Eating on Erev Pesach - Matan - The Sadie Rennert

Eating on Erev Pesach Rabbanit Debbie Zimmerman

Nissan 5783 | March 2023

Topic : Pesach , Shayla ,


Every year I get sick soon after drinking the second cup of wine at the seder. Can I eat a nice sized meal on erev Pesach an hour before chag so that I can drink wine and enjoy the seder?


There is indeed a rabbinic instruction not to eat a meal in the hours leading up to the seder to ensure that matzah is eaten with sufficient appetite to rejoice in the mitzvah. As we will see, this does not preclude all eating.

There is also a clear rabbinic preference to drink wine and not grape juice for the four cups when possible. Should we prioritize wine or eating matzah with an appetite? This is not a black and white question as to which is the halakhic priority -there are ways to balance both so you don’t make yourself sick and also perform the mitzvot of matzah and the four cups to the best of your ability.

Meals on Erev Pesach

The Yerushalmi compares someone who eats matzah on erev Pesach to a man who has relations with his betrothed in his father-in-law’s home, which is punished with lashes.[1] Rambam explains that eating matzah at this time is forbidden, to distinguish the matzah we eat to fulfill the Torah mitzvah on the seder night.[2] Therefore, the rabbis prohibited eating matzah on erev Pesach and intentional transgression is considered a rebellion against a rabbinic ordinance and therefore liable for lashes.[3]

The halakhic norm is that a meal includes bread. Since all chametz is prohibited from late morning erev Pesach and matzah is prohibited all day, there’s no way to make a proper meal with hamotzi from midday.[4] Some are stringent and also refrain from eating baked foods made primarily from matzah meal, which eliminates most mezonot options as well.[5] Aside from the specific issues of chametz and matzah there’s another reason to avoid eating meals at this time.

An appetite for matzah

The mishna states “On erev (eve of) Pesach close to mincha time, a person may not eat until dark.”[6]

The gemara asks why it’s necessary to teach this halakha about Pesach, since Rabbi Yehuda teaches a similar law applies on erev shabbat. The gemara answers that even Rabbi Yossi, who does not limit eating on erev Shabbat, agrees that one should not eat in the hours before Pesach so they will have an appetite to fulfill the obligation to eat matzah.[7]

Based on this discussion poskim agree that one should not sit down to eat a meal from the time of mincha ketana, the 10th halakhic hour of the day on erev Pesach, which translates to mid-afternoon.[8] Rambam adds that early sages would go hungry so they could eat matzah with an appetite.[9] Shulchan Aruch allows for eating fruits or vegetables as long as one does not fill their belly. Mishna Berura adds that one may also eat meat and fish and eggs, but should not eat matzah ashira (egg matzah). Mishna Berura’s language indicates that this is an elucidation, not a dispute, but some people are stringent and stick to light snacks such as fruits and vegetables.

Rema mentions that someone who is particularly sensitive should not eat even a little if this will make it difficult for them to eat matzah with an appetite. Mishna Berura explains that this even applies if the person has to refrain from eating from the 3rd halakhic hour.[10] Does this work the other way – if someone gets hungry easily? Or if one’s maggid tends to run long?

Ben Ish Chai indicates that the delay until the seder meal is factored into the original rabbinic instruction. He explains that there is a biblical mitzvah to eat in the sukkah on the first night of Sukkot, and a rabbinic directive not to eat a meal after midday (the 6th halakhic hour) on erev Sukkot. On erev Pesach this time is pushed off to the 10th hour because the earlier part of the seder takes time and we don’t eat matzah until later.[11]

Eating matzah on the first night of Pesach is a biblical mitzvah, but this mitzvah can be fulfilled on a full stomach. The rabbis directed us to preserve our appetite, seemingly because mitzvot should ideally be performed with joy and enthusiasm, and the joy one has when eating matzah at the seder is often proportional to how hungry they are. Most people enjoy the first bites of motzi-matzah after maggid much more than the final bites of the afikomen after the meal. Therefore, our sages advised us not to eat much later in the day. It is unclear if this is a rabbinic enactment or strong advice to behave in an ideal manner that has become entrenched custom. Either way it should not be ignored, but it does leave some wiggle room. But before that let’s  understand how critical alcohol is to the mitzvah of the four cups.

