The Prohibition of Chametz on Erev Pesach

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
The gemara (Pesachim 4b) cites a dispute about the timing of the chametz prohibition on Erev Pesach. Various chumrot are suggested regarding both consumption and possession of chametz in the early hours of the morning of Erev Pesach. However, all opinions agree that as of the sixth hour of the day, chametz may no longer be eaten. In this shiur, we will assess the status of chametz during the latter half of Erev Pesach. Does the onset of these prohibitions during the latter half of Erev Pesach indicate that, in fact, Pesach has partially begun on Erev Pesach? Or are these prohibitions independent of the experience of Pesach?
This question must be explored through the prism of a fundamental dispute between R. Shimon and R. Yehuda (Pesachim 28b), who debate the status of chametz on Erev Pesach after midday (chatzot). R. Shimon maintains that no actual biblical prohibition exists, whereas R. Yehuda holds that chametz is biblically forbidden already during the latter half of Erev Pesach.
Obviously, the possibility that Pesach already begins at midday of Erev Pesach seems more likely according to R. Yehuda, who acknowledges an actual lav for eating chametz on Erev Pesach. The presence of a lav indicates that midday of Erev Pesach can be seen as an extension of Pesach – just without the severity of karet.  
If the prohibition to eat chametz on Erev Pesach reflects the stretching of Pesach to midday on the fourteenth, we would expect additional components of the chametz prohibition to be similarly extended backward to this period. In fact, the Rambam (Hilkhot Chametz 3:8) and probably Rashi (4b) assert that according to R. Yehuda, the prohibition of possessing chametz - bal yeraieh applies during this period as well. The applicability of bal yeiraeh on Erev Pesach indicates that the prohibition of eating chametz is not an additional, extrinsic prohibition, but rather an extension of the Pesach prohibition. Additionally, the Ran (Pesachim 6b) claims that chametz on Erev Pesach is assur be-hana’ah after chatzot. The presence of an issur hana’ah further indicates that full blown “Pesach-based” chametz prohibitions have already begun at chatzot, even though the punishment of karet is delayed until the fifteenth.
If the prohibition of chametz on Erev Pesach is an extension of the Pesach-based prohibitions of chametz, we would expect the two time periods of Pesach and Erev Pesach to be condensed into one mitzva in the list of 613. Surprisingly, however, the Rambam, who applies bal yeiraeh to chametz on Erev Pesach - presumably because he views Erev Pesach as an extension of Pesach – divides the issurim into two separate mitzvot (lavim 197 and 199). Perhaps the discrepancy in the liability for karet, which applies during Pesach but not on Erev Pesach, renders the prohibitions sufficiently disparate that they are classified as separate mitzvot.
The question of whether chametz on Erev Pesach is prohibited as an extension of Pesach or as an autonomous prohibition may impact the severity with which chametz is treated on Erev Pesach. Most forbidden foods become permissible when they become mixed with overwhelming volumes of permissible foods. However, this effect, known as bitul be-ta’aroves, does not apply to chametz, which is asur be-mashehu. Even if miniscule quantities of chametz are embedded in the mixture, the entire mixture is banned. Does this stringency apply to a mixture of chametz that occurs on Erev Pesach? Has Pesach actually begun, such that the stringencies of chametz also begin? Or is the prohibition against eating chametz on Erev Pesach completely extrinsic, such that although chametz is forbidden, it would not impose an issur upon the entire mixture?
The Shulchan Arukh (447:2) rules that this stringency only begins with nightfall of the fifteenth, indicating that Pesach has not really begun until the fifteenth, despite the actual prohibition to consume chametz of Erev Pesach. If Pesach has already begun, the stringency of chametz banning the entire mixture should presumably set in even during this period. Many Rishonim do contend that the stringency of asur be-mashehu commences already on Erev Pesach, but many attribute this to a completely different factor pertaining to the reason that chametz on Erev Pesach is treated so stringently to begin with (namely the status of devar sheyeish lo matitin).
Having explored the nature of the issur of chametz on Erev Pesach according to R. Yehuda, who applies an actual lav and malkot for eating chametz, we will now explore the question according to R. Shimon, who denies any lav-based prohibition for chametz consumption on Erev Pesach. At first glance, it appears that according to R. Shimon, all chametz-related prohibitions begin only at nightfall of the fifteenth. However, the gemara in Pesachim (4b) explores the mitzva of tashibtu, which requires that chametz be completely eliminated once midday of Erev Pesach arrives – a mitzva that presumably is accepted even according to R. Shimon. Does this mitzva to eliminate chametz after midday of the fourteenth indicate that Pesach has already begun from this moment? Perhaps R. Shimon maintains that even though a formal, lav-based prohibition against eating chametz does not apply on the fourteenth, the independent mitzva of eliminating chametz does obtain, indicating a partial extension of Pesach back to midday of the fourteenth.
