Sunday, March 29, 2015

Why the size of a kezayis matters -- a transformative chumra

Rabbi Slifkin recently wrote on his blog:
Pesach is rapidly approaching, which means that it's nearly time for people to obsess over the size of a kezayis. The monograph that I wrote on the evolution of the kezayis is by far the most popular piece that I have ever published - if you haven't seen it, you can download it at this link. Here are some follow-up posts on the topic:
See there for the links to his follow-up posts.

In the comment section, some people were discussing why this really matters. Is posting about this anti-chareidi? Or, what is the big deal with being machmir? Why should we care?

Besides the answers offered there, here is my own reason - why this draws my attention. This particular chumra of a large, and measured, kezayis is Transformative Chumra. That is, the chumra is not just a stringency to eat more of a particular food at a particular time. Rather, it changes the nature, character, and feel of the seder.

Here is how. Please pardon the kvetch.

1) There is a separate chumra regarding karpas, to eat less than a kezayis -- driven by a question of whether to make a haadama on the maror and how one might have to make a borei nefashos if one ate more than a kezayis.

The result is that people starve through maggid and don't pay attention.

2) After the long period of starvation, we move to a period of intense gluttony. It is not just ONE kezayis of matzah. The practice has developed developed to eat TWO kezeisim, for reasons that need not concern us.

This is an easy chumra if a kezayis is the size of an olive. Eating the equivalent of the volume of two actual olives is relatively easy. Eating two Chazon Ish shiurim is hard. (Note the Chazon Ish maintained only one kezayis was necessary.) This is hard even if it is a standard shiur for kezayis, but not an actual olive's measure.

3) This is meant to be eaten in a rather short period of time, kdei achilas pras, and this length of time does not vary based on what one is eating. This is defined as how long it takes to eat half of a standard loaf of wheat bread, dipped in relish, while he is reclining. See here for a discussion of how long this is. It might be anywhere from 2 minutes to 9 minutes.

4) But matzah today is not standard wheat bread, or even a soft matzah, but a hard cracker. And the practice is not to dip it in relish. This is a harder task. Especially if the kezeisim are gigantic.

5) And according to some, this eating of two dray kezeisim should be done in the following bizarre manner: Both kezeisim should be thoroughly chewed in the mouth without any swallowing, and then it should all be gulped down in a single swallow. Or according to a modification, after the thorough chewing of both kezeisim, one kezayis should be swallowed, followed by the other.

If the kezayis is an actual olive's measure of soft matzah, I wouldn't even mind performing the mitzvah in this manner. If the kezayis is enormous, then I don't know if what is described here would be considered achilah, and wonder if someone would be yotzei.

6) Then, before the meal, one must a kezayis of maror. Which might be horseradish, painful to eat.

7) Then, one must eat A THIRD kezayis of matzah, and together with another kezayis of maror.  If it is enormous kezayis, we are approaching achilah gasah.

8) At long last, we reach the meal - Shulchan Orech. Nobody is in the mood to eat the meal, because (a) it is so late already, and people are tired, because of maggid and the eating of various kezeisim, and (b) because they are stuffed full of matzah. And (c), they know what is to come, namely more kezeisim of matzah to eat. So this part of the seder is a loss.

9) Then, we get to the Afikoman. This is a FOURTH kezayis. And some have a practice of eating two kezeisim here as well, so that makes is also a FIFTH kezayis.

10) And there is yet another time-pressure here, in that people rush to finish it before chatzos halaylah.

11) And because the Afikoman is supposed to be the last taste, we don't eat it with any relish. So we stuff ourselves with these last two dry kezeisim, quite against our will. And for most people, this is not eating it al hasovah, but rather achilah gasah.



If we didn't have the context of items (1) through (11), it would be no big deal to eat an enormous kezayis. It is a chiyuv, an obligation, and sometimes an obligation is hard. One could perhaps consider the halachic propriety of relaxing some of these items (1) through (11). But since this context does exist, a larger size of a kezayis is transformative.

Eating the matzah could be an enjoyable experience. We recline, as a sign of cheirus. But the compulsion involved in eating so much matzah is not cheirus. See Ester 1:8:

ח  וְהַשְּׁתִיָּה כַדָּת, אֵין אֹנֵס:  כִּי-כֵן יִסַּד הַמֶּלֶךְ, עַל כָּל-רַב בֵּיתוֹ--לַעֲשׂוֹת, כִּרְצוֹן אִישׁ-וָאִישׁ.  {ס}8 And the drinking was according to the law; none did compel; for so the king had appointed to all the officers of his house, that they should do according to every man's pleasure. {S}

For the idea that compulsion to consume is the opposite of cherus. Starving yourself, then acting like a glutton to repeatedly force-feed yourself tons of matzah under time-pressure is not cheirus.

Which is part of why I find the idea of a kezayis the size of an olive so compelling. Besides making sense, and appealing to my rationalist and historical instincts, there are the practical repercussion, in which eating matzah becomes a natural part of the seder rather than something which encumbers it.


Anonymous said...

Hi Josh,

In past years you posted a PDF of the Absolut Haggadah? Could you post a link to it?
Thanks so much


Hillel said...

While I certainly agree with your larger point about this chumra (and chumras in general) I was surprised by the quote at the end. I always took that line in the megillah to be ironic (and musar to Jews remaining in exile.) Something like "You gave up God's law for this law? What is this law? Do whatever you want, it's all good! No way that ends badly for the Jews...")

daniel said...

The contemporary relatively mainstream poskim of today and recent generations who use contemporary olive size just don't get the same publicity as the ones who publish charts to measure etc.
R. Chaim Volozhin, Avnei Nezer, R. Yechezkel Abramsky, R. Chaim Beinish, and yibadel lechaim R. Dov Lior.
the fact that the gemara states that a cohen's kemitza for mincha must contain at least 2 kezaisim should make it clear that the bloated shiurim are totally off.
Regarding how to translate that into matza (which is done wrong by so many from worst to best e.g. by weight, by grinding, by estimating avg thickness) for a better method see R. Heinemann's silicon covered matza displacement measuring of matza. Where a machine matza is about 112 cc and a hand matza is 168. And why do we have to be so exact when any normal person would easily consume more than that amount? The answer is of course, for those who have trouble consuming matza.

Anonymous said...

By the Seder, after saying kiddush, is it permitted to eat? Could you eat potatoe blintes, meat, etc before you wash for the matzah?



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