Afikoman— – What it Really Means 

In this shiur we will trace the development of the concept of “afikoman” from its origins in the tannaitic sources (2nd century C.E.) through their development in the Talmud. There are a lot of interesting phenomenon which occur in the history of this source. First of all, we can see how the Mishnah was related to Greek and Roman eating customs from the time period. Second, we can see what happens when later rabbis, particularly those in Babylonia, didn’t understand these customs or Greek words. Finally, we can see how the anonymous voice in the Talmud had a deep impact on the way that Jewish law was observed in the post-Talmudic period.

While studying this shiur, please try not to have any preconceived notions in your mind. I.e. do not think that “afikoman” originally meant the matzah we hide and then eat at the end of the meal. I wouldn’t be teaching this shiur if the matter was so simple.

Source 1

 Mishnah Pesahim 10:8

.ואין מפטירין אחר הפסח אפיקומן

And they may not conclude with an afikoman after the pesah.

Saul Lieberman, Yerushalmi Kifshuto

[The rabbis] were familiar with Greek customs and their banquet manners, that when the festivities would reach their peak, they would burst into others’ homes to force them to join in the continuing party, and they called this epikomazein.  The Mishnah warns that one does not conclude the Passover meal with an afikomanepikomazein, and this is the interpretation of the Babylonian and Eretz Yisraeli Talmud.

Saul Lieberman’s interpretation of the afikoman has been accepted by all subsequent scholars. Thus the Mishnah warns the seder participant not to complete the seder in the way that many Greco-Roman meals were concluded—with drunken revelry. Note that this supports the notion that I have been trying to teach all along—the seder was the Jewish version of a Greco-Roman symposium (discussion based meal). The fact that the rabbis had to emphasize not to do an afikoman implies that this is exactly what people were tempted to do.

Source 2

Yerushalmi Hagigah 2:1, 77b

מן דאכלון ושתון שרון מטפחין ומרקדקין.

א”ר ליעזר לר’ יהושע עד דאינון עסיקין בדידון נעסוק אנן בדידן.

וישבו ונתעסקו בדברי תורה.

When they had finished eating and drinking they began to clap and dance.

Eliezer said to R. Joshua, instead of occupying ourselves with their [customs], let us sit and occupy ourselves with our own customs.

And they sat and occupied themselves with the words of Torah.

This source is not directly connected with the seder. However, it is an excellent example of how the rabbis sought to replace Greco-Roman customs, clapping and dancing at the end of a meal, with customs that express their own values—the study of Torah. Note that we can also sense that there were indeed rabbis who wished to act like Greeks—they are the ones at the meal with R. Eliezer who want to party. This just shows how pervasive outside influence may have been on the rabbis.

Source 3

ירושלמי פסחים י:ו, לז ע”ד

רבי סימון בשם רבי אינייני בר רבי סיסיי מיני זמר.
רבי יוחנן אמר מיני מתיקה.
שמואל אמר כגון ערדילי וגוזליא דחנניא בר שילת.

בבלי פסחים קיט ע”ב

מאי אפיקומן?
אמר רב: שלא יעקרו מחבורה לחבורה.
ושמואל אמר: כגון אורדילאי לי וגוזלייא לאבא.
ורב חנינא בר שילא ורבי יוחנן אמרו כגון תמרים קליות ואגוזים.

Yerushalmi Pesahim 10:6, 37d

Simon in the name of R. Inini b. R. Sisi: types of music.
Yohanan said:  sweets.
Shmuel said: like mushrooms and pigeons for Hanania b. Shilat.

Bavli Pesahim 119b

What is afikoman?
Rav said: That they must not get up and move from one eating group to another.
Shmuel said: like mushrooms for myself and pigeons for Abba.
Hanina b. Shila and R. Yohanan said: dates, parched grains, and nuts.

Tosefta Pesahim 10:11

אין מפטירין אחר הפסח אפיקומן כגון אגוזין תמרים וקליות.

חייב אדם לעסוק בהלכות הפסח כל הלילה אפלו בינו לבין בנו אפלו בינו לבין עצמו אפלו בינו לבין תלמידו.

And they may not conclude with an afikoman after the pesah, like nuts and dates and parched grain.

A person must study the laws of Pesah all night, even if it is just him with his son, or by himself, or with his student.

These three sources define the afikoman as foods. These foods are not just any old foods. They are foods meant to accompany and facilitate drinking, either sweet or salty. The Tosefta provides an alternative. As with source # 2, instead of partying, one should study Torah.

Source 4

Tosefta Pesahim 2:20

אין יוצאין בחליט ולא בחמעיסה ולא בספגנין ולא בדבשנין ולא באסקריטין אבל ממלא כריסו מהן ובלבד שיאכל כזית מצה באחרונה.

Tosefta Pesahim 2:20

They do not fulfill their obligation [to eat matzah] with a dumpling or with sour dough or with sponge cakes or with honey cakes or with dough-paste, but he may fill his belly with them as long as he eats an olive’s worth of matzah at the end.

