What is Matza? Matza, just like bread, is a food that is/was the backbone of the daily meals. Until 250 or so years ago it looked like and had the texture of a large pita. However, unlike the bread we are familiar with, it has not had the opportunity to become leavened.
What is Leaven? Leavening is the alteration that occurs to dough when it is acted upon by yeast. Yeast is a microscopic living organism. When yeast and dough meet, in favourable conditions (warmth and moisture) the yeast “eats” the dough, reproduces, and produces various by-products, including alcohol and carbon dioxide gas.
What is Chamets? Chamets is dough that has become leavened.
Why does Chamets “rise”? As the yeast eats it produces carbon dioxide gas. That’s the same gas that makes soft drinks bubble. In a liquid the gas escapes but dough is thick and sticky due to its gluten, so the gas is trapped. We end up with tens of thousands of little captured gas bubbles in the dough. This makes the dough rise and gives bread its familiar sponge-like texture.
Why do we not eat leavened products on Passover? Gd redeemed the Jews from Egypt with extraordinary speed, “faster than you can say Jack Robinson”, but we say, “faster than it takes for dough to become leavened”.
This is recorded in the Passover Haggadah: “This Matza that we eat pays tribute and testifies that we were redeemed so quickly that our dough did not have time to rise.”
Is it true that Matza was originally a soft bread? Yes, Matza throughout our traditions and in all Halacha discourses has always been described as a soft chewy pita type bread. Nowhere in our traditions is Matza described as a hard dry cracker. The Gemara and Halacha describe Matza as being 8cm thick. That would require a hammer if it was baked hard.
Why was Matza a soft product? There are three main reasons:
1. In our traditions, Halacha, a hard baked cracker is not bread, and Matza must be bread.
2. Soft chewy Matza is tasty, unlike hard dry Matza.
3. It is abnormal to eat crackers for a meal.
Is it true that the Jewish people baked soft Matza when they left Egypt? Of course. There was no other type of Matza.
When did Matza become a hard dry product? Matza has been a soft pliable bread since we were in Egypt. It remained a soft product as documented by the BaEr HeiTev (1739 – 1770) who describes the “thin” Matza as being 12mm thick. Without doubt such Matza must have been soft. It appears that Matza drifted towards becoming thin and hard in the early 1800’s
Why did Matza become a hard dry product? Matza used to be home-baked just as bread was home baked. In fact, Matza used to be baked fresh daily during Passover. However, as home bread-baking became less common we became less adept and less confident at handling dough and bread baking. Since only a few short minutes stand between producing Chamets, a failure; and success, producing Matza, the practice of baking fresh Matza daily at home during Pesach, slowly became very uncommon. The risks and worries of inadvertently making Chamets, were just too great.
This led to communal Matza baking, monitored by a rabbi. Manufacturing Matza like this throughout Passover was impractical, so it was all baked prior to Passover.
This of course led to another problem. Such large volumes required that manufacturing begin many weeks before Passover. How was the Matza to be prevented from becoming mouldy?
The solution was dehydration; simply bake it dry, employing an age old method of preserving foods without refrigeration, like dried fruits. It was a compromise, but seen as being the best outcome, considering the circumstances.
And that, my friends, is the story of, “How Matza Became a Brick”.
Are there some communities where the tradition of soft Matza is still maintained? Yes the communities of Teiman, of Syria and associated groups have maintained their traditions and have brought it with them wherever they have moved and established communities.
I heard that Matza is baked until it is hard in order to ensure it is fully baked. That is just nonsense. We have no trouble baking cake and bread and determining when they are fully baked. One of the simplest methods is by inspecting a skewer that has been poked into the cake; if dough does not stick to the skewer, the cake is baked. Well, the Halacha utilises this test for determining when Matza is properly baked.
BTW, this Halacha also proves that Matza is a soft product, otherwise the poke test makes no sense.
What is “18 minutes” Matza? 18 minutes is the time in which, under average conditions, dough will first show visible signs of being effected by yeast. 18 minute Matza means halting Matza production every 18 minutes to inspect and clean away dough stuck to the machinery, so the next batch cannot be contaminated. This production is more expensive due to the increased labour and slower output.
