The Specific Carbohydrate Diet

Frequently Asked Questions

A K'zayis of Matzah

What follows is a discussion among Jewish list-members concerning the allowability of eating a small amount of Matzo at Passover. In the spirit of the great Rabbinical debates, I've included it verbatim for those who are interested in such things.

> I wanted to add the concept of Pikuach Nefesh in the Jewish Religion,
> which generally refers to saving a life or, more literally, saving a
> soul.

Yes, the Hebrew word "nefesh" is usually translated into English as "soul" - however its meaning is closer to the essence of life, or the state of being alive, i.e. the intangible "life force" residing within the body which keeps the physical cells, organs, and systems functioning and the individual alive.

> Pikuach Nefesh is from Leviticus: "You shall not stand idly by the
> blood of your neighbor" (Lev. 19:16). This verse essentially states
> that the paramount value of human life and health is a cardinal
> principle of Jewish law.

...I concur with you on the "life" part; the "health" part, however, warrants further clarification...

> Basically, in cases of illness, anything that would knowingly
> endanger life or health allows one to break the law. That would
> include eating Matzoh on Passover.

...Not necessarily... Pikuach Nefesh refers specifically to saving a *life*: a clear-cut "life or death" scenario. Safeguarding one's *health*, however, falls more appropriately under the precept of "V'nishmartem me'od l'nafshoseichem" (Deuteronomy 4:15) - which is also an extremely important precept in Judaism, but which, in practice, is not always on the same level as Pikuach Nefesh. While Pikuach Nefesh automatically overrides every other commandment (with three very specific exceptions), V'nishmartem also overrides other commandments, but under somewhat more limited circumstances - specifically, with respect to whether the commandment in question is of Biblical (d'oraysa) or Rabbinic (d'rabbanan) origin.

> Some examples are taking an ambulance (or even just driving) to get
> to a hospital or doctor for medical necessity on the Sabbath;
> telephoning for medical help on the Sabbath; not circumcising an
> infant with hemophelia; eating rather than fasting on Yom Kippur if
> one is diabetic.

Yes, you've provided some excellent examples in which commandments (Biblical or Rabbinic) must be overridden due to Pikuach Nefesh (immediate danger to life), or Rabbinic commandments must be overridden due to V'nishmartem (safeguarding health).

> So, if you know that Matzoh will make you ill, you should not be
> obligated to eat it on Passover. Check it out with your Rabbi, who
> should be very familiar with Pikuach Nefesh.

The precept of consuming a k'zayis (the minimum required quantity, literally "like [the volume of] an olive") of matzah on the first night of Passover is of Biblical origin. Since - for most of us - it is highly doubtful whether doing so would place us in immediate danger of dying (not merely setting back our healing, but actually dying), most halachic (Jewish legal) authorities would determine that this would not be a case of Pikuach Nefesh, and the matzah would remain an obligation. Of course, each individual case is unique, with its own set of circumstances. Therefore, it's important not to make an assumption, but to consult a competent halachic authority who will carefully consider every facet of the question, and make a specific determination on a case-by-case basis (in consultation with health-care professionals) - as you've so wisely recommended.

Symee writes:
> Since Elaine said that it's OK, I'm not sure why you could consider
> it a situation of Piku'ach Nefesh. (someone being in immediate
> danger of dying).

Right. Three years ago, shortly before my very first Passover as an SCDer (some 7-8 months after I'd started the diet), I faxed Elaine a long query detailing my matzah dilemma (Remember, Elaine?), and she told me to relax and not to worry about having to eat that little bit of matzah. Believe me, if Elaine believed for even one second that I would drop dead from eating it (G-d forbid), she would have urged me to skip the matzah!

Elaine writes:
> When I say that someone who is on the SCD and is faced with...having
> a small piece of matzoh on Passover, taking this will not put them
> in the position of dying but it MIGHT set them back. Let the
> Rabbies...decide if the person should take these steps. And, for
> Goodness Sakes, let the person assume some responsibility and not be
> filled with fear that a Merciful God will punish them for any
> infringement of the law.

Well, as Joan has already explained so beautifully, when immediate danger to life compels one to infringe the Law, it's actually not an infringement at all; the Law *itself* demands it. That the Law was designed this way in the first place is but one attribute of a truly merciful G-d indeed. That we have Elaine and the SCD - to help both safeguard our health *and* save our lives - is yet another manifestation of G-d's mercy. :-)

> Fear, fear, fear! That is what causes us all not to demand that we
> be given humanistric treatment by a medical system, that is what
> causes us do to amoral things to keep our jobs, that is what keeps
> an intelligent medical practitioner from using SCD as an adjunct to
> medical practice!!!!

Please, let's not confuse fear-driven consumer ignorance/apathy, medical mediocrity, professional duplicity, and intellectual dishonesty, with the strivings of sincere religious people - of all faiths - who are seeking to infuse some spirituality into their lives...even at the cost of "being different" and having to "swim upstream" against the tides of apathy, duplicity, and dishonesty that permeate the world around us - the two could not be more different! When it comes to good people who care about making a difference...people like you, Elaine, and like all our friends here on this list, regardless of what we believe in (or even whether or not we believe at all) that which unites us is so much greater than whatever inconsequential little differences we may have.

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"We must never forget that what the patient takes beyond his ability to digest does harm."
    Dr. Samuel Gee

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