The four cups

The mishna states even a poor person should not have less than four cups of wine on seder night, even if they need to rely on charity to do so.[12] The gemara states that men and women are required to drink the four cups of wine, and there is even an opinion that children are obligated.[13] Rava explains that the four cups of wine were instituted by the sages as an expression of cheirut, freedom, and that each cup is connected to one of the mitzvot on the seder night.[14] This idea that these cups are an expression of freedom has several halakhic ramifications.

In Talmudic times wine seems to have been stronger and it was customary to dilute it with water.[15] This wine is called yayin mazug and was the normal and proper way to drink wine; yayin chai, wine that has not been diluted, is often considered inadequate.[16] The gemara brings a dispute as to whether one can fulfill the mitzvah of four cups with yayin chai, and rules that this fulfills the requirement for four cups of wine, but not for cheirut – freedom.[17] Later halakhic authorities mention other conditions to ensure the four cups fulfill cheirut.

How much?

To fulfill the mitzvah of the four cups the cup must be the size of a revi’it and filled with a revi’it of wine.[18] There’s some dispute as to the size of a revi’it, ranging from 75 ml. (2.6 fl oz) to 150 ml (5 fl oz).[19] While one should also fulfill rabbinic commands enthusiastically and with joy, since the four cups of wine are a rabbinic obligation one may be lenient and use the smaller measurement.[20] This is especially true if there are extenuating circumstances such as health or budget.

The gemara states that in most cases when wine is used for a mitzvah it’s sufficient to drink a mouthful, but also states that one should drink the majority of the cup for the four cups at the seder.[21] Bach states that since the mitzvah is “four cups” one should ideally drink the whole cup, although b’dieved (lit. once it is done) – if one has not done so or there are extenuating circumstances – one can rely on the concept of rubo k’kulo (lit. most of it is like all of it), meaning if one drank most of the measurement it’s considered as if they drank the entirety. Therefore, Tur and Bach rule that it is sufficient to drink most of a revi’it, which is generally equal to a mouthful.[22]   Shulchan Aruch brings the opinion that it’s sufficient to drink a revi’it, even if the cup holds more, but he also brings the stringent opinions that one should drink the whole cup or most of the cup, even if this is larger than a revi’it.[23]

Based on all these considerations one should ideally have a full cup and drink an amount that is at least a revi’it and at least the majority of the wine in the cup.[24] If this is difficult one can suffice with a revi’it or the majority of a revi’it. Therefore, someone who wants to minimize the amount they drink should make sure they have a cup that only measures a revi’it.[25]

Does it have to be wine?

The gemara teaches that Rabbi Yehuda would only drink wine for kiddush, havdalah, and the four cups, and between Pesach and Shavuot he would have to wrap his head, presumably because the wine caused headaches.[26] Many poskim state that someone who generally does not drink wine because it hurts them or they do not like it should push themselves to drink all four cups of wine.[27] Rav Ovadia Yosef rules that this is pious but not necessary, whereas Orchot Chaim and Aruch HaShulchan rule that it is the mitzvah.[28]

Grape juice was not really an option until recently, as there was no way to preserve it beyond the time of the grape harvest. Based on the gemara, Shulchan Aruch rules that grape juice can be used for kiddush on Shabbat, but as we have seen wine on Pesach is also related to freedom and rejoicing.[29] Mikrae’i Kodesh by Rav Moshe Harari and Halachos of Pesach by Rabbi Shimon D. Eider mention poskim who were concerned that grape juice, like yayin chai, does not fulfill the aspect of cheirut.[30] Rav Shternbuch in Teshuvot v’Hanhagot says that prominent poskim such as Chazon Ish and Brisker Rav used grape juice for the four cups in their old age when they were unable to drink wine.[31] The Haggadah of Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurebach allows for using grape juice, as does Rav Menashe Klein.[32]

If drinking wine could present a major health risk – such as for people with alcoholism, liver problems, or allergies – it is absolutely prohibited. Mishna Berura clarifies that someone who feels discomfort after drinking wine should push themselves to drink, but someone who gets so sick they are incapacitated and must lie in bed is exempt.[33] Temporary nausea and dizziness after drinking wine is closer to the former if it passes after eating, but vomiting and missing parts of the seder would be the latter. One who is exempt can use other substances for four cups, preferably grape juice if it’s an option, or forgo them completely.[34]