Alternatively, since, according to R. Shimon, the status of chametz on Erev Pesach is derived from a completely different pasuk – one that does not include a lav, but rather a positive mitzva to eliminate chametz – perhaps Pesach has not commenced yet, while a completely independent mitzva to destroy chametz applies to the fourteenth. How are we to interpret the mitzva of tashbitu – as an independent mitzva to eliminate chametz or as an indication that Pesach is extended to Erev Pesach even according to R. Shimon, despite the fact that the formal prohibition of eating chametz punishable by malkot begins only at nightfall of the fifteenth. To a certain degree, this question is influenced by our understanding of the mitzva of tashbitu and whether it is an independent mitzva or linked to bal yeiraeh.
The possibility that chametz on Erev Pesach remains “permissible” with an extrinsic mitzva of elimination/tashbitu is underlined by the Ba’al Ha-Ma’or, who claims that according to R. Shimon, the goal of tashibitu can be achieved by consuming chametz on Erev Pesach. The prohibitions of chametz have not yet begun and will only commence at nightfall of the fifteenth. The independent mitzva of tashbitu requires chametz disposal from midday, and eating chametz can accomplish this task.
The Ramban and Tosafot disagrees with the Ba’al Ha-Ma’or and prohibits eating chametz as a form of tashbitu execution. Perhaps they maintain that tashbuitu after midday is not a separate mitzva of disposal, but rather an indication that Pesach has begun and chametz is forbidden to eat. As an expression of this “start” of Pesach, chametz must be disposed of – namely, tashbitu. Although the actual lav prohibition of eating chametz begins only at night when Pesach intensifies, there is a less intense prohibition of ingesting chametz that begins at midday and is signaled by the start of the tashbitu obligation.
Perhaps the nature of tashbitu – and by extension the nature of chametz on the fourteenth – can be discerned by exploring the derasha cited by R. Shimon. The Torah writes that on the first day, “yom ha-rishon,” chametz should be eliminated (tashbitu). The gemara debates how the term “yom ha-rishon” is translated into the fourteenth, Erev Pesach. Some (Tanna De-Bei Rebbi Yishma’el) claim that the term “ha-rishon” connotes the day BEFORE some event, rather than the FIRST day of the event. This would yield a pasuk that directly tags the fourteenth with a possibly independent mitzva of chametz elimination. Others claim that fundamentally, the term “yom ha-rishon” indicates the first day of Pesach. Theoretically, the mitzva of tashbitu applies to Pesach itself and starts on the first day. However, technical difficulties prevent this reading and force a readjustment of the timing of this mitzva to the fourteenth. Abaye claims (at least according to Rashi’s reading) that tashbitu cannot be performed on the fifteenth because the prohibition of bal yeiraeh will have already begun at the onset of Pesach. Thus, by performing tashbitu on the fifteenth, bal yeiraeh will inevitably be violated. Tashbitu must be rescheduled from the fifteenth to the fourteenth. Similarly, R. Akiva maintains that tashbitu cannot be fulfilled on the fifteenth because burning chametz (the preferred method of eliminating chametz according to R. Yehuda) will violate the prohibition against burning non-edibles on Yom Tov. Hence, purely technical limitations of the fifteenth force the schedule of tashbitu to be assigned to the fourteenth, even though the Torah employs the term “ha-rishon.” Essentially, tashbitu is a Pesach-based mitzva that for technical reasons must be scheduled (by the Torah) prior to Pesach. This view would strongly suggest that tashbitu is not an isolated and extrinsic non-Pesach mitzva on the fourteenth, but rather a mitzva that effectively extends Pesach backward to midday of the fourteenth.
In fact the Ra’avad (in his commentary on the Rif) claims that according to R. Shimon, not only is it forbidden to eat chametz on Erev Pesach, but it is also prohibited to possess due to the onset of bal yeiraeh. Even R. Shimon, who does not apply a formal lav to chametz on Erev Pesach, maintains that Pesach has already begun and multiple laws of chametz (elimination, prohibition to eat, bal yeiraeh) all begin, even though the lav-based prohibition only commences at night.