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Pesach: Oat and Rye Matzah

Pesach: Oat and Rye Matzah

In recent years, bakeries started selling matzah from various types of flour, such as oats and rye. On wheat matzah vs. matzah from other grains: do they have the same halachic status, or should one try to eat wheat matzah?

Rabbi Avraham Sochovolsky


For many years, bakeries sell bread made out of various types of flour, such as rye flour, in light of the demand for health products. As part of this trend, in recent years ahead of Pesach, bakeries started to sell matzah from various flours, such as rye. In this article we will try to clarify if the halachic status of wheat matzah and matzah made out of other flours is the same, or if wheat matzah is preferable (and one should try to eat wheat matzah). There were similar discussions regarding oat matzah in the past. We will see here that some of the arguments employed in that context are also relevant to the kashrut status of matzah from other grains.

In the late 1980s, bakeries in England began producing kosher-for-Pesach matzah from oats (Avena), specifically for celiac patients. Today oats are cultivated in England under the supervision of the Badatz of Manchester. The flakes are milled, and some of the oat flour is imported by Israel and oat matzah is baked locally. Celiac disease is caused by a defect in the body's metabolism, and can be discovered in infants when they begin to eat cereals. Celiac is characterized by the inability to digest peptides in gluten, which is the main component of the protein in grains such as wheat and rye. Gluten is absent from rice and corn, however, so those with Celiac can eat such foods without a problem. However, both rice and corn are not included in the list of the five grains, they cannot become leavened, so one cannot fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzah on them. The amount of gluten in oats is negligible. For this reason, oat matzah—only needed for seder night for fulfilling the mitzvah of eating matzah—can be digested without a problem.

Even though the Badatz of Manchester certified such matzah, it seems that this is not according to all opinions, with several reasons. We need to examine whether these reasons apply also to matzah made out of other grains.

A. The status of grains that cannot become leavened

The oats cultivated in England are a unique strain with especially low gluten content, more so than other oat strains. While oats are considered one of the five types of grains which can become leavened, due to the unique characteristics of this strain, the dough does not become leavened.

It seems that we can extend the discussion of oat matzah to the question of gluten-free wheat matzah. Thanks to modern technology and genetic engineering, it is possible to isolate gluten from wheat and raise gluten-free wheat. What will then be the halachic status of such wheat? For a dough to be considered chametz, does the actual dough have to be capable of leavening,[1] or is it sufficient that the general species it belongs to can become leavened?

Chazal[2] teach us that the five grains can be used to bake matzah, but not rice or millet, since one can only fulfil the mitzvah of eating matzah on matzah made of grains that can become leavened, not those that merely ferment (sirachon). It is possible to understand this Gemara in two ways:

First, a distinction is drawn among the species of grains. The "five grains" include those that can become leavened, from which one can fulfill the obligation of eating matzot mitzvah. In contrast, rice and millet are species that do not become leavened, so they cannot be used to this end. What this means is that if we could eliminate the characteristic of leavening from one of the five grains, it would be permissible to use it for the purpose of matzot mitzvah.

Another approach draws a distinction between the types of dough. Any dough that can become leavened can be used to fulfil the obligation of eating matzah, such as a dough from the five grains. Conversely, any dough that cannot become leavened, such as dough from rice or millet, cannot be used to fulfill the obligation of eating matzah. The implications of this views are as such: if we could eliminate the characteristic of leavening from one of the five grains, it would be forbidden to use it for the purpose of matzot mitzvah.

Rabbi Yaakov Ariel[3] discusses the halachic status of gluten-free wheat. In light of the various approaches on matzah kneaded with fruit juice, as well as matzah made of bran (which does not become leavened), he holds that there are three opinions among the Rishonim: Rambam, Ramban, and Rashi.

Rambam rules (Hilchot Chametz u-Matzah 5:2)[4] that flour from the five grains kneaded with fruit juice does not become leavened, but rather ferment (sirachon); one would be able to fulfil the mitzvah of eating matzah with matzah made with juice in his opinion (ibid., 6:5).[5] However, he holds that dough made of bran (since its separation from the wheat germ prevents it from becoming leavened) cannot be used to fulfil this mitzvah. It seems then, that according to Rambam it is the type of grain that counts, not the dough; for this reason, matzah made of one of the grains that can become leavened—even if kneaded with fruit juice (that ferments but do not cause leavening)—is kosher. However, Rambam distinguishes between a case when there is a change in a type of grain that can become leavened—such as bran, whereas its separation from the germ prevents it from becoming leavened; and kneading this grain in fruit juice—where the type of grain can become leavened, but an external factor prevents this.

