Soft matzah, The True Tradition of Matzah - Just as G-d Wanted it.
By Meir G Rabi
Soft matzah is the only way to understand the part of the Seder where we remember Hillel and his sandwich which is the Korech part of the seder, because Korech is not a sandwich. The word "Korech" means roll up or bend around; rolling up the matzah with meat of the Pascal Lamb and the Marror within it. Hard matzah as we know it just won't do the job.
When I began researching soft matzah , I was surprised to discover that soft matzah was ubiquitous until at least 1770, i.e. our grandparent's grandparents were eating soft matzah . (see commentary Baer HeiTeiv, 1730 - 1770)
I also discovered that without a single exception, the Talmud, the rabinical commentaries, the Halacha authorities and down to our modern authorities, identify matzah as a soft, pita type product.
Since I was unsure if soft matzah was appropriate for our times, I consulted a modern Rabinical scholar, Rabbi 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 matzah and that forbidding soft matzah 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 matzah production.
Matzah was at one time a home-baked, soft product. It was baked daily during Pesach. However, the matzah production eventually moved out of our homes and into the factories. We also stopped baking it 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 matzah can be packaged to have an extended shelf life.
The Chafets Chayim (d.1933) in his acclaimed Mishna Berura, and all his contemporaries (who, in all likelihood, ate hard matzah ) nevertheless describe matzah as a soft spongy product (Mishna Berura, Orach Chaim 486). They do not mention a custom or preference for baking matzah hard and dry, simply because there was no such custom or preference.
Halacha (Shulcan Orach 461) tells us that matzah is baked when there are no stringy doughy threads stretched between pieces of a matzah that has been torn apart. Alternatively, we look to see if any dough sticks to a skewer poked into the matzah. Try poking a hard matzah with a skewer. Clearly, these tests apply to soft matzah only and can only be applied to soft matzah.
The Rama, Rabbi Moshe Isserlis (1520-1572) advises us to make matzah less thick than the 80 mm permitted by the Talmud. It should not exceed 12mm, as thick as a finger (Baer Heitev, 17301770). Matzot of that thickness (80 mm) if baked hard and dry would only submit to a hammer and cold chisel.
Without going into detail, 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 by stating that it should, "not be left idle even for one moment."
Machine made hard matzah is idle for several moments as it is conveyed from roller to roller. Hand made hard matzah can be idle when 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 whether with hand or machine made hard matzah . Soft matzah 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 matzah? Why do we make different Berachot, blessings, before eating them: Mezonot for water crackers and HaMotzi for matzah? Actually, Halacha rules that they are identical; bread dough, baked thin and crisp (hard matzah ) is no longer bread. Its Bracha is not HaMotzi but Mezonot (Shuchan Orach, Orach Chaim 168). Here too, soft matzah excels: the Bracha for soft matzah is HaMotzi, without need for exceptions and 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.
For more information, the author recommends that you check out www.realmatza.com.
from the April 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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