By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.comJoin our WhatsApp group
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This year, many frum people are mourning the loss of Shatzer Matzah. It was one of the most beloved Matzos in the nation and people are at a loss as to why, exactly, it had closed. The reason for it’s popularity? It was thin, fresh, and crunchy.
But how did Matzah become so thin? Didn’t it used to not be the case? And what about that Syrian Matzah that is sold?
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To get into the thick of things on the issue, it might be a good idea to examine the history of Matzah making. We can possibly trace the development of this history by examining at least four different types of sources. The Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz in Bnei Brak is an important resource when it comes to understanding Ashkenazic history in general and particularly when it comes to Matzos (see Yerushasainu Volume VII)
- The first source is how the Rishonim and Acharonim describe Matzah and the processes involved. The problem is that there are clearly different frames of references and not always can we be sure as to what they mean exactly. Regardless, however, we need to know the Gemorah background.
- The second method is, believe it or not, is through pictures found in old Haggadahs.
- The third method is through the halachos of Eruv Chatzeiros. How so? If an Eruv Chatzeiros spoils, rots or molds, it needs to be redone. Thick Matzah spoils – thin Matzos last.
- The fourth method is through the recollections of older people as to when specific changes happened and their mesorahs handed down from older people as to when they recall that specific changes happened.
DEBATE HOW TO INTERPRET THE BAVLI
The first mention of thickness is in the Jerusalem Talmud (Psachim 2:4). “One fulfills the obligation with thick Matzah up to a hand-breadth, just like the Lechem HaPanim.”
THE DEBATE BETWEEN BAIS SHAMMAI AND BAIS HILLEL
The issue of thick versus thin is further found in the Babylonian Talmud (Psachim 36a-37a), and therein lies the heart of the matter. Bais Shamai says you cannot bake matzah aveh for Pesach*, Beis Hillel says you can. [Matzah aveh – at this point seems to be translated as “thick Matzah” – but we will soon see otherwise. Also, there is a possibility that the word here by the asterisk is Yom Tov and not Pesach but we will also soon see what that is about.]
THE DEBATE BETWEEN RAV HUNA AND RAV YOSEPH
Rav Huna says, “And how much is thick? – a handbreadth.” Rav Yoseph attacked with a number of objections: If they said it regarding a hot oven in the Bais HaMikdash, will they also say it is permitted with regard to a cool oven? The lechem hapanim was baked in a metal oven that could be heated quickly, will they say the same with regard to a clay oven which doesn’t? Rav Yoseph rather answered that Matzah Aveh – thick Matzah means merely that it required a large amount of kneading or that in this particular town it meant that there was a lot of bread.
FOUR POSSIBLE UNDERSTANDINGS
There are no less than four different possibilities of understanding “Rav Yoseph’s attack.” The first two possibilities are premised on the notion that Rav Yoseph is only attacking Rav Hunah on his equating it to the Lechem HaPanim and that you can learn things out from there, but NOT on that the debate between Bais Hillel and Bais Shammai centers on whether there is a concern or not for thickness making things more susceptible to becoming chometz. But, according to this understanding, WE DO NOT KNOW THE PARAMETERS FOR WHAT IS THE THICK MATZAH that they are debating.
The next two possibilities (3 and 4) understand Rav Yoseph as fundamentally disagreeing that the underlying issue is chometzability – rather, the issue is whether it is forbidden on Yom Tov because it is too much work.
- The Bach and Bais Yoseph in Siman 460 learn, or seem to imply, that Bais Hillel holds that as long as we keep it less than a tefach -thick Matzah is permitted.
- We should be machmir and not make it thick Matzah, but we see from here that the Matzah does not have to be the thinnest of the thin – since Bais Hillel holds that “thick” is okay.
- We should be machmir and NOT make thick Matzah, because only the Lechem HaPanim had safeguards in place to ensure that it not become Chometz. We should, therefore, not make thick Matzah – but only because they had knowledgeable kohanim who knew what they were doing, and it had a controlled baking environment.
- The first Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Machatzis HaShekel on the Mogain Avrohom 460:4 seem to understand that there are a number of other factors that cause the Matzah to become susceptible to become chometz. They imply that we can only make tefach-thick Matzah with the lechem hapanim, but if there was someone knowledgeable and careful who can address the other factors – it would be fine. Indeed, perhaps – even thicker than a tefach may be permitted.
THE THREE POSSIBLE HALACHIC POSITIONS
These 4 different possibilities yield 3 different halachic positions.
- Matzah less than a tefach is permitted to bake .
- We should make the thinnest of the thin (based on possibility 2).
- Any thickness is okay (based on possibilities 1 and 3).
Many Rishonim, particularly among the Sefardic authorities ruled like position B. Among them were the Rashba, the Ra’ah, the Ritva, the Maharam Chalava, and the Shita Mekubetzes on Baitzah.
The Raavad, Raavya, the Ohr Zaruah and the Rashbatz, on the other hand, were all lenient and adopted the first position that anything less than a tefach was permitted.
The Ohr Zaruah Hilchos Challah 26 seems to suggest that there was a practical reason for the more lenient position. He indicates that the need for thin was only because the individual ovens that the stringent Poskim held (mostly among Sefardic Poskim) took a long time to get hot. However, once the switch to larger, communal ovens transpired, they could be more lenient.
Eventually, Matzos developed that had drawings on them. These drawings were either stamped onto the Matzos or quickly etched into the Matzos by those manufacturing it. Evidence for this can be seen in the both the writings of the Poskim immediately after the era of the Rishonim. There was a huge caveat here, however. The drawings could only be permitted if the Matzos were thin. Otherwise, there would be significant problems of Chometz.
There were geographic areas in Ashkenazic Europe where the trends went back and forth, but eventually the Ashkenazic community soon fully shifted to take the B position. Mind you, this was all before the advent of Machine Matzah. In other words, the eventual halachic ideal of position B combined with the technological advances brought on by Machine Matzah production – eventually yielded the ability for Matzos to get thinner.
THE MACHINE MATZOH REVOLUTION
1856, was the year everything changed, at least for some people. In Vienna, Austria, a Jewish baker created an international stir. He introduced machinery in the production of Matzoh. There was an earlier machine created in 1837 too, but that one did not stir up any controversy, perhaps because it did not automate as much as the latter version.
When the issue became known in Galicia, the controversy began. Rav Shlomo Kluger wrote a response about the issue to his student, Rabbi Chaim Nosson Dembitzer, the famous Rabbi and historian in Cracow and Rabbi Leib Horowitz (Cracow’s Chief Rabbi). The responsa is found in HoElef Lecha Shlomo (Hashmatos 32).
THE HAND/MACHINE WAR BEGINS
Later, in 1859, Rav Kluger joined up with Rav Mordechai Zev Ettinger, the author of the Maamar Mordechai and published together the Modaah L’Bais Yisroel where the two great luminaries categorically forbade the use of machine Matzos and placed it under the ban.
They gave a number of reasons for forbidding it. Rav Ettinger’s brother-in-law and Chevrusah, Rav Yoseph Shaul Nathanson, author of the SHoel UMaishiv, was a world-class posaik in his own right.
Shortly after the printing of the Modaah L’Bais Yisroel, Rav Nathanson printed a booklet permitting the Matzos entitled Bittul HaModaah. Needless to say, the chevrusahschaft with his brother-in-law the Maamar Mordechai ended on a somewhat sour note. A twenty-five year collaboration on dozens of great halachic works came to a tragic end because of the argument.
Initially, the Maharsham of Brezen (Responsa Maharsham Vol. II #16) also issued a ruling permitting machine Matzoh – even for use at the Seder. This heter was based on the notion that the machinery required constant turning by human labor. Later, he rescinded the heter (Vol. IV #129) based upon the idea that the power was emanating from electricity and the human labor was merely a grama – a cause. The Divrei Malkiel, however, permitted it even with the electricity being the power source.
Another authority of those who permitted the Matzos was the Ksav Sofer, the some of the famed Rav Moshe Sofer known as the Chsam Sofer.
THE REASONS FOR THE PROHIBITION
What were Rav Kluger’s reasons forbidding the Matzoh?
There were four reasons for his strict ruling. 1] He felt the requirement of Lishma was lacking 2] He was concerned for crumbs and leftover dough that would stick to the machines 3] He was concerned that the feeling for whole or broken wheat kernels which is normally done by hand would no longer be performed and 4] He provided a sociological reason for the poor. Since the cost of Matzos would lower considerably – people would no longer provide them with charitable contributions.
THE REBBES GET INVOLVED
The Sanzer Rebbe, Rav Chaim Halberstam (Divrei Chaim OC #23, and #24), agreed with the position that forbade the Matzos. The Sochetchover in Avnei Naizer (OC #537) also came out strongly against Machine Matzos and cited the Sanzer Rebbe as well as the Gerrer Rebbe forbidding it.
RAV ELYASHIV ZATZAL VERSUS RAV CHAYIM ZATZAL
In modern times it is well known that Rav Elyashiv zatzal and his family used machine Matzos. Rav Chaim zatzal, and his family uses hand Matzos.
Let’s keep in mind that whatever Matzah is used is, we should remember that the more we eat of it the greater Dveikus Bashem and to Emunah that we develop. The Zohar calls it “food of Emunah” for a reason.
Have a chag kasher v’sameach!
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