What is Matzah?

Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz

Matzah is a crisp, flat, unleavened bread, made of flour and water, which must be baked before the dough has had time to rise. It is the only type of “bread” which Jews may eat during Passover, and it must be made specifically for Passover use, under rabbinical supervision.

Matzah, at the same time the simplest and most complex of kosher products, consists of just two basic ingredients – flour and water. On Passover we avoid all wheat based products save one – the matzah which is eaten at the Seder in fulfillment of a biblical obligation, and that which we eat throughout the holiday.

Eating Matzah on Passover commemorates the unleavened bread eaten by the Jews when they left Egypt in such haste that there was no time for the dough to rise. There are many mystical concepts tied to the unique relationship between Matzah and Chametz on Passover.

One interpretation equates Matzah with G-d’s commandments (Mitzvot), and Chametz with sin (Chayt). The rigorous laws of Passover, in this interpretation, represent the great care that must be taken to follow the G-dly path.

How is the wheat kernel transformed into matzah while avoiding becoming forbidden chametz?

The Basic Ingredients

For most of the year, flour mixed with water is considered a kosher-friendly combination. But special production requirements come into play when blending the two for Passover. The merging of these ingredients to make Passover matzah necessitates a meticulously monitored environment, one that prevents the product from becoming chametz, which is defined by our rabbis as fermented grain.

Levels of Shmurah Flour

All wheat flour used in matzah production must be continually supervised. While kosher supervision of Passover flour used in for “regular” matzah begins prior to its milling, the flour used in “shmurah” (watched) matzah is supervised from the time that the wheat is harvested in the field. Wheat can only be used to make matzah flour if it has been inspected against any signs of moisture. The flour mill, bins, and transport vessels must be koshered for Passover; and any equipment used for chametz-milling which cannot be adequately cleaned, must be effectively sequestered.

Mayim Shelanu

Water to be used in matzah baking must be left to stand overnight (to ensure that it is allowed to cool). This water is then referred to as mayim shelanu (water which has “slept”).

Therefore, the mashgichim supervising the matzah bakery must take care that:
1. the water tanks are filled immediately prior to
2. there is sufficient mayim shelanu for the next day’s matzah production;
3. no additional water is added to the mayim shelanu tank during the day’s production.

Safeguarding Against Insect Infestation

The potential of insect infestation must be addressed when dealing with any grain product.

Matzah bakeries should safeguard against infestation in these ways:
1. quick turnaround of flour which allows the least amount of time between grinding and baking;
2. regular cleaning of flour bins and receptacles;
3. maximum cooling of all flour silos and production areas;
4. rigid sifting protocol of flour prior to baking.

Flour-Dust Control

The flour and water that make matzah must be mixed and kneaded into dough in a rabbinically-supervised, controlled environment. Any flour- dust generated by the mixing process must be contained to ensure that it does not drift into other areas of production, thereby contaminating the dough being rolled into matzah. So it is essential that the flour be restricted to a mixing-process station. As an additional safeguard, the mixing (flour and water) and rolling (dough) should best take place in two completely separated areas.

Heat and Fermentation

The heat generated by the oven and the machinery running in an industrial setting often cause bakery temperatures to rise. But excessive heat, which is a primary factor connected with fermentation, must be avoided in a matzah bakery. Therefore, special precautions should be instituted to maintain temperatures around the oven door (pi hatanur).

18-Minute Matzah/Cleanup of the Matzah Bakery

The phrase “special 18-minute matzah” is actually a misnomer since all matzah bakeries, producing either hand or machine matzot, are equipped with the proper supervision to ensure that less than 18 minutes elapses from the time the flour touches the water until the matzah enters the oven. (There are those who set the 18-minute standard to include complete baking time as well.)

In current matzah parlance, “18-minute matzah” means that the entire matzah line is cleaned every 18 minutes; this includes mixing utensils, table or conveyor lines, matzah cutters and scorers (dockers) and every other surface that comes in contact with the dough. The result is a product that has not just been baked in less than 18 minutes, but one that has also not come in contact with any dough older than 18 minutes. However, this special time-sensitive cleaning process can be challenging, particularly when dealing with older matzah-making equipment that is pitted or has cracks and crannies.

Cleaning the matzah line every 18 minutes produces a mehudar (halachically superior) product, as long as each clean-up process is thorough, i.e., that every matzah crumb and all residue are removed. If, however, if any residual material remains after an imperfect clean-up, the matzah produced on that line is considered of an inferior kashrut standard. According to the principle of eisek (continual handling), as long as the equipment is operating, any residual pieces will not become chametz. Consequently, if there were no shutdown every 18 minutes, any residual material in continuous motion would not compromise the system. However, if the equipment is stopped without it being completely cleaned, the residual material will be rendered chametz and could adversely impact the “18 minute matzah”.

Unacceptable Matzot

In order for matzah to be properly and thoroughly baked, sustained levels of heat are required for a prescribed period of time; if the matzah is not thoroughly baked, it is considered chametz. Mashgichim must therefore continuously monitor ovens against any drop in baking temperatures.
Two other types of inadequately baked matzot are:
1. kefulot—matzot with folds;
2. nefuchot—if the scoring is insufficient, the matzah will swell (like a pita) indicating that the center of the matzah has not been adequately baked.

Articulated Intent

Jewish thought attributes to Passover, not just the freedom from physical servitude, but also our people’s emancipation of spirit. In addition to the multitude of material requirements in making matzah, there is one additional obligation — every batch of matzah is preceded by the baker’s declaration, “le-shem matzat mitzvah,” that it is being baked to provide matzah for all who would taste freedom in the fulfillment of the Divine command.

Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz

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