Soft Massa: It’s the Real Thing Rabbi David Bar-Hayim Machon Shilo, Jerusalem
Soft massa or hard Massa,
that is the question.
point of fact it’s not a question at all. If you prefer crackers to bread all
year round, you’ll probably choose the hard cracker-massa with which we are all
familiar. If you usually prefer bread, you’ll probably find unleavened bread,
i.e. soft massa,
more to your liking. It’s your choice.
much is beyond doubt: originally massa
was soft and bread-like. In the Talmud (TB Pesahim 7a) we read: “Rabbah the
son of R. Huna said in the name of Rab: If a mouldy loaf [is found
during Pesah in a bread bin and we are unsure whether it is bread or massa],
if the majority of loaves [in the bin] are massa it is permitted [because we
assume it to be like the majority].” The
Talmud qualifies this Halakha to apply only if several days of
Pesah have already passed in which case “we say every day hot massa was baked and
placed there and thus it became very mouldy”, whereas if a very mouldy loaf is
found at the beginning of Pesah it must be some days old and is certainly bread
from before Pesah.
did you last come across mouldy massa?
You haven’t, because cracker-massa doesn’t go
mouldy. Soft bread-like massa
does; I know from personal experience. I have been baking soft massa for nearly 30 years.
passage quoted above explains something else too. Years ago I began to wonder
why many Jews have never seen real massa.
An examination of all relevant Talmudic and Halakhic sources reveals that that
there is absolutely no basis whatever for the assumption that massa needs to be hard. And then one day I
asked my father how massa was produced in his
home town in Transylvania. He explained that
all massa for
the town’s population was produced on the same premises. He related to me how a
special oven was prepared, how the massa
was baked and then packed in paper bags, and how some was set aside to be
distributed among the needy. All this was done some weeks before Pesah.
began to think about what my father had told me. I remembered how my first
attempts to produce soft massa had failed: the massa was rock hard. I
recalled how success came only after speaking to Jews who knew about baking
Middle Eastern pitta and massa
who explained that it all depends on the oven: European bread is baked by
being surrounded by hot air, whereas Middle Eastern bread bakes on a hot
surface. Two very different techniques which result in two very different
types of bread or massa.
then the penny dropped. In Europe, due to local conditions and realities, this
was the only type of massa
Jews were capable of baking. If you bake massa only once weeks in advance of
Pesah, and you know nothing of baking Middle Eastern bread, your only option is
to produce cracker-massa by using too little water in the dough, rolling
extremely thin and over-baking in the wrong type of oven. This is how cracker-massa
became the norm. Cracker-massa does, however, have one advantage: it will keep
Middle Eastern countries, on the other hand, where leavened
bread, i.e. pitta, and unleavened massa-bread (think ‘Lehem ‘Oni’) are
produced in a similar manner using the same type of oven (and even look alike),
massa was baked fresh daily, as proved by the Talmudic passage quoted
as European Jews used horseradish (which is not bitter) for maror instead of
bitter herbs (e.g. Chinese lettuce, Romaine lettuce, endives, chicory) for the
simple reason that in colder European climes leafy, green vegetables were
unavailable, so too did they lose the ability to bake real massa. It is that
in Israel those in the know
and with the facility bake their own soft massa
as our forefathers did. Soft massa has also been
commercially available in Israel
for some years. Last year an independently-minded rabbi in Melbourne,
Australia began marketing soft massa. Several local rabbis
opposed this “break with tradition”. When I first heard about the Great Soft Massa
Debate down under, I spoke to a couple of acquaintances in Melbourne. I learned that someone had
consulted Rabbi Wosner of B’ne B’raq who had expressed vehement opposition to
“the newfangled soft massa”
– and to me this made perfect sense. Rav Wosner has authored an Halakhic
response stating that it is forbidden for women to drive cars (see T’shuvoth Shevett
HaLewi 4:1), despite adducing no cogent argument. He also forbids the use of a
fully automated Shabath lift (North Americans should read: ‘elevator’), again
without adducing any Halakhic proof. These positions have nothing to do with
Halakha and everything to do with hashqapha/hashkofo (outlook), i.e. a
resistance to and fear of anything “new” – even if very ancient, authentic and correct.
This is essentially an ideological debate, and it is no secret that different
rabbis have different philosophical and ideological viewpoints.
course there is always the possibility that some are opposed simply because the
other rabbi thought of it first. Or that it somehow threatens their control mechanism
over their flocks. Who knows?
do know: it’s your choice. And right. And privilege.
Soft massa is the real thing,
the genuine article. As you will discover the first time you really do ‘korekh’,
wrapping the maror inside the massa
– at which point you will finally understand what Hillel the Elder had in mind: