Rabbi Moshe Spetter
Former Rosh Kollel in Greater Washington
Matzah ashirah(literally, “rich” matzah) is matzah which was kneaded with fruit juice – as opposed to regular matzah, which consists of only flour and water.
Reish Lakish’s words in the Gemara (BT Pesachim 35a) serve as the source for the machloket (disagreement) about matzah ashirah:
“Rabbah bar bar Chanah said in the name of Reish Lakish, ‘Dough that was kneaded with wine, oil, or honey – one is not liable for karet for its leavening.’”
According to Rav Papa, one is not liable for karet for the leavening of this type of dough, because matzah ashirah cannot be used to observe the mitzvah of matzah at the Seder. The Torah refers to matzah as lechem oni (bread of affliction):
“You shall not eat leaven with it; for seven days you shall eat with it matzot, the bread of affliction” (Devarim 16:3)
Also, matzah is defined as something which could have turned into bread. One is only liable for karet forchametz that could have become a matzat mitzvah.
According to Rav Idi bar Abin, fruit juice is not a leavening agent (i.e. it does not cause the dough to become chametz).
The Rishonim disagree whether or not fruit juice is a leavening agent. However, even according to those who believe that it is not, a mixture of fruit juice and water is definitely a leavening agent.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 462:1) rules:
“Fruit juice without water does not induce chametz at all. And it is permissible to eat, on Pesach, matzah which was kneaded with fruit juice – even if it rested (shahatah) for an entire day. But one cannot fulfill his requirement [at the Seder], because it is matzah ashirah, and the Torah calls it lechem oni (Devarim 16:3).”
In contrast, the Rama writes about the Ashkenazi custom:
“And in these countries, the custom is not to knead with fruit juice… And one should not switch, unless it is bishaat hadchak(loosely, an emergency or a case of great imperative) for the needs of a sick or elderly person who requires this.”
The Mishnah Brurah explains the reasoning behind the Ashkenazi custom. There are some authorities who hold that fruit juice induces chametz and does so rapidly, and the Ashkenazi custom takes this view into account. When water alone is used, the entire process must not exceed 18 minutes. However, no one knows how fast fruit juice induces chametz, and therefore, Ashkenazim may not knead the dough with fruit juice. Moreover, the fruit juice may contain water, and that mixture is – according to everyone – a leavening agent.
When erev Pesach falls on Shabbat, matzah ashirah is one solution for the Shabbat meals. (Regular matzah may not be used, and chametz is not recommended.) How late in the day may Ashkenazim eat matzah ashirah? According to the Shulchan Aruch HaRav and also R’ Moshe Feinstein, matzah ashirah may be consumed as long as chametz may still be used (i.e. until the shaah riviit). In contrast, the Noda B’Yehuda feels that matzah ashirah can be eaten until chatzot (literally, midday). Finally, the Aruch HaShulchan holds that matzah ashirah may be consumed until the shaah assirit. After the shaah assirit, one may not consume any bread-like item in order ensure that one “has an appetite” for the matzah at the Seder.