Balancing mitzvah fulfillment with discomfort

In the absence of health risks and incapacitation there is a clear halakhhic preference to use wine. If someone doesn’t like wine they should first try to find wine they enjoy or push themselves to enjoy it, but may also rely on those who allow for grape juice. Some poskim encourage people who struggle to enjoy wine or alcohol to try creative compromises that incorporate wine before completely abandoning it in favor of grape juice.[35]

One may drink wine with a low alcohol content, preferably one they enjoy.[36] One may also dilute the wine. Rav Moshe Heinemann says the mixture should be at least 4% alcohol, so if using a wine with 12% alcohol one can dilute with 66% water or grape juice.[37]

These suggestions can be combined with using a cup that is only a revi’it. When necessary one can also drink only 51% of the cup, relying on rubo k’kulo which is also melo logmav (a mouthful).

Practical advice

Eating a proper meal after the 10th hour on erev Pesach is a problem, but snacking is fine. Since there’s no option for hamotzi and little option for mezonot, most food options wouldn’t technically be considered a meal according to halakhic definitions. As we saw, Rambam and Shulchan Aruch explicitly allow fruits and vegetables. Mishna Berura does not see an issue with more filling proteins. This presents us with a wide range that could allow someone to sit down to a nice piece of salmon, baked potato, and a large salad or encourage us to stick to “grazing” on small snacks of light foods.

Since the reason for this rabbinic injunction is to have an appetite to eat matzah, it seems that each individual should find what is appropriate within this range. People who have less of an appetite or wish to eat matzah with more gusto may be stricter, but the sages intended to deter people from eating a meal later in the day, not to make people sick with hunger.

Most people can observe this rabbinic directive, eating permitted foods in the late afternoon but not filling up, and still fulfill the mitzvah to drink four cups of wine – especially if they follow the advice mentioned above to limit alcohol content and the size of the cup.

There are other ways to make this easier. If there are no mitigating circumstances beyond discomfort then sitting down to a proper meal, even one that does not include bread or mezonot, does not seem to be in the spirit of the rabbinic directive. But you may eat a large lunch in the early afternoon (before the 10th hour) and then snack on filling foods later in the day. Try to balance between enough food not to get sick because of the wine and leaving room to be hungry for matzah. If you are not feeling well after kiddush and before matzah you should drink water. If that’s not sufficient you can eat vegetables or other foods before eating matzah.[38]

Bottom line

  • Instead of eating a full meal right before Pesach try eating enough snacks to prevent your getting sick.
  • Drink water during the seder.
  • Sugar interacts with alcohol, and wines with higher sugar content may make you feel worse; dry wine might be better.
  • Limit your alcohol intake, at least in the first two cups:
    • Use a cup that contains a little larger than a revi’it.
    • Stick to 4% alcohol – using light wine or diluting it with grape juice or water.
    • If need be, only drink a mouthful of each cup.

This should be sufficient. If it is not, you can eat before Pesach or even during the seder as mentioned. Having room to eat matzah should be prioritized over drinking wine (as opposed to grape juice), but as long as you keep your appetite you may eat if it will allow you to drink wine instead of grape juice.

We should remember that the four cups should also have an aspect of cheirut – freedom. This is related to the quality of the drink and the enjoyment we get out of it, but can also be connected to the freedom to serve God. Ultimately, it’s about finding the balance to serve our Creator, our Redeemer by following the mitzvot of the Torah and rabbinic authorities with joy and enthusiasm, in good health.

Rabbanit Debbie Zimmerman Debbie Zimmerman graduated from the first cohort of Hilkhata – Matan’s Advanced Halakhic Institute and is a Halakhic Responder. She is a multi-disciplinary Jewish educator, with over a decade of experience in adolescent and adult education. After completing a BA in Social Work, Debbie studied Tanakh in the Master’s Program for Bible in Matan and Talmud in Beit Morasha.

A few words about the project שאלה - כתובת נשית לשאלות בכל תחומי ההלכה. מי המשיבות שלנו? בוגרות תכנית הלכתא - תכנית שש שנתית ללימודי הלכה במתן. לכל המשיבות רקע עשיר בלימוד גמרא והלכה והן משמשות כתובת לשאלות ופניות בקהילה ובבית המדרש. כל התשובות נידונות בקרב הוועדה ההלכתית של 'שאלה' בה, יחד עם המשיבות, יושבים הרב הדיין אריאל הולנד והרב יהושע מאירסון.

Support Shayla