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by Rabbi Zushe Blech

Reprinted with permission. First published by the Montreal Vaad in "Voice of the Vaad" for Pesach 5760.

Although we generally refer to the holiday as "Pesach" (Passover), this name technically refers to the 14th day of Nissan, the day that the Korban Pesach (Paschal Sacrifice) was brought. The main holiday is referred to in Chumash as Chag Hamatzot - the Holiday of Matzoh, since it is characterized during its entire seven days by observance of the requirements of Chometz and Matzoh. Although the requirement to eat Matzoh applies only during the Seder, one is prohibited from eating Chometz during the entire holiday. In addition, many authorities rule that although one is not obligated to eat Matzoh during the rest of Pesach, one actually fulfills the Mitzvah of Matzoh every time it is eaten during Pesach (shitas ha Gra). There are a number of different types of Matzoh, and it is important to know their Halachik distinctions in order to be able to approach the fulfillment of the Mitzvos of Chometz and Matzoh in the most appropriate manner.

Both Chometz and Matzoh are made from the same ingredients - flour and water - and it is impossible to understand one without the other. Chazal teach us that the grains wheat, rye, oats, barley and spelt can ferment with water to become Chometz. This fermentation may be from the spontaneous fermentation that can occur when the grain becomes wet for even a brief period, even without the addition of yeasts or other leavening agents. Matzoh is defined as bread made from any of these grains, which are susceptible to becoming Chometz, but are mixed with water and baked in such a way that guarantees that it does not ferment and become Chometz. Although other "grains", such as corn (maize) and rice, may ferment, such fermentation is classified as sirchon ("rot"), and not true Chometz. [Many are classified as Kitniyos, whose use is also restricted according to Ashkenazic custom.] As such, bread made from these sources cannot be considered Matzoh. Similarly, Matzoh made with flour from one of five grains but using liquids other than water - such as fruit juice or eggs - will also not create true Chometz, but neither can it be considered true Matzoh. One must therefore be very careful when making Matzoh, since the difference between Chometz and Matzoh can be very slight, indeed.

The Torah teaches us: V'shamrtem et haMatzot - one must guard the Matzohs. Chazal interpret this injunction in two ways. First, one must be extremely vigilant to ensure that the Matzoh does not become Chometz. Second, one must bake the Matzoh that is to be used to fulfill the Mitzvah of eating Matzoh with that express purpose in mind (Leshma). The approaches used to satisfy these requirements present us with a variety of different types of Matzoh.


The first concern with the preparation of Matzoh is the to ensure that the flour is free of
Chometz concerns. Matzoh flour must therefore be guarded (shimurah) to ensure that it does not come into contact with water and begin to ferment before the actual Matzoh baking process. There are three opinions discussed in Halacha as to the level of guarding that is required. The most lenient opinion states that this requirement is satisfied as long as care is exercised from the time the flour is mixed with water to ensure that the Matzoh is baked before it an become Chometz (Shmurah melisha v'alach). This opinion should only be followed in cases of extreme necessity, and none of the Matzoh sold today follows this approach. [Indeed, most flour today is soaked (tempered) in water before milling, which raises the concern that it may be true Chometz]. The second opinion holds that the grain must be guarded from the time it is milled into flour, since it is at that time that it is most susceptible to fermentation when it becomes wet (shmurah metichina v'alach). The grain is inspected before milling to ensure that it has not begun to sprout or exhibit other signs of Chometz, and by doing so we are assured that even if the whole grain had become wet it had nevertheless not become Chometz. Most machine Matzoh made today uses such flour, and such Matzoh is commonly referred to as matzah pashutha -"regular Matzoh". The third approach requires supervision of the grain from the time of its harvesting to ensure that it did not come into any contact with water whatsoever until the actual baking of the Matzoh (shimirah mishas k'tzirah). Such flour is used to bake all hand and some machine Matzoh, and such Matzoh is referred to as  - "Shemurah Matzoh".

The second concern involves the requirement that Matzoh used to fulfill the Mitzvah of eating Matzoh during the Seder be made leshmah - with the intention that it be used for a Mitzvah. Until about two hundred years ago, all Matzoh was made by hand. The process involved hand mixing small batches of dough with water that had been allowed to cool overnight (mayim shelonu), hand rolling the dough into Matzohs, and then using a hand-held tool to place the Matzohs into the oven. Since each of these steps was done by a Jew with the intention of making Matzoh for use as a Mitzvah, all of the Matzoh was considered as made leshmah -- for the sake of the Mitzvah. With the advent of machines capable of mixing dough, rolling it into Matzohs, and placing it into the oven, several new issues presented themselves. First, it is obvious that a machine cannot make Matzoh leshmah - with the intention for a Mitzvah. However, does the intentional action of turning the machine on constitute an act sufficient to consider Matzoh made by machine to be indeed made for the sake of the Mitzvah (leshmah)? This question has been the subject of much Halachik discussion. Although many manufacturers of machine Matzoh attempt to address the requirement of leshmah by having some direct human involvement in the production of the Matzoh (such as in the mixing of the dough), many people insist on using hand Matzoh during the Seder in order to ensure that they had been baked leshmah. It is worth noting, however, that at least one specialty machine Matzoh baking company in Israel performs all critical steps by hand to ensure that their Matzoh is indeed made leshmah.

