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When did Yahatz, as a ceremonial breaking of a specific piece of matzah, become a part of the Seder? In the Gemara (Pesachim 115b), there's a discussion of what it means for matzah to be "lehem oni", and there it mentions that one of the connections is that just as a poor person only has a piece of a loaf, so too the matzah is only a piece. This is only one of the possible reasons given.

How was that explanation chosen as the reason, and how/when did that turn into what's done nowadays?

  • When else do you suggest tearing a Matza and putting aside for Afikoman? – Double AA Mar 26 '18 at 14:34
  • @DoubleAA why assume that we start the seder with three whole instead of breaking it as part of the setup? – Monica Cellio Mar 26 '18 at 14:57
  • @MonicaCellio I'm not assuming that. I'm asking: does he have a better suggestion? A question of "why do X" is much stronger if there is some better option than X. Otherwise, you could just ask "why do Y" to any Y suggested in place of X, and you end up nowhere. – Double AA Mar 26 '18 at 14:57
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It’s already mentioned as a distinct part of the Seder in the piyyut for shabbat hagadol composed by R. Yosef Tuv Elem (980 - 1050).

After instructing that one eats karpas, he writes:

וְכַד אָכִיל יֶחֱצֶה אַחַת מִשָׁלֹשׁ מַצוֹת וְאֵין בְּרָכָה עִמָּהּ. מַחֲצָה בִקְעָרָה וּמַחֲצָה בְשֻׁלְחָן לְהָשִׂימָה

And when one eats he should break one of the three matzot without reciting a blessing; half is left on the plate and half is placed in the table.

He then goes on to describe removing the cooked foods from the plate, reciting ha lachma anya, pouring the second cup, and asking mah nishtanah.


In terms of why it’s done this way (rather than say preparing a broken matzah before the Seder starts) I conjecture that it’s done in order to prompt the children present to ask questions.

Consider the description found in the piyyut. We’ve made kiddush and eaten an appetizer. We’ve brought the food and bread to the table. It looks like the main meal is about to start. We then break the bread. But instead of eating it, we put it to one side. We then start taking food off the table, and pour another cup of wine. All this should hopefully prompt the children to ask for an explanation of what’s going on.

  • it's also in basically all the medieval mnemonics judaism.stackexchange.com/a/81655/759 – Double AA Mar 26 '18 at 15:17
  • @DoubleAA Interesting. Are any of those older than this? – Joel K Mar 26 '18 at 15:20
  • I don't think so (though possibly some of those mnemonics could be much older than the sources which cite them) – Double AA Mar 26 '18 at 15:22
  • It's odd that it seems so concretely part of the Seder by then when Rav Saadiah Gaon makes no mention of it in his description of the Seder. – PixelArtDragon Mar 26 '18 at 19:26
  • @AvramLevitt Does R Tuv Elem mentioning it really indicate it is "such a concrete part of the Seder"? – Double AA Mar 26 '18 at 19:47

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