I’ve heard people say that matzah used to be soft—something like pita or laffa—and that it was only when it began to be mass-produced that it become this hard, cracker-like stuff. Is this true? And if it is, can I use pita for my matzah?


Jews have been debating the thickness of their matzah for thousands of years. The Talmud records a debate between the students of Shammai and Hillel regarding whether one can bake matzah on Passover that is up to a handbreadth1 thick.2 Jewish law follows the school of Hillel, which allows the thicker matzah; however, all halachic authorities agree that a thickness of a handbreadth or more is not acceptable.3

In addition to the fact that such thick matzah is susceptible to becoming chametz because of the baking time, there is another problem. When the Torah commands us to eat matzah on the Seder night,4 it uses the term lechem oni, “poor man’s bread.” And thick bread is not considered poor man’s bread according to Jewish law.5

However, when we consider that the above discussion is about a matzah that, although under a handbreadth, is still several inches thick, it’s clear that matzah used to be baked with a higher ratio of water, making it a lot softer than our crispy matzah today. There is even an incident discussed in the Talmud6 where a moldy loaf is found on Passover, and one can’t tell whether it’s bread or matzah. Our cracker-like matzah would be easy to identify—and I’ve yet to see it go moldy, even after sitting in storage for a year.7

And yet, while some Jews of Middle Eastern descent still make their matzahs thick and soft, the overwhelming majority of matzahs today are hard and thin. What happened?

Matzah Started Thinning Out

By the 17th century, the widespread custom was to make matzah thinner than the handbreadth mentioned in the Talmud. Rabbi Hillel ben Naphtali Tzvi (1615–1690), known for his legal work Beit Hillel, writes that that the custom was to make matzah thinner than normal bread and as thick as an etzba (finger).8

There seem to be two reasons for the thinning of matzah over the years:

1) Although the students of Hillel ruled that matzah could be up to a handbreadth thick, there is in fact another opinion in the Talmud, that of Rabbi Yosef, which defines a “thick matzah” simply as thicker or larger bread.

Rabbi Yom Tov ben Avraham Asevilli (1250–1330), known as Ritva, writes that since no actual measurement was given in the Talmud in regards to Rabbi Yosef’s opinion, one should be careful that the matzah used for the Seder not be thick at all. Accordingly, he cites the custom to use only “thin matzah” for the Seder.9

2) Another issue is that if one were to use the same ovens for thin matzah and for soft, thick matzah, the hot oven would quickly heat the outside, making it look well baked but leaving it unbaked, and possibly chametz, on the inside.10

Accordingly, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812) writes in his Shulchan Aruch that while in theory thick matzahs are kosher, one must inspect them carefully to ascertain that they are baked through. He concludes that one should try to use only thin matzah.11

Matzah Becomes Drier and Thinner

Although we find that by the 17th century matzah had thinned out to about the thickness of a finger, it was still soft, and so would not stay fresh for more than a few days. As a result, and in light of the halachic concerns around baking matzah on Passover itself (if you are not extremely careful, you could end up with chametz!), the custom developed to start making matzah with a smaller ratio of water to flour, resulting in harder matzah that would not go stale.

However, this longer-lasting matzah was harder and thicker, and therefore it was more difficult to knead the dough. This raised a new concern. If it is difficult to knead and roll the dough, there may be some flour that remains unmixed inside the dough. At the same time, since the matzah was hard, it seemed more likely that people would want to eat it with water to soften it. However, doing this could potentially result in unbaked flour mixing with water, resulting in chametz.

Although some rabbis dismissed this concern out of hand,12 others felt that this was indeed something that one should be careful about.13

It is possible that it was as a result of this concern that matzah was made even thinner. Additionally, matzah bakers started spending more time kneading the matzah, so there was less concern about unmixed flour in the matzah or that one might eat it with water.14

Thus, by the end of the 18th century, our thin cracker-like matzah was born and quickly gained popularity.

Modern-Day Concerns with Wet Matzah

Although one potential problem with eating wet matzah (gebrokts) seems to have been alleviated by kneading the dough better and making thinner matzahs, many, including Chabad, are still careful not to let their matzah get wet.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi discusses the issue of wet matzah in a famous responsum. In the process of baking the hard matzah we eat today, it has become customary to be extra careful and rush through kneading and rolling the dough in order to finish making the matzah within the allotted 18 minutes. This leads to the dough not being kneaded as well as it used to be, and it is therefore possible to find tiny flecks of flour left on the surface of our hard matzah. Because of this, one should be careful not to get the matzah wet, thus avoiding any chance of this flour becoming chametz.15

In conclusion, it is indeed true that we used to have softer and thicker matzah. The reason that matzah became harder and thinner throughout the years is due to legitimate halachic concerns that arose well before the advent of mass matzah production. That being the case, while in theory you could still have softer and thicker matzah today, in practice, unless you are really an expert in the process of making these matzahs, you may end up with what looks like matzah on the outside, but is actually chametz on the inside.16

For more on the issue of wet matzah, see Gebrokts—Wetted Matzah.