In the case of a change in the grain itself, Rambam holds that any matzah produced from it cannot be used to fulfill the obligation. However, when flour from these grains are kneaded with fruit juice, the resulting matzah can be used for matzot mitzvah. In light of the above, matzah made out of oats with especially low gluten, which cannot become leavened, is similar to matzah made out of bran (i.e. there is a change in the actual grain). So according the Rambam, such matzah could not be used lechatchila to fulfil the obligation of eating matzah.

Ramban (Milchamot Hashem Pesachim 10b, gloss on the Rif)[6] holds that any dough that cannot become leavened cannot be used to fulfil the mitzvah of eating matzah. For this reason, also according to Ramban low-gluten oats that cannot become leavened cannot be used to fulfil the mitzvah of eating matzah.

Rashi (Pesachim 36b) writes that bran bread that "lacks all of its splendor" (a.k.a. pat kivar), which does not become leavened, can nevertheless be used to fulfil the mitzvah of eating matzah. This is because it is composed of one of the grains that can become leavened, as explained by the Magen Avraham (OC §454:1).[7]

From here we see that Rashi would hold that even though the dough of low-gluten oat matzah cannot become leavened, since it is from a type of grain that can become leavened, one can fulfil the obligation on this type of oat matzah.

In practice, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel holds that it seems that the Shulchan Aruch (OC §454:1) follows Rambam's opinion regarding to bran bread (that one would not fulfil the obligation). For this reason, someone with Celiac who can only eat gluten-free matzah may eat such matzah without a blessing to fulfil the obligation of eating matzah—at least according to Rashi.

In light of this discussion, we can learn from Rabbi Ariel's conclusions about matzah from other grains, such as rye (which does not have a low gluten content). We see here that there is no practical difference between wheat matzah and matzah from other grains that are not low in gluten. These matzot are all perfectly kosher for eating on Pesach, and one can even fulfil the obligation of eating matzah on seder night lechatchila.

B. Identification of the five grains

  1. Shibolet Shu'al—Avena Oats
    Another reason for the doubt regarding whether one can fulfil the obligation of eating matzah on the Avena oats produced in England is the question whether they, indeed, are considered one of the five grains.

The Gemara (Pesachim 35a) states: "shibolet shu'al and shifon (rye) are types of barley … rye is dishra, oats are shevilei ta'ala.[8] In the Yerushalmi (Challah 1:1), Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman identifies shibolet shu'al with shora mentioned in Yeshayahu (28:25): "Or set wheat, shora, and the barley in an appointed place": "Shora is shibolet shu'al. And why is it called shora there? Since it is prepared properly (ka-shura)." Rabbeinu Gershom, Rashi (Menachot 70b), and Meiri (Pesachim 2:5) identified shibolet shu'al with אביינ"א (Avena). The Aruch (entry שבל) cites two opinions:"סיגאלא (Secale cerial, cultured rye) or וינא, which is formed like a fox's tail." Rambam identifies (Kila'im 1:1) shibolet shu'al as "סנבל אלתעלב, which is desert barley." Rabbi Yosef Kapach clarifies: "and it is termed such because the kernels are not closely attached to the stem of the stalk, as are wheat and barley. In this way it resembles a fox's tail, since the hairs [of its tail] are not close to the tail [stem]." Prof. Zohar Amar[9] writes that Rambam's description indicates that he is referring to Avena.[10] Following Rashi, Rambam, and other Rishonim, Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura translates shibolet shu'al as "desert barley, אוינ"א (Avena) in a foreign language."

This approach, followed throughout the chain of tradition, is accepted by modern poskim: Rabbi Efrati, according to guidelines of Rabbi Elyashiv,[11] and Rabbi Kestenbaum of London.[12] Rabbi Sternbach[13] adds: "And regarding the scientists who have recently cast doubt whether the Sages were referring to the oats of our time, one who studies [the sources] will see that their words are baseless, and their entire intention is to undermine what has been accepted in the Jewish People from generation to generation."

Rabbi Immánuel Lőw [14] (Hungary, 5614-5704; 1854-1944) identified shibolet shu'al with dura, sorghum flour. During WWI, when there was a grain shortage, he permitted baking matzot mitzvah from flour made of this strain.

Researchers proposed other identifications of shibolet shu'al. Baruch Chizik[15] believes that shibolet shu'al are Byzantine oats (Avena Byzantine). Prof. Mordechai Kislev[16] suggests identifying shibolet shu'al with the various strains of oats available today: cultured, Byzantine, and Haber. Gustav Delman identifies shibolet shu'al with wild barley (Hordeum spontaneum). Y. Felix[17] believes shibolet shu'al is double-columned barley, and brings several proofs.

