be fulfilled with less than a kezayit.

Karkho Be-siv

            Apparently, karkho be-siv (enveloping an item and then swallowing it) is defined as neither te’ima nor akhila. Therefore, not only is maror, which demands taste, disqualified, but the mitzva of matza is forfeited as well. Rashi explains that since the matza was totally enveloped, it is considered as not having been in his mouth. Although the matza entered his system, since it was not EATEN, it is similar to being nourished intravenously, which is not categorized as akhila.

            Many poskim limit this halakha to a situation where the food was enveloped by a non-food item. However, if one type of food was surrounded by another type, the act of akhila would relate to both. Therefore, in the case where one swallowed matza and maror simultaneously, the mitzva of matza is fulfilled even if the maror prevented any direct contact with the matza (See Rashbam s.v. "bala maror").

            The Lechem Mishne (Hilkhot Chametz U-matza 6:2) argues that the mitzva of matza would not be fulfilled even if the matza were enveloped in some other food. However, he agrees that maror does not constitute a separation. The exception of maror, according to him, is because maror is related to matza since there is a mitzva to eat both on the seder night. However, other food items, unrelated to matza in this regard, would form a separation.

            Both of the opinions, however, agree that karkho be-siv describes a situation whereby the object which has been enveloped is considered as though it had not passed through the subject's mouth. The Ran offers a different explanation for this halakha. According to him, karkho be-siv is not "derekh akhila" - the normal method of eating. Wrapping food in another object is so sharp a deviation from normative eating that the halakha did not categorize it as akhila. In fact, based upon the Ran, I would suggest continuity regarding our sugya. After establishing that swallowing, which is not so stark an aberration, IS halakhically categorized as akhila, the gemara proceeds to set the limits of halakhic akhila by excluding enveloping.

            Since the explanation of Rashi is based on separation, it is clear that the halakha of karkho be-siv is limited to cases of complete insulation. However, according to the Ran, where deviation from the norm is the critical factor, karkho be-siv does not necessarily refer to insular envelopment.