Finishing the Afikoman Before Chatzot by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


            In our final issue devoted to the halachot of Pesach we will review an issue which arises at most people's Sedarim, namely, whether the Afikoman must be eaten prior to Chatzot (midnight).  Also, we will discuss whether "Hallel" must be completed prior to Chatzot.


Gemara - Introduction

            In four places in the Talmud, there appears a celebrated dispute between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah.  The question is whether the Korban Pesach is required by Torah law to be eaten prior to Chatzot or whether it can be eaten until dawn.  Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah believes it must be finished prior to Chatzot and Rabbi Akiva rules that it may be eaten until dawn.

            Interestingly, the Gemara (Zevachim 57b) suggests that even according to Rabbi Akiva, the Korban Pesach must be consumed prior to Chatzot.  This is because of a Rabbinic concern "L'harchik Adam Min Ha'aveirah," to separate one from sin.  If one feels he can eat the Korban Pesach until dawn, he may delay eating the Korban Pesach, unwittingly fall asleep before eating it, and inadvertently sleep past dawn.  To avoid this problem, Chazal limited the time one may eat the Korban Pesach only until Chatzot.

            This dispute between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah has ramifications even for the time in which we tragically do not have the opportunity to offer a Korban Pesach.  The Gemara (Pesachim 120b) states that if one eats Matza after Chatzot he has not fulfilled the Mitzva to eat Matza according to Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah.  This is because the rules of Korban Pesach and Matza are linked together.

            The question is, though, whether the halacha follows the opinion of Rabbi Akiva or Rabbi Elazar Ben Azariah.  The Talmud does not clearly state whom the halacha follows.  In fact, the Rishonim either debate or are uncertain as to which opinion is accepted as normative.  We will explore the various Talmudic passage and Rishonim and see why this issue is so difficult to resolve.


Zevachim 56-57

            The Mishna (Zevachim 56b) states that Korban Pesach is eaten only until Chatzot.  The Gemara (Zevachim 57b) debates whether this is a Biblical law, and thus reflecting the opinion of Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, or whether it is a Rabbinic law, following the opinion of Rabbi Akiva.  The Gemara concludes that the Mishna presents this rule as a Biblical requirement following the opinion of Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah.


Pesachim 120b

            The Mishna (Pesachim 120b) teaches that the Korban Pesach becomes "Notar" (left over Korban which is forbidden to be consumed and must be burnt) after Chatzot.  The Gemara notes that the Mishna follows the opinion of Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah.


Berachot 2a and 9a

            The Mishna which appears on Berachot 2a lists a number of Korbanot which on a Biblical level may be eaten until dawn, but due to a limit imposed by Chazal can only be eaten until Chatzot, "L'harchik Adam Min Ha'aveirah."  The Gemara ascribes this phenomenon to the fact that the Korban Pesach can be eaten only until Chatzot on a Biblical level.  Thus, the Gemara concludes that this Mishna reflects the opinion of Rav Elazar ben Azariah.


Megilla 20b and 21a

            The Mishna which appears on Megilla 20b presents a general rule: "Any Mitzva that should be done by day, one has the entire day to perform the Mitzva; any Mitzva that must be performed at night, one has the entire time to perform the Mitzva."  The Gemara (Megilla 21a) interprets the Mishna as implying that Korban Pesach may be consumed until dawn.  Thus, the Mishna in Megilla follows the opinion of Rabbi Akiva.

            Thus, of the four Mishnayot in which our issue arises, three follow Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah and only one follows the view of Rabbi Akiva.



            The Rishonim disagree regarding whom the halacha follows.  Rabbeinu Channanel (Pesachim 120b) rules in accordance Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah's view.  Tosafot, however, does not present a consistent view on this matter.  Tosafot in Megillah 21a (s.v. L'atooyei) and Zevachim 57b (s.v. V'iba'it Eimah) rule in accordance with Rav Elazar ben Azariah.  In Pesachim 120b (s.v. Amor), on the other hand, Tosafot is not so convinced that the halacha follows Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah.

