Question: What blessing does one recite on Matzah during the Pesach holiday and during the rest of the year for that matter? Also, what blessing does one recite on crackers that are usually eaten as a meal?
Answer: We have discussed several times in the past that any bread (anything made out of dough) which is crunchy, meaning that it is completely dry, such as crackers and pretzels, requires the blessing of “Boreh Minei Mezonot” and not “Hamotzi Lechem Min Ha’aretz”.
The Blessing on Crunchy (Hard) Matzah
Based on the above, we must wonder: Why do we recite the “Hamotzi” blessing during the holiday of Pesach on the dry, crunchy Matzot common nowadays, if their blessing is really “Boreh Minei Mezonot”?
Indeed, the Sefer Besamim Rosh (mostly attributed to the Rosh, Rabbeinu Asher bar Yechiel) writes as follows: “Regarding very thin crackers, in my opinion any bread that people do not usually eat for satiation, rather it is eaten only as a snack, is not the kind of bread that the Sages established the blessing of ‘Hamotzi Lechem Min Ha’aretz’ for.” Clearly, according to the Besamim Rosh, Matzah would require the “Boreh Minei Mezonot” blessing.
Hagaon Harav Avraham Saba in his Sefer Tzeror Ha’Mor writes regarding Matzah that is like dried out bread without salt, one would not recite “Hamotzi” or Birkat Hamazon on it. Only on soft Matzot (that are still made in Sephardic communities) would one recite “Hamotzi” and Birkat Hamazon. (Maran Ha’Chida records in his Sefer Shem Ha’Gedolim an incident that occurred with Harav Avraham Saba Ha’Sefaradi, as follows: Once, Harav Avraham was travelling on a ship when all of a sudden, a ferocious storm broke out and threatened to sink the ship. The captain begged Rav Avraham to save them. The Rav replied that he would save them on one condition: if he happened to die on the ship, the crew must not cast him overboard as was customary in those days; rather, they must bring his body to a Jewish city where he would receive a proper Jewish burial. He said that if they would agree to this condition, no harm would befall them. The captain swore to heed the Rav's request. The Rav then proceeded to pray to Hashem, after which the storm subsided. Two days later, the Rav passed away at sea. The ship was close to the city of Veron and the ship’s captain directed the ship there where the Jewish residents of Veron buried him with great honor. May his merit serve as a protection for us, Amen.)
The Blessing on Matzah during the Holiday of Pesach
Many Poskim, however, disagree and maintain that although the Matzah is completely dry, its blessing is indeed “Hamotzi Lechem Min Ha’aretz”. The Responsa Ginat Veradim (authored by Moreinu Harav Avraham Ha’Levi of Egypt approximately 350 years ago) writes that the Matzah made for Pesach should indeed have been considered “Kisnin” bread and require a “Mezonot” blessing since it is dry and crunchy; however, since this Matzah is the “bread” of the holiday of Pesach (meaning that it becomes the main “bread” during Pesach) one recites “Hamotzi” and Birkat Hamazon on it (since we cannot say that it is not usually eaten as bread, for during Pesach, this Matzah becomes the “bread”). However, based on this we can infer that during the rest of the year when regular bread is readily available, the blessing on this kind of Matzah will revert back to “Mezonot” since people do not usually eat it as bread.
Others have written different reasons for why Matzah should not be considered like other crunchy breads and they maintain that the blessing on Matzah is “Hamotzi”, whether it is eaten on Pesach or any other time of year. This is the custom of most Ashkenazim who recite “Hamotzi” and Birkat Hamazon on Matzah throughout the year.
The Sephardic Custom
Maran Ha’Chida writes that the Sephardic custom is that on Pesach one recites the “Hamotzi” blessing on Matzah since during that period, people usually eat it as bread; however, during the rest of the year, since regular bread is available and people do not usually eat it instead of bread, its blessing is “Mezonot” and “Al Ha’Michya”. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that those who follow this custom have on whom to rely. However, those who are especially particular in Mitzvah observance only eat Matzah during a bread meal so that the Matzah will be exempt with the “Hamotzi” blessing and Birkat Hamazon recited on the bread and in this way, one avoids all doubt.
The Custom of Maran zt”l
We should note though that although the Sephardic custom is to recite a “Mezonot” blessing on Matzah during the rest of the year (besides for Pesach), since the letter of the law seems to be that one should, in fact, recite “Hamotzi Lechem Min Ha’aretz”, one who acts stringently and washes one’s hands and recites the “Hamotzi” blessing on Matzah as though it were bread surely has on whom to rely. This was indeed the custom of Maran zt”l who would treat Matzah as actual bread and would recite the “Hamotzi Lechem Min Ha’aretz” on it throughout the year.
The Blessing on “Lachmit” Crackers
Approximately seven years ago, it was publicized in the name of Hagaon Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l that since many people eat “Lachmit” crackers (a popular cracker in manufactured in Israel by Osem and available in the United States as well) every morning as a meal, one must recite the “Hamotzi” blessing on these crackers. We asked Maran zt”l about this in addition to showing him this cracker and he said that in his opinion, these cream crackers have the same status as Matzah and he would recite the “Hamotzi” blessing on them. Thus, although one who recites a “Mezonot” blessing on cream crackers or Matzah surely has on whom to rely, one who recites the “Hamotzi” blessing on them or eats them only during a bread meal is especially admirable.
Summary: The blessing on (dry) Matzah during Pesach is “Hamotzi Lechem Min Ha’aretz” followed by Birkat Hamazon after eating. The Ashkenazi custom is to do so throughout the year as well. The Sephardic custom, however, is to recite “Mezonot” and “Al HaMichya” on Matzah throughout the year (besides for Pesach) and they have on whom to rely. Those who are especially scrupulous with Mitzvah observance eat Matzah only during a bread meal and by doing so they fulfill all opinions.
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l added that although the Sephardic custom is to recite the “Mezonot” blessing on Matzah throughout the year, on Motza’ei Pesach (the night following the conclusion of Pesach) when regular Chametz bread is not yet readily available, one must recite “Hamotzi” and Birkat Hamazon on Matzah according to all opinions.