In light of the ambiguity regarding the identification of shibolet shu'al, it seems that this is yet another reason that makes it difficult to rely on the English Avena oat matzah for matzot mitzvah. Even the poskim who do permit this do so only for those with Celiac who cannot eat wheat matzah; however, they do not extend this heter to everyone else.

  1. Identifying shifon
    Even the identification of shifon is problematic and not clear-cut. The Gemara[18] states that shifon is dishra. Prof. Mordechai Kislev (Kashrut of Matzah made of Rye Flour)[19] summarizes in the beginning of his article several identifications of shifon: Rabbeinu Gershom,[20] Rashi,[21] and the Aruch[22] identify shifon as שיגל"א, Others identify shifon with Avina (also identified with shibolet shu'al). Some identify shifon with spelt (Triticom spelta), while others identify it with Eincorn wheat (Triticum momococcum).

In light of these varying opinions, even if we say that matzot baked from these grains are kosher for Pesach and can be eaten on Pesach, we are concerned that they cannot be used for matzot mitzvah used on seder night.

C. Other types of grain that leaven quickly

Another reason that some poskim would not certify oat matzah for matzot mitzvah—even though it seems that it has the same status as the other five grains—is the opinion of the Maharil. He writes that the primary mitzvah of matzah is with wheat,[23] despite the fact that that the five grains are mentioned in the Mishna as grains that may be used to prepare matzah. The Maharil holds that the primary mitzvah involves taking wheat, since it is the only grain whose identity the Sages did not dispute. His opinion is quoted by the Rama (OC §453) as follows:
"These are what one may fulfill the obligation of matzah: with wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye, and the custom is to optimally take wheat (Maharil)."

The intent of the Maharil is that despite the fact that the five grains can be used to prepare kosher-for-Pesach matzah, there nevertheless a ranking system among these grains: wheat is preferable to barley, and both take preference to oats. This is the approach of the Ni'ar:[24]

"And these are the species with which one may fulfil the obligation of eating matzah … with these five species one fulfils it. The one listed first is preferable for the mitzvah."

Chok Yaakov (OC §453:2) writes that he is unsure whether, indeed, one species takes preference to another:

"At first glance it seems that if one does not have wheat, one should take [grain] according to the order cited in the Mishna; this is what the Tur writes above … [that this is true] in relation to maror, however, in truth this is not a proof whatsoever." He then goes on to explain that the order listed is not indicative of preference in the context of matzah.
It seems that it is possible to explain the preference of wheat to oats and other flours, as found in the sources above, in two ways:

  1. The Chayei Adam (Rule 128, Hilchot Pesach1) wrote that it is for hidur mitzvah,[25] and the Mishna Berura rules accordingly:[26]
    "Since it [wheat] is most beloved to man and also because of a beautification of the mitzvah; and if he does have wheat, he should take whichever of the other four species [of grain] he likes the most for the matzah, so he will enjoy eating it."

In other words, matzah made of wheat or barley is more mehudar that oat matzah, as it is of a lesser quality and importance. This understanding has implications for people who generally eat bread made of non-wheat flours year-round, for whom non-wheat bread is tastier to them than wheat bread. For these individuals, wheat matzah would not be considered a preferable matzah than matzah made out of other grains.

  1. Another explanation to Maharil's statement and the Rema's ruling "and the custom, optimally, is to use wheat," is that there is a greater concern regarding leavening among other grains than there is with wheat. The halachic definitions and guidelines as to how to prepare unleavened matzah are not the same for all five grains. While there are clear-cut guidelines for wheat flour, the laws and guidelines pertaining to oat matzah have not been clearly defined. For instance, the Shulchan Aruch (OC §453:3) rules: "If the kernels of wheat were not checked for [signs] of being eaten by mice, it does not matter." The Magen Avraham (ibid., 5) notes that this relates specifically to wheat, but for other species there is a concern about chametz: "A little bit of [mouse] spittle does not cause hard wheat to ferment … and it is possible that this refers specifically to wheat; but barley leavens quickly."

Da'at Torah[27] follows a similar line of reasoning (§453:1, s.v. vehine): "Also regarding the law of immersing [which permitted for wheat]according to the Gemara, is forbidden for barley, and the Chok Yaakov rules that it is even prohibited to store them in the home, since they leaven more quickly than wheat. And the Sephardic Zechor LeAvraham, Hilchot Pesach §453 quotes the Me'am Loez that one needs to check wheat kernels to ensure that there are no barley kernels among them, since the latter are quick to become leavened. For this reason, while it is not the custom to do so; in any case, one should not be lenient about proactively mixing in barley and rye into the wheat kernels. And one can say that based on the above reason, the custom is to only take wheat."