Surely it took longer than 18 minutes for the Jews to leave Egypt? Yes indeed, but we commemorate this miracle by emphasising its speed which testifies to Gd’s love for His Chosen People. Then, we did not have time for FULLY leavened bread; today, Matza has not been given time for ANY leavening to occur.
Is there non “18 minute Matza”? Yes, Kosher for Passover Matza can be produced even when the production is not stopped every 18 minutes for cleaning. If any spots of dough remain, it is unlikely they become Chamets, and even if they do and are introduced into the mix, they are too insignificant in the final product to be of any concern; they are Battel.
Is it true that some rabbis prefer non 18 minute Matza? Yes. The Halacha understands that dough will not become Chamets as long as it is being kneaded or worked in some way. It is argued that for this reason, it is better not to stop the machine. As long as the machines are running any dough that has caught onto the rollers or other parts of the machinery, are being moved at high speed which means they will not become Chamets. If the machines are stopped for cleaning then unless every spot of dough is removed [next to impossible], the remaining dough spots are now at high risk of becoming Chamets during the cleaning time when they are idle.
If all these Matza types are Kosher, why bother making the variations? Pesach is associated with extra care. The Torah exhorts us to be on guard, U’SheMarTem Es HaMatzos. Therefore although various foods are absolutely Kosher, we are encouraged to be a little more particular. It is not like checking your parachute a second or even a third time. If something is Kosher there is no risk. It is more like finding a gift for someone you love. Even when we have found the most exquisite trinket, we wonder if there might be something even more stunning in another shop.
What exactly is Shmura Matza? When Gd commands us we obey. If Gd commands us to eat Matza, then that is what we will do. And we will ensure it is not Chamets. What has Gd added by commanding us to “guard the Matza”?
Matza is not just dough that is baked before it has had a chance to rise. If such a product is made by a Gentile, we may eat it during Pesach, it is not Chamets but we cannot fulfil our Mitzvah, Gd’s command, that at the Seder we eat Matza. In order to fulfil our Mitzvah the Matza must be expressly made for the purpose fulfilling this Mitzvah. This is the meaning of, “and you shall guard the Matza.”
Wherever there is a risk of becoming Chamets, we can fulfil this Mitzvah of making the Matza for the Mitzvah. So, kneading the dough with this purpose in mind [and some require that the intention be expressed verbally] is adequate. However, in our endless pursuit of excellence, we prefer to do this from an earlier time of the milling for example or even from the time of harvest.
Is all Matza Kosher for Passover? No, Matza that is made without proper care will become leavened before it gets baked. Such Matza may not be eaten on Passover.
What are the two types of Shmura Matza? Actually, there are three levels of Shmura Matza.
In a pinch, Matza may be made from ordinary flour where there is no reason to suspect that the flour has become Chamets. This Matza is Shmura, made for the Mitzvah and protected, from the time it is dough. This is the very minimum. However, we far prefer to use flour that has been guarded at least from the time of its milling, if not from the time of its harvest.
What is the threat from which the grain might require protection? When milling machinery was water powered, it was not uncommon for splashes of water to make their way into the milling room. Furthermore, grain was sometimes soaked in water prior to milling. Even today grain will sometimes be “conditioned” to assist in the milling process. Conditioning raises the moisture level which makes the grain easier to mill. This was known in the times of the Gemara and some Sages of the Talmud prefer to eat Matza made from soaked grain, since it produced a superior flour and thus a superior Matza.
The third level of Shmura, guards the grain from the time of harvest. Fully ripened grain may become Chamets and so it will be harvested only at a time when there is no hint of rain. Furthermore, fully ripened grain may become Chamets even before it is harvested and so it will be harvested before it is fully ripe. This ensures that the grain will never even have an opportunity to become Chamets.
What care is taken when producing Exodus soft Matza? We ensure the flour is milled from wheat which has been harvested during dry weather. We ensure the wheat is milled without risk of becoming Chamets. This may happen when the wheat is “conditioned” i.e. sprayed with water. “Conditioning” is often performed to assist the milling.
The flour is packed in marked sacks which are then sealed in marked drums.
The dough for Soft Matza is manufactured with minimal idle time, not matched by other Matza bakeries.