Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Nissan 5762 - March 20, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
Mayim Shelonu: Preparing Water For Baking Matzoh
Written by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis

The People Of Papunyah

Rosh Chodesh Nisan 5762. As the sun begins its descent below the horizon, a crowd gathers at Motza. A common goal unites them; they all hope to draw spring water at bein hashmoshos. When the hands of the watch testify that the time is coming closer, things start to bustle as people jockey for a position so that they can draw water at the exact time. The anticipated moment arrives and dusk is illuminated with the excitement of mitzvos.

Almost two thousand years earlier Rav Masnah addressed the people of Papunyah, instructing them that their matzos should be made with mayim shelonu (literally: water that rested). Much to his surprise, Rav Masnah was approached the next morning by a throng of people from Papunyah with the request to fill up their jugs with his water. They had mistakenly understood that Rav Masnah meant to say that only "our water" (an alternative Hebrew translation for the words mayim shelonu) was suitable for matzoh making. Rav Masnah corrected their misunderstanding, and told them he had meant "water that rested".

Chometz is the number one enemy of matzoh baking, and countless precautions are taken to avoid it. The work area is kept immaculately clean in order that there should not be the remotest possibility that even a crumb of chometz should somehow get into the batter.

However there is another more subtle way that chometz can find its way into the dough. Heat speeds up the fermentation process, and therefore it is forbidden to use warm water when preparing the dough. Most water has some degree of heat in it, and Chazal understood that this could potentially cause chimutz. Mayim shelonu is a precautionary measure that removes the heat from the water.

Two Approaches

The Rema says that the ideal is to draw the water hashmoshos, but since it is difficult to determine the exact time he rules that one should draw spring water as close to bein hashmoshos as possible.

The Shulchan Oruch agrees that the spring water heats up at night and should not be drawn then. However he understands that the heat dissipates at dawn, and therefore permits one to draw water any time during the day. Why then does the water need to rest? When collecting the water by day a new problem arises. The air and the resistance of the water moving against the utensil into which it is drawn add a slight amount of heat to the water. In order to cool it off, the water must rest twelve hours before baking matzos.

Ashkenazim try to follow the ruling of the Rema to draw water close to bein hashmoshos. However it is not clear what constitutes "close to" bein hashmoshos. Although the Brisker Rav was known for his scrupulous fulfillment of mitzvos, he once drew water from Motza early enough to return to his home before bein hashmoshos. On the other hand, the Chazon Ish and the Steipler would spill out mayim shelonu drawn even a minute before bein hashmoshos.

In a case of need many poskim are lenient. They rule that even Ashkenazim may rely on the Shulchan Oruch and draw the water earlier in the day. The guidance of a competent rov should be sought to decide particular cases.

Kabbalistic Fire

Some rishonim suggest that the heat in the water referred to by our sages is purely metaphysical: "All creations are composed of the four principle elements: fire, water, wind and earth. Water is made up of all four elements, the majority being water. Similarly we find in the Sefer Yetzirah (1,10) that water contains fire. Therefore in order to remove the fire from the water, mayim shelonu is required to be used in Matzoh production all of Pesach."

Other rishonim explain that it is not the heat of the water that causes chimutz but rather its coldness: "Water is cold by nature and this cool energy arouses the heat of the substance that it is combined with. . . . When the waters have left their source in the spring they still contain this energy and therefore can not be used to make matzoh. However, once they have sat overnight outside of the spring they lose this property."

Halachah Lema'aseh

The Shulchan Aruch and Rema both require one to bake matzos with mayim shelonu. Since laxity in this mitzvah could involve a possibility of eating chometz on Pesach, the utmost care should be taken to buy matzos with a reliable hechsher to ensure that these halachos are followed according to all of their intricacies. The importance of this is compounded by the fact that in every country the climate and weather conditions may call for slight variation in halachic rulings. In every situation, gedolim have been called upon to determine the exact halachah.

Matzoh In Argentina

HaRav Tzvi Pesach Frank was asked about baking matzos in Argentina. Since it is in the Southern Hemisphere, Nisan is in the summer months, and after resting the water is warmer than beforehand. Rav Tzvi Pesach said they have the following three options:

Bake matzos in Tammuz or Av when it is winter in Argentina.

Store the water and prepare the dough in an air-conditioned room.

Add ice to the water right before baking.

If the water is tepid, it may only be used in a case of great need. Otherwise it is forbidden to use the water for matzoh baking.

German Matzos

It is clear from the third option of cooling the water with air conditioning or ice cubes, that Rav Frank understood that our Sages were referring to a physical heat.

Rav Yaakov Emden writes that in northern countries since the climate is cold, there is no need to rest the water before baking matzoh since the water is already very cold.

Swiss Matzos

Dayan Weiss was once asked about making matzos in Switzerland. The water there is so cold (approximately twelve degrees Celsius) that it will not mix with flour and cannot be made into dough. May one heat up the water slightly (to approximately fifteen degrees Celsius)? Dayan Weiss replied that he could not permit this.

Italian Matzos

The proof to the above ruling is based on an incident that took place in Italy. Water was drawn and left to rest in a place which shared a wall with a room where matzoh was being baked. This room was warm because of the heat of the oven. However, after the water had rested it was tested with a finger and found to be cold. The Chasam Sofer disqualified this water for matzoh baking.

His reasoning was as follows: Since our Sages required the water to cool off but never mentioned this method of determining if the water is still warm, it must be that they were referring to a subtle type of heat/energy that cannot be measured with one's finger. Furthermore it is forbidden to use water that originated from melted snow. Even though this water feels quite cold, the gemora says that it heated up while it was melting. He concludes that any addition of heat/energy to the water renders it unfit for making matzos. From the ruling of the Chasam Sofer and Dayan Weiss it is clear that they understood that our Sages were not referring to a noticeable physical heat, and therefore it can not be tested with one's finger.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.