In contrast, Rabbi Chanoch Dov Padwa[28] (Responsa Cheshev HaEfod §9) ruled that the concern about the other types of grain is only about the kernels themselves, but there is no difference among them when in the form of flour. For this reason, he permitted oat matzah for those with Celiac:

"Even if we say that a distinction should be made between wheat and barley kernels, there is no difference between wheat flour and barley flour. If this is so, then there is no doubt that those for whom eating wheat is detrimental to their health but oats are more tolerable, they may make matzah from oats. In this case it will certainly be more difficult to prevent leavening. However, this is not due to halachic considerations, rather since people are not accustomed to doing so [i.e. preparing oat matzah]. In any case, when a little attention is paid to the matter, [those making the matzah] will be able to rise to the challenge."

While Rabbi Sternbach[29] is concerned about oat flour leavening more quickly, in practice he permits oat matzah—but only to those with Celiac, and only in order to perform the mitzvah on seder night:

"And in truth oats are a type of barley and are quick to become leavened … and we do not have a tradition of how to bake matzah from barley in a way that will prevent leavening. And also oats are very bitter tasting, and are impossible to eat unless heated up with fire. And when they are heated, they excrete water profusely. This excretion is comparable to fruit juice. After this [process] the dough should not be kneaded in water, which quickens the leavening process. Moreover, there is concern that the fruit juice itself hastens the leavening. While fruit juice is said not to cause leavening, in this case [the oats] are heated in intense heat and give off moisture more than its nature. We do not have this tradition [that fruit juice does not cause leavening] in this case. Here, since [the moisture] is so strong and plentiful we might say that the oats leaven in the water given off from them much faster than in water alone. And for the amount required for the obligation of matzah; that is: a kezayit of matzah and the like, since he does not have an alternative, he can eat oat matzah … but for the [remaining] days of Pesach it is proper to bake this matzah in fruit juice alone, without water, as it does not cause leavening … and it should be noted on the box of this matzah that it is intended only for the infirm who cannot eat regular matzah

Rabbi Weiss[30] was concerned also about quick leavening, and did not permit oat matzah even to those with Celiac:

"But regarding barley flour, which is quick to leaven, the laws have not been clarified. And we have to write a new Shulchan Aruch to clarify every detail. Who can shoulder such a responsibility? In light of this, we need to be concerned even bedi'avad, that nothing happened which—in tandem with the rate of leavening in barley, which is faster than wheat—can disqualify it even bedi'avad … And I believe that it is rare that there is a person who cannot tolerate merely a kezayit of wheat matzah only once a year. For this reason, it is my humble opinion that to begin with, one should not enter into a situation in which one could possibly consume chametz, since there is a major concern even bedi'avad, as I wrote above."

In light of these concerns, it seems that there is uncertainty among the poskim regarding the possibility that non-wheat matzah could actually be chametz. As such, it is difficult to determine whether matzah made from grains other than wheat can actually be kosher for Pesach.


From the above discussion we see that there is a question about the identification of the various types of grains. For this reason, even if there were no concern that matzah from these grains would be considered chametz, it is still unclear whether they can be used to fulfil the mitzvah of eating matzah on seder night. This is especially the case with low-gluten oat matzah. For this reason, the poskim do not permit such matzah to the general public and are lenient only for those with Celiac, and then only to fulfil the obligation of eating matzah. Moreover, there are poskim who believe that matzot made from flours other than wheat, such as rye, can leaven more quickly and possibly be chametz. This is because we do not possess the halachic information about what the signs of leavening are in these other flours and in what actions are necessary in order to prevent leavening. For all of these reasons, the heter for those with Celiac to eat oat matzah should not be seen as heter for the general public.  



[1] This opinion is supported by the scientific approach, which claims that gluten is the agent that is responsible for leavening: "Since without gluten, the dough cannot become leavened." However, it seems that if we define leavening according to the scientific approach, which defines leavening as the breaking down of starch—fermentation, then it seems that even gluten-free wheat would be no worse than regular wheat. That is: the latter, too, ferments, but this fermentation dissipates and does not remain. This being the case, gluten-free wheat would be usable for the matzot mitzvah.

[2] Pesachim 54a

[3] Responsa BeOHala Shel Torah 5 §43.

[4] These five types of grain, if kneaded only in fruit juice will never become fermented; even if left all day for the dough to rise it is permitted to eat, since juice does not cause leavening, only fermentation.

