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Handmade and Machine Made Matzah

Handmade and Machine Made Matzah

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About one hundred and fifty years ago, a machine was designed for baking matzah. Most of the process was automated and the matzot were untouched by human hands.

The introduction of the machine created a difference of opinion among the halachic authorities of that time, a difference of opinion which continues to this very day. Some authorities permitted the machine made matzot, whereas others prohibited them. Both sides offered reasons to support their contentions.

Those who permitted the use of the machine made matzot contended that these matzot are preferable, since the automated process is faster than making matzot by hand and there is thus less possibility of the dough becoming chametz, provided that special care is taken to ensure that the machinery is kept clean and that no dough is allowed to remain in the machinery between the processing of one batch and the next.

Those who prohibited the use of machine made matzot contended that baking matzah requires conscious intent that it is being done for the purpose of fulfilling the mitzvah.

Machines can have no intent, and thus, matzot prepared by machine lack this prerequisite. They also pointed out that the intricacy of the machinery makes it extremely difficult to ensure that no dough remains in the grooves or gears, for if dough is left in the machinery, it will render subsequent batches chametz.

Furthermore, since the parts of the machinery are made of metal and generate friction, the heat may cause the dough to ferment more rapidly.

Additionally, our tradition that fermentation occurs if the dough is left unworked for eighteen minutes applies to dough that was prepared by hand.

We have no tradition as to when this will occur in dough prepared by machine. Because it is feasible that such dough will ferment more quickly, we should be stringent, these authorities contend, and retain the original hand method of preparation.

Another objection was raised as well. The use of these matzot was liable to harm the poor, for many indigent families looked forward to the several weeks before Passover when there were abundant work opportunities in the bakeries and they could earn enough money to provide their families with the holiday needs.

Although those who permitted the use of machine made matzot countered these arguments (and it has become accepted to discharge the obligation to eat matzah on Passover with machine made matzot), many take great pains to use hand-made matzot to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzah at the Seder in the best possible manner.

Some people are even more stringent and will use only handmade matzot all of Passover.

Editor's note: The above discussion as published in 1958 involved hand-operated machines of yesteryear. However, even the rabbinic authorities who permitted machine matzah for Seder use in those days may not have extended that leniency regaring today's fully automated machinery. In addition, in the light of the ease in which hand-made matzahs can now be procured in almost every part of the world, it is strongly advisable that every Jewish person use these matzahs at very least for the Seder night.

Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, OBM, was one of Israel's most acclaimed religious authors, whose books on the Jewish way of life and the Chassidic movement have become renowned. Text translated from the Hebrew by Nachman Bulman and Dovid Landseman.
Excerpted from: The Book of Our Heritage. Published and copyright by Feldheim Publications.
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