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The great matza debate

  • Rabbi Ari Kievman
For the past few weeks, Jews have been busy with all their Pesach shopping. I’ve noticed the price tags on the assorted Pesach goods, of local and overseas origin. The economic factor certainly carries weight when deciding what is a Yom Tov “necessity”.
by RABBI ARI KIEVMAN | Mar 29, 2018

In addition to price, we consumers will also consider other factors. For instance, fine wines come at premium cost, but also significantly better taste. When it comes to matza types, though, although the ingredients and tastes are pretty much the same, one can’t help but notice the discrepancy between a R25 box of square matza and the handmade shmura variety, costing nearly 200% more.

Like the difference between a Ford and a Bentley, the handcrafted matzas don’t have any different components to their mechanical counterparts, and are at higher cost due to the human involvement at each stage of production. But why the need for laborious hand work and the inflated price when, for close to a century we’ve been embracing the advances of technology.

Since our ancestors’ exodus from Egypt, Jews have been making matzas by hand in the less than 18 minutes prescribed time. With the industrial revolution, matzah machines were introduced, making this Pesach essential more affordable and readily available. However, with that came a heated halachik debate on the predilections for each option.

Why debate how a cracker is made?

There are actually many concerns; here are a few of them. As with most machines, the matzah machine is made up of many parts. During production, stray bits of dough can lodge in elusive spots and after 18 minutes become chameitz, thus rendering all subsequent matza disqualified for Pesach consumption.Also, the heat of the machinery could cause the dough to ferment prematurely.

Positions in the matzah factories were often held by unskilled Jewish workers, who depended on the work to support themselves. Mechanisation reduced job opportunities.

A primary concern also relates to the Torah’s injunction to “guard the matzas”, which is commonly known as shmura, meaning protected. This refers to the wheat being guarded from chameitz from the time of its actual harvest. This is, in fact, preferred for all of Pesach to ensure that the matza is of the highest kashrut quality.

Matza also requires the person making it to have intention, called lishma, that their actions are for the unique purpose of making matza for consumption on Pesach. The question raised was: Can a mindless machine qualify for making matzas?

Our Judaism, too, should be alive. Our relationship with G-d must be personal and passionate, not mechanical. It must be vibrant and dynamic. In rabbi school we were taught to either put fire in our sermons or otherwise to put the sermon in the fire.

Technologies have certainly improved our lives, but there are some things they can’t replace.

This Pesach, eat the food that, for millennia, Jews toiled with joyous sweat and tears to make. This Pesach, celebrate your Yiddishkeit with an extra dose of pride and passion.

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