            The Rambam, in fact, rules in accordance with Rabbi Akiva's opinion (Hilchot Korban Pesach 8:15).  Indeed, the Rambam rules that one may eat Matza until dawn (Hilchot Chametz U'matza 6:1).

            The Ran, though, is not certain which opinion to follow and concludes that we must rule strictly since a question of Biblical law is involved, "Safek D'oraita L'chumrah."  The Ran adds that one should complete hallel prior to Chatzot as well (7a in the pages of the Rif to Megillah s.v. Zeh; for an incisive analysis of this opinion, see Rabbi Hershel Reichman's Notes from Rav Soloveitchik's Shiurim, Sukkah 38a pp. 182-83).

            The Rosh (Pesachim 10:38) adopts a more moderate stand on this issue than the Ran.  The Rosh also finds it difficult to resolve the question regarding whether the halacha follows Rabbi Akiva or Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah.  He concludes that it is "proper" to be strict on this matter.  He adds a nuance to this issue suggesting that perhaps Rabbi Akiva agrees that one should be restricted to eating Matza only until Chatzot, "L'harchik Adam Min Ha'aveira."  The Rosh concludes by citing Rabbeinu Tam's practice to make sure to finish the Afikoman before Chatzot.

            The Tur (Orach Chaim 487) rules that "one should be careful" to eat the Afikoman prior to Chatzot, a seemingly slight softening of the Rosh's ruling.  It seems that the Tur believes that one should do his best to finish the Afikoman prior to Chatzot, though it would not be sinful if he fails to do so (see Rav Zevin, Mo'adim B'halacha p. 274, who understands the Tur in a similar fashion).


Shulchan Aruch and Commentaries

            The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 487:1) adopts the approach of the Tur that "one should be careful" to complete the eating of the Afikoman prior to Chatzot.  The Rama adds that one should follow the opinion of the Ran that one should complete Hallel before Chatzot as well.  The Dagul Mei'revava adds that if one is unable to recite the Beracha on Matza until after Chatzot, he should eat the Matza without reciting a Beracha.  This is due to concern for Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah's opinion that such a Beracha would constitute a "Beracha L'vatala" (a Beracha uttered in vain).  Thus, since the matter is in doubt, one should eat the Matza but omit the Beracha.

            The Mishna Berura (Bi'ur Halacha 487:1 s.v. V'yehei) and the Aruch Hashulchan (477:5) rule in accordance with the Dagul Mei'revava.  Moreover, the Mishna Berura adds that one should be exceptionally careful to finish consuming the Matza prior to Chatzot.  He notes that many Rishonim who either rule in accordance with Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah or believe that even Rabbi Akiva agrees that the Afikoman should be consumed before Chatzot.


The Avnei Neizer's "T'nai"

            One cannot discuss this issue without mentioning the celebrated approach of the Teshuvot Avnei Neizer (O.C. 381). The Avnei Neizer asserts an innovative idea, that according to Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, the prohibition to eat after one has finished consuming the Afikoman applies only until Chatzot.  Accordingly, the Avnei Neizer rules that one can make the following "T'nai" (stipulation or condition) if he sees the Seder meal extending past Chatzot.  He should eat a K'zait of Matza before Chatzot and state that if the halacha follows Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah he has eaten the Afikoman.  After Chatzot he may resume the meal.  After he concludes the meal (after Chatzot), he again consumes a K'zait of Matza intending that this will constitute the Afikoman if the halacha follows Rabbi Akiva.

            Although this responsum of the Avnei Neizer is widely cited and some follow it in practice, it is not universally accepted.  For example, Rav Hershel Schachter told this author (in 1993) that one should not follow this ruling of the Avnei Neizer.  He reasoned that the Avnei Neizer's assertion that Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah believes that the prohibition to eat after the Afikoman does not extend past Chatzot, is an innovative idea and is not conclusive. One should consult his Rav for guidance on this matter.

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