Matzah: Bread of affliction or fluffy goodness

Matzah: Bread of affliction or fluffy goodness
Is it permissible for one to have soft matzot for Pesach?

Soft Matzah

Soft Sephardic-styled matzah waiting to be packaged.

Some people love matzah. I’m not necessarily one of them. I mean I use matzah meal for cooking throughout the year, but I’m not a fan of machine-made matzot. You know them. They come in boxes, which makes sense for some of us as they closely resembles the taste of the cardboard container itself. No really, those crispy crackers taste good when you start the week. But usually a few days in you start to understand the whole “bread of affliction” metaphor. Most of us don’t say it because of the dry lump in our throat, or because we are more preoccupied with the mirroring one in our digestive track.

All I have to say is, suffer no more! Get soft matzot! That’s right, I said soft matzah bread for Pesach.

I would love to do a good blog about the history of matzah. But most of us know this history quite well, and realize that the crispy crackers that we have today are a result of a fully automated process that was created about 150 years ago. Even if we use handmade matzot, their evolution to a bread identified by its perforations and crispy thinness has sustained as mehadrin and machmir (stringent) to the point it is almost universally utilized as our only style bread for Pesach in the greater Jewish world.

But it wasn’t always so. More precisely, it isn’t always so. For some Sephardim and Mizrahim, automation is not widely known in their communities and they still utilize homemade or community made matzot that are according to the pre-Industrial, handmade method and retain a fluffiness akin to Pita bread.

How is this possible? The issue of chametz (leavening) comes down to not allowing our flour to rise. It rises without even introducing yeast. In fact, historically we need to understand people didn’t usually go down to the local Food4Less and get a packet of yeast. It was done by fermentation of actual flour itself, like the sour dough process in which decay and fermentation in flour spreads its leavening to the rest of the dough, so that it will rise with appropriate heat and time to rest.

The last detail is part of the trick. As long as the dough is not allowed to sit more that 18 minutes it will not become chametz. As long as the dough is kept kneading it will not leaven. In the Sephardic world it was common practice for whole teams of people to keep working the dough to keep it from this form of leavening. The resulting dough, being more worked would become softer and retain some of that even once baked. The minhag also allows for thicker matzot too, thus explaining why they are akin to everyday pitot or laffa bread.

Under Sephardic rabbinic supervision such matzot can be found in many major cities worldwide. They are even more greatly available in Israel. But the question arises for some, are they appropriate for Ashkenazim to eat as well? The answer is answered for us by HaRav Aviner(I have also provided his matching Hebrew statement):

ש: האם מותר לאשכנזים לאכול מצות רכות

ת: אמנם יש אוסרים, ומודים שבעבר היו אוכלים אבל חדלו (הגרשזא הליכות שלמה פט הערה פ) ושאין מסורת להתיר. אבל אין גם מסורת לאסור, ומוזכר ברמא שהמצות היו עבות (תס ד) אז בהכרח היו רכות, וכן בשערי תשובה שם שהיו מגררים את המצות עם מין פומפיה, סימן שהיו רכות. והגר אשר וייס מתיר מעיקר הדין רק חושש כי אין בקיאים ברכות (בסוף ההגדה סטו). אבל עדות המזרח כן בקיאים. וכן הגר צבי שכטר מתיר בסיכום מותר

Q: Is it permissible for Ashkenazim to eat soft Matzah, like the Sefardim?

A: There are those who forbid it. While they agree that in the past Ashkenazim did eat it, they ceased doing so (Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Halichot Shlomo chap. 9 note #80) and there is no tradition (Masoret) to permit it. But there is also no tradition to forbid it, and the Rama (Orach Chaim 460:4) mentions that the Matzot where thick (and must therefore have been soft). And the Sha’arei Teshuvah writes there that they would prepare them with a type of grater, which is also a sign that they were soft. Ha-Rav Asher Weiss writes that the basic Halachah is that they are permissible, but he is concerned that we are not experts in making them soft and there is therefore a concern about Chametz (at the end of his Haggadah, siman #15). But Sefardim are experts. And Ha-Rav Herschel Schachter also permits them. In sum: It is permissible.”

So there you have it folks, us weird Sephardim got it right somewhere. Not only that, its proper for everyone’s use and not just us “orientals.”

In keeping with current standards for Pesach food preparation, they are all expertly prepared in under 18 minutes; which makes them equally on par with all the standards as that of crunchy matzot.

Now this announcement isn’t exactly a comfort to the masses, as they are still hard to get if you don’t live in a major Sephardic Jewish community.

One of the reasons they are now becoming more widely available today is because of the of aid of modern technology as well. Such soft matzot tend to dry out very quickly and usually have to be used the same or next day. Though freezing has allowed them to last longer. But if your don’t live in one of the major communities its unpractical to try to buy these matzot and have them shipped to you as the cost of shipping can easily be double the cost of the product itself; they need to be shipped overnight in order to remain frozen. Nonetheless you can order them online.

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