“One must not eat anything after the korban pesach (Paschal lamb) has been eaten” (Mishnah, Pesachim 10:8). When the korban pesach was still offered, it was forbidden to eat anything else after eating the meat of the offering. Today, when we no longer have offerings, we must not eat anything after eating the last matzah, which we call “afikoman.”

There is a dispute in Chazal about the deadline for eating the korban pesach on seder night:

For it was taught, “And they shall eat the meat that night” (Exodus 12:8). R. Elazar b. Azariah said, “It says here ‘That night,’ and elsewhere it says, ‘For I will go through the land of Egypt that night’ (Ibid. verse 12). Just as there [the slaying of the firstborn] means midnight, so too here [they may eat the korban pesach] until midnight.” R. Akiva said to him, “But it says, [‘You shall eat it] in haste’ (Ibid. verse 11), which means until the time of haste.” (Pesachim 120b).

According to R. Elazar b. Azariah, it is permitted to eat the korban pesach until midnight (the time of the slaying of the firstborn). According to R. Akiva, one can eat it until dawn, the time that they left Egypt (the time of haste).

The prohibition of eating after the korban pesach – or its modern equivalent, the afikoman – is applicable only during the time when one was allowed to eat the korban. Accordingly, R. Elazar b. Azariah would say one may eat after midnight, while R. Akiva would say one must not eat until dawn.

The Shulchan Arukh writes, “One should be careful to eat the afikoman before midnight” (Orach Chaim, 477:1).

Families who tell the story of the Exodus at length face a time crunch on seder night. They must finish telling the story as well as eating the afikoman by midnight.

Rabbi Avraham Bornstein (1839-1910) presents a novel solution (Avnei Nezer, Orach Chaim, 381:5). If midnight is approaching but a person is not interested in finishing his meal, he may eat a kezayit (olive-sized piece) of matzah and make the following condition: “If the halakhah follows R. Elazar b. Azariah, what I am now eating should serve as the afikoman.” After midnight, there is no prohibition on eating according to R. Elazar b. Azariah. So after midnight one can return to his meal; at its end, he should eat another kezayit of matzah, which will serve as the afikoman according to R. Akiva.

Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik (the Griz, 1886-1959) commented that it is not even necessary to state the condition of the Avnei Nezer, because the mitzvah of afikoman does not depend on the intention of the one eating it.

In practice, many are careful to eat the afikoman before midnight, as the Shulchan Arukh recommends. Nevertheless, one who wishes to take longer to tell the story of the Exodus may take advantage of the Avnei Nezer’s suggestion.