This source seems to say that one must eat real matzah which is just flour and water kneaded into dough and baked at the end of something. As we shall see in the Bavli (below), later authorities interpreted this to mean at the end of the meal. One had to eat matzah at the end of the meal, which is normative practice today. However, there is nowhere else in rabbinic literature that contains such a halakhah. All descriptions of the seder mention matzah being brought at the beginning of the meal, the same time normal bread is always brought. Therefore, I believe that “the end” refers to the end of a long series of appetizers (on appetizers see the second shiur in this series). One can eat these (kosher for Passover) honey – cakes, but only as appetizers. They don’t count as matzah either because they contain other ingredients such as honey, or because they are not baked. When the mitzvah foods are brought to the table (pesah, matzah, maror and maybe haroset) one must eat real matzah, simple flour and water, kneaded and baked.

Note that this halakhah is not at all connected to anything called an afikoman. I have cited it here because it is referred to in the Bavli below.

Source 5

בבלי פסחים קיט ע”ב-קכ ע”א

אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל אין מפטירין אחר מצה אפיקומן.

תנן: אין מפטירין אחר הפסח אפיקומן,

אחר הפסח הוא דלא, אבל לאחר מצה מפטירין! –

לא מיבעיא קאמר; לא מיבעיא אחר מצה דלא נפיש טעמייהו, אבל לאחר הפסח דנפיש טעמיה, ולא מצי עבוריה  לית לן בה, קמשמע לן.

נימא מסייע ליה: הסופגנין והדובשנין והאיסקריטין אדם ממלא כריסו מהן, ובלבד שיאכל כזית מצה באחרונה. באחרונה אין, בראשונה לא.

לא מיבעיא קאמר: לא מיבעיא בראשונה דקאכיל לתיאבון אבל באחרונה דילמא אתי למיכל אכילה גסה   אימא לא, קא משמע לן.

מר זוטרא מתני הכי: אמר רב יוסף אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל מפטירין אחר המצה אפיקומן.

נימא מסייע ליה: אין מפטירין אחר הפסח אפיקומן, אחר הפסח – דלא, אבל אחר מצה – מפטירין.

לא מיבעיא קאמר: לא מיבעיא אחר מצה – דלא נפיש טעמיה, אבל לאחר פסח אימא לא – קא משמע לן.

מיתיבי: הסופגנין והדובשנין והאיסקריטין אדם ממלא כריסו מהן, ובלבד שיאכל (אכילת) כזית מצה באחרונה. באחרונה – אין, בראשונה – לא!

לא מיבעיא קאמר; לא מיבעיא בראשונה – דקאכיל לתיאבון, אבל באחרונה דאתי למיכלה אכילה גסה – אימא לא, קא משמע לן.

Bavli Pesahim 119b-120a

(1a)  R. Judah said in the name of Shmuel: One may not conclude with an afikoman after the matzah.

(2a)  We learned [in a mishnah]: one may not conclude after the pesah with an afikoman.

After the pesah is when this is prohibited but after the matzah you may have an afikoman.

(3a)  It wasn’t even necessary to state:  It wasn’t even necessary to state that after the matzah [there is no afikoman], since its taste is not substantial; after the pesah, whose taste is substantial and cannot [easily] be wiped out [I might have thought] that it would not be prohibited [to have an afikoman], hence [the mishnah] teaches us [that it is prohibited].

(4a)  Shall we say that the following supports him: [As for] sponge cakes, honey-cakes and iskeritin, a man may fill his stomach with them, providing that he eat an olive’s worth of matzah at the end. [This implies], only at the end, but not at the beginning!

(5a)  It wasn’t even necessary to state:  It wasn’t even necessary to state that [if he eats it] at the beginning [that he has fulfilled his obligation], since he eats it with an appetite; but at the end, lest he may come to eat it as mere gorging, I might say [that he does not thereby fulfill his obligation] hence it teaches us [that he does].

(1b)  Mar Zutra taught it thus: R. Yosef said in Rav Judah’s name in Samuel’s name: One may conclude after the matzah with an afikoman.

(2b) Shall we say that the following mishnah supports him: one may not conclude after the pesah with an afikoman.

After the pesah is when this is prohibited but after the matzah you may have an afikoman.

(3b)  It wasn’t even necessary to state:  It wasn’t even necessary to state that after the matzah [there is no afikoman], since its taste is not substantial; after the pesah, whose taste is substantial and cannot [easily] be wiped out [I might have thought] that it would not be prohibited [to have an afikoman], hence [the mishnah] teaches us [that it is prohibited].

(4b)  They objected: [As for] sponge cakes, honey-cakes and iskeritin, a man may fill his stomach with them, providing that he eat an olive’s worth of matzah at the end. [This implies], only at the end, but not at the beginning!

(5a)  It wasn’t even necessary to state:  It wasn’t even necessary to state that [if he eats it] at the beginning [that he has fulfilled his obligation], since he eats it with an appetite; but at the end, lest he may come to eat it as mere gorging, I might say [that he does not thereby fulfill his obligation] hence it teaches us [that he does].