[5] "Matzah that was kneaded with fruit juice, one may fulfill one's obligation with it on Pesach. However, [the dough] should not be kneaded with wine, oil, honey, or milk, because of the requirement for poor man's bread (lechem oni), as explained above. A person who kneaded [dough with one of these liquids] does not fulfill his obligation. One cannot fulfill his obligation with matzah made from thin bran or coarse bran."

[6] This issue is also mentioned by the Maggid Mishne  (Hilchot Chametz u-Matzah 6:5): "Albeit I have seen those who write that one would not fulfil the mitzvah on matzah kneaded in fruit juice alone; only if water was added, since we need to be vigilant that [the dough] does not become leavened, and one cannot fulfil the obligation of matzah on dough that never becomes leavened. And it was already explained that fruit juice does not cause leavening, and this is true."

[7] According to the second explanation of the Magen Avraham: "And it is possible to say that this is since it is a species that can become leavened, one can fulfil the obligation."

[8] Rashi, ibid." "Ta'ala is a translation of 'fox.'"

[9] Zohar Amar, Five Types of Grain: Historical, Halachic and Conceptual Aspects, chap. 2: Identification of the five types of grain, p. 63 (Heb.).

[10] Editor's note (Rabbi Yoel Friedemann): There is no proof that Rambam identifies shibolet shu'al as Avena, as did Rabbeinu Gershom and Rashi. The great difficulty in this identification is that in Hilchot Kila'im (1:3) Rambam writes that shibolet shu'al and barley are one species. However, if this is Avena, the two species are not at all similar. This is besides the fact that all five species of grain become leavened, while Avena does not. See "A literature review – the five grains," Emunat Itecha, issue 92 (5772), pp. 76-80.

[11] Rabbi Yosef Efrati, "On the question of identifying shibolet shu'al," Hilchot Sade, issue 57 (5748) (The Institute for Agricultural Research According to the Torah).

[12] "Oat matzah: practical halacha," Sefer hayovel mincha laIsh (edited by A. Warhaftig), Jerusalem 5751, pp. 169-170 (Heb.).

[13] Teshuvot VeHanhagot V §130.

[14] Lőw, Die Flora der Juden ("The Plants of the Jews", dealing with the various vegetation mentioned in Jewish sources with a focus on Rabbinic literature [German]), p. 738; cited by Avraham Ofir Shemesh, p. 101. See Zohar Amar, ibid., p.67. 

[15] Chizik, The Plant Treasure, Herzliya 5712, pp. 806-807.

[16] M. Kislev, "On the identification of shibolet shu'al" Sefer HaYovel Mincha LaIsh, ibid., pp. 155-168.

[17] Y. Felix, Kilei Zera'im and Grafting, Tel Aviv 5727, pp. 24-27.

[18] Pesachim 35a.

[19] Mordechai A. Kislev and Orit Simchoni, Badad, issue 26 (Nissan 5772), pp. 35-48.

[20] Menachot 70b.

[21] Pesachim 35a.

[22] Entry "שבל."

[23] Maharil (Minhagim), Hilchot Afiyat HaMatzot.

[24] The Sefer HaNi'ar (paper), is an anthology of halachic responsa by the Tosafists, compiled by an unknown author who died in France at the end of the Tosafist period.

[25] See also Alei Tamar (Pesachim 2:4): "And the Maharil wrote that the Jewish custom is optimally to bake matzah from wheat because it is beloved and for the beautification of the mitzvah … And we should add to the reason for this Jewish custom that it is to dissuade the Sadducees and Karaites, who do not accept the tradition of the Sages. They believe that the obligation of matzah is fulfilled only on barley, since it is stated, "the bread of affliction." And Anan [the Karaite] wrote in his Sefer HaMitzvot that eating wheat matzah on Pesach is comparable to eating chametz. And the Torah of Anan, like Anan, should be obliterated. It is along these lines that I wrote elsewhereרin the name of an elderly Torah scholar who lived in Karim, among Karaites, that it was for a similar reason that the custom developed to make a sour soup (chamitza), called borsht, on Pesach. This was so [Jews] do not come to believe that the Karaites are correct, who said that all types of sour foods (chamutzim) are included in the prohibition of chametz."

[26] OC §453:2

[27] Rabbi Shalom Mordechai HaKohen, Av Beit Din of Berezhany, Brooklyn, New York, 5742.

[28] Served as a rabbi in Jerusalem, and in recent years is an Av Beit Din in London.

[29] Teshuvot VeHanhagot vol. 5 §130.

[30] Responsa Minchat Yitzchak vol. 9, §49.