Matza according to Halacha and our ancient
traditions was soft and thick, resembling a very thick pita. Flour and water
were kneaded as a soft dough and placed in an oven or on hot bricks. The heat converted the moisture in the dough to steam which inflated the
product. (That's how pita gets is pocket) Yemenite Jews still bake their soft matza in an oven called a tabun.
Soft Matza is still a widely maintained practice
amongst Sefardic communities. This Matza is soft and thick and is delicious
when fresh but quickly becomes stale and mouldy. It is not surprising that the
Halacha and tradition provide guidance for baking fresh Matza during the
festival of Pesach. The Aruch Hashulchan records it thus: “It is known that in
the early times, they did not bake all of their matzos before Pesach, but bake them
Rabbi Moshe Isserlis, the Rama (1520- 1572
CE), suggests that Matza should no longer be made as thick as one Tefach, about
5cm. He says, “Matza should be made like ‘rekikin’ since rekikin become Chametz
Rama was not referring to
what we today call Rekikin, wafers. The Rekikin referred to by the Rama were as
thick as an Etzba,12 mm thick (BaEr Heitev quoting the Beis Hillel). It is impossible
that Matzos of that thickness were baked hard and dry. Such Matza would only submit to a hammer and cold chisel.
It appears that the Rama is
following the remarkable ruling of Rashi from Pesachim (37a DH Osin Serikin)
that thin dough does not become Chamets as quickly as thick dough. [I have yet to see an explanation for this]
The trend towards hard dry
Matza was prompted by practicalities. As less and less people baked bread at home all year round, they became less and less confident to bake Matza during Pesach. Baking Matza during Pesach is fraught with risk; only a few short minutes can bring one to transgress a Torah prohibition. Just being in possession of Chamets, a spot of dough that escapes my attention and just sits there doing nothing, will become Chamets and will be the cause of me transgressing a Torah prohibition.
However, if Matza is not baked during but before Pesach, then we must contend with the problem of how to prevent the Matza becoming mouldy. The only option then available to extended shelf life, was to make it dry and hard. The obvious next step was to make the Matza very thin so that it could be chewed without too much difficulty. This occurred well after the Rama wrote his comment about
Rekikin, which are the thickness of a finger.
And that is the story of how soft Matza became Hard Matza.