Soft Matza is the only way to understand the Seder where we remember Hillel and his Korech, because Korech is not a sandwich. The word “Korech” means roll up; rolling up the Matza with meat of the Pascal Lamb and the Marror, within it.
When I began researching soft Matza, I was surprised to discover that soft Matza was ubiquitous until at least 1770, i.e. our grandparent’s grandparents were eating soft Matza. (BaEr HeiTeiv 1730 - 1770)
I also discovered that without a single exception, the Talmud, the Poskim (Halacha authorities) and all commentators, down to our “modern” authorities, identify Matza as a soft, pita type product.
Since I was unsure if soft Matza was appropriate for our times, I consulted HaRav H Schachter, the Rabbinical Head of Yeshivah University NY, and official Posek for the world famous OU Kosher authority. He wrote that Jews of all traditions may eat soft Matza and that forbidding soft Matza makes as much sense as suggesting that Custom forbids us from decorating the Synagogue in blue rather than red. Following this, I began the arduous tasks of locating and monitoring the wheat harvest; its storage and milling and finally the Matza production.
Matza used to be a home-baked, soft product. It was baked daily during Pesach. However, Matza production eventually moved out of our homes. Neither was it baked during Pesach. It was all manufactured prior to Pesach. That is when, in order to prolong its “shelf-life” and prevent it from becoming mouldy, it became necessary to bake it dry.
Today however, soft Matza can be packaged to have an extended shelf life.
The Chafets Chayim (d.1933) in his Mishneh Berura, and all his contemporaries (who in all likelihood ate hard Matza, nevertheless) describe Matza as a soft spongy product (MBerura, O”Ch 486). They do not mention a custom or preference for baking Matza hard and dry, simply because there is no such custom or preference.
Halacha (ShO Siman 461) tells us that Matza is baked when there are no stringy doughy threads stretched between pieces of a Matza that has been torn apart. Alternatively, we see if any dough sticks to a skewer poked into the Matza. Try poking a hard Matza with a skewer. Clearly, these tests apply to soft Matza only.
The Rama, Rabbi Moshe Isserlis (1520- 1572) advises us to make Matza less thick than the 80 mm permitted by the Talmud. It should not exceed 12mm, as thick as a finger. [BaEr Heitev - 1730–1770]. Matzos of that thickness if baked hard and dry would only submit to a hammer and cold chisel.
Without going into detail (here) from the moment water is added to flour, our Code of Jewish Law (459:2) warns that “extreme caution must be exercised to ensure that the dough is continuously worked” and underscores the urgency with, "and not left idle even for one moment."
Machine made hard Matza, is idle as it is conveyed from roller to roller. Hand made hard Matza is often idle as the dough rounds are waiting to be pierced and again when waiting to be inserted into the oven. Minimising idle time is probably the most difficult goal to achieve be it with hand or machine made hard Matza. Soft Matza however, excels also in this particular arena.
Here is a Pesach question: Ma NishTaNa - What is the difference between an Osem water cracker and hard Matza? Why do we make different Berachot, blessings, before eating them: Mezonot for water crackers and HaMotzi for Matza? In fact, Halacha rules that they are identical; bread dough, baked thin and crisp (hard Matza) is no longer bread. Its Bracha is not HaMotzi but Mezonot (ShO OCh 168). Here too soft Matza excels: the Bracha for soft Matza is HaMotzi, without need for exceptions and Pilpul, complicated argument.
At the Seder we commemorate our Holy Temple, we describe Hillel’s practice of making a wrap. Tradition is calling. It is roused from its slumber. This year let’s not just talk about what Hillel did; let’s do what Hillel did.