In order to help understand this passage, I have provided a brief explanation, one that follows my critical understanding of the passage. In section 1a, Shmuel, an early Babylonian amora, says that just as we don’t have an afikoman (a Greco-Roman drinking party) after eating a meal based on a pesah sacrifice, so too we don’t have such a part after eating a meal based on matzah, the main symbolic food remaining after the destruction of the Temple. In this simple halakhah, Shmuel seems to just “update” the mishnah, replacing “pesah” with “matzah.”

Mar Zutra in section 1b (halfway down) is a much later Babylonian amora, one who probably had little knowledge of Greek or Greco-Roman customs. When he reads Shmuel’s statement, he understands “afikoman” to be food, as if Shmuel said, “we don’t eat any food after the matzah.” This makes no sense—what about eating the meal? To solve this problem, Mar Zutra edits Shmuel’s statement to read, “we do have an afikoman after the matzah.” Clearly, Mar Zutra isn’t sanctioning revelry at the seder (sorry to disappoint). Rather, he is simply saying that one eats matzah at the beginning of the meal and then continues with business as usual, eating other foods.

However, this means that the first statement of Shmuel must mean that matzah is the last thing eaten at the end of the meal. Thus the late editors of the Bavli, known as the “stammaim” go on to interpret the tannaitic texts we saw above as either affirming or denying the notion that pesah/matzah must be eaten at the end of the meal.

Source 6

The following are a few post-talmudic discussions that relate to the issue of whether one must conclude the seder with matzah, the matzah that we call the “afikoman.”  The first source, from the R. Yitzchak Alfasi, an early and extremely significant halakhic authority, states that the mandated matzah is the one we eat at the end of the meal. The second source, from a collection of rulings, interpretations and stories from Rashi and his bet midrash, rules that the mandated matzah is that eaten at the beginning of the meal.

However, both sources prefer that one eat matzah at the beginning and at the end, as we do today.

רי”ף מסכת פסחים דף כז עמוד א

והיכא דלית ליה כולה סעודתא ממצה דמינטרא אלא כזית בלחוד דמינטר הוא דאית ליה אכיל ברישא מהאיך דלא מינטר ומברך עליה המוציא ולבסוף מברך על כזית דמינטר לאכול מצה ואכיל ומברך אמרור ואכיל והדר כריך מצה ומרור ואכיל בלא ברכה דתניא הסופגנין והדובשנין והאיסקריטין אדם ממלא כריסו מהן ובלבד שיאכל כזית מצה באחרונה.

R. Yitzchak Alfasi, N. Africa, Tenth Century

When he doesn’t have enough shemurah matzah for his whole meal, just an olive’s worth of it, he first eats non-shemurah matzah and blesses on it Hamotzi. At the end he blesses on the olive’s worth of shemurah matzah, “to eat matzah” and he blesses on the marror and eat, and then he wraps matzah and marror and eats without a blessing, as we have taught, [As for] sponge cakes, honey-cakes and iskeritin, a man may fill his stomach with them, providing that he eat an olive’s worth of matzah at the end.

מחזור ויטרי הלכות פסח (עמ’ 310-254) סימן עד

פעם אחת שכח ר’ ולא אכל מצה אפיקומן אחר סעודה קודם ברכת המזון. ולאחר ברכת המזון הוזכר. ולא רצה לאכול ממנה. לפי שהיה צריך לברך אחריה ברכת המזון ולשתות מכוס של ברכה. ואי אפשר לשתות בין כוס של מזון לכוס של הלל. דאמור רבנן בין [הכוסות] הללו אם רצה לשתות ישתה בין שלישי לרביעי לא ישתה. ולא רצה לברך עליה ברכת המזון בלא יין לפי שתקנו חכמים כוס שלישי עליה ונראה שהיא צריכה כוס. ואפילו אחר כוס רביעי של הלל לא רצה לאכל מצה ולברך ברכת המזון. מפני שהן לא התקינו אלא ד’ כוסות בלבד. אבל חמשה לא התקינו. ועל כן נמנע מלאכול מצה אחר ברכת המזון:

Mahzor Vitry (11-12th century France), 74

Once our Rabbi (Rashi) forgot to eat the afikoman matzah after the meal before birkat hamazon. After birkat hamazon he remembered but he didn’t want to eat it then. Because if he did he would have to say birkat hamazon again and drink another cup of wine. And it is forbidden to drink between the cup that follows birkat hamazon and the cup that accompanies Hallel (the fourth cup), as the rabbis said, “between these cups if he wants he may drink, but between the third cup and the fourth cup he may not drink.” And he (Rashi) didn’t want to say birkat hamazon without drinking a cup of wine for the rabbis established the third cup to be drunk over birkat hamazon, and therefore it seems to be mandatory. And he didn’t want to eat matzah and say birkat hamazon after the fourth cup over Hallel for the rabbis established only four cups, but not five. Therefore, he just didn’t eat matzah after birkat hamazon.

Afikomen Explained

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