[A special type of hand Matzoh is discussed among the Halachik authorities especially for use at the Seder. As we noted before, the holiday of Passover actually becomes on the afternoon of the 14th day of Nissan, when the Korban Pesach (Paschal Sacrifice) was brought in the Beis Hamikdash. According to many authorities, one should ideally bake the Matzoh to be used at the Seder that very afternoon. Indeed, many Gedolim insist on baking their Matzoh in this manner. However, such an enterprise requires great care, and the custom by most is to bake their Matzohs in advance.]

A third concern stems from the need to ensure that the Matzoh dough does not become Chometz during the baking process itself. Chazal tell us that under normal conditions it takes at least 18 minutes for dough to become Chometz. This time can change drastically, however, with changes in the surrounding environment. Heat will significantly hasten the process, and for this reason the oven in a Matzoh bakery is segregated from the area where the dough is handled. In order to avoid any possible concerns, hand Matzoh factories shut down their production every 18 minutes. At that time the tables, mixing equipment, rolling pins, and all other equipment is thoroughly cleaned to remove every trace of dough from the previous batch. The workers even wash their hands carefully, and the Mashgiach checks everything before production is allowed to resume. Some machine Matzoh production also follows this approach, and the equipment is designed to be dismantled and thoroughly cleaned every 18 minutes. Such machine Matzoh is called "18 Minute Matzoh", and is made from both Shemura and regular Matzoh flour. Most machine Matzoh, however, is produced on equipment that is cleaned thoroughly at the beginning of a production cycle, but not every 18 minutes. They rely on the following considerations. First, Chazal tell us that the time before dough becomes Chometz can be extended for a much longer period if it is constantly being worked (e.g. kneaded). These machine Matzoh factories therefore design their systems to attempt to keep the dough in a constantly state of motion. Furthermore, the equipment is designed to prevent the dough from sticking to the equipment or otherwise remaining in the system for 18 minutes. Since the speed of the Matzoh production is such that every mixture of dough passes through the system into the oven well within 18 minutes, it can be assumed that all of the Matzoh has indeed been baked within 18 minutes of the time it was first kneaded. Any minor amounts that might remain on the equipment would be Halachikally insignificant (Batul).

Another type of Matzoh is called Egg Matzoh (matzah ashirah). It is produced from Passover Matzoh flour, but uses eggs or fruit juice instead of water. In theory such Matzoh cannot become Chometz, since it does not contain regular water. It does, however, pose to significant issues. First, although it may be permitted to be eaten, it may definitely not be used to fulfill the Mitzvah of eating Matzoh at the Seder, since it is not lechem oni (Bread of Affliction) and by nature cannot become Chometz. Second, the Remah rules that since contamination of the fruit juice with even a slight amount of water could cause the dough to become Chometz immediately, the custom is to refrain from eating such Matzoh on Pesach at all, except by children or the infirm.

Our discussion of Matzoh would not be complete without noting the special efforts made to meet the needs of those who cannot eat regular Matzoh due to certain health considerations. Although Matzoh can be made from any of the five grains, virtually all Matzoh today is made from wheat. Unfortunately, certain people are allergic to the protein found in wheat (gluten). To address this need, special productions of spelt and oat Matzoh are available. However, please note that these products may pose special Halachik concerns for use in fulfilling the Mitzvah of Matzoh at the Seder, and one should consult with a Rav when these products are indicated.

The eating of Matzoh at the Seder allows us to fulfill at Mitzvah D’Oyraissa - a Biblical commandment. The Jewish people have historically gone to great lengths in the stringencies and care with which they baked their Matzoh for this great Mitzvah, with many insisting that they personally bake and supervise its production. Many are careful to eat a piece of Shemura Matzoh each day of the Holiday, since according to some opinions the Mitzvah of eating Matzoh can be fulfilled throughout. An understanding of the intricacies involved in its production should give us a greater appreciation of this Mitzvah and its paramount importance for the holiday itself.