A – The Mitzva of Eating Matza
The mitzva of eating matza (plural: matzot) on the night of the fifteenth of the month of Nisan is stated explicitly in the Torah: "In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, in the evening, you shall eat matzot," (Exodus 12, 18). The Torah also says "You shall eat matzot for seven days" (Exodus 12, 15); yet Chazal used the Torah’s exegetic principles, given for the elucidation of the Torah and for making halakhic deductions from it, to show that this verse does not mean to command us to eat matzot all seven days, but rather that matza is the principal food one is to eat during Pesach instead of bread. A person who does not want to eat matzot is not duty-bound to do so, but is allowed to eat just fruits and vegetables, and meat and dairy products, as he wishes.
The simple meaning of this would seem to be that one who eats matzot all seven days of Pesach does not thereby fulfill a mitzva, and that this is what Chazal meant when they said that eating matza during the seven days is "voluntary" (Pesachim 120a) – that is, not obligatory. Nevertheless, many major halakhic authorities have written that, while it is true that eating matza is obligatory only on the night of the seder, and that that is why our Sages instituted recital of the special blessing "al achilat matza" only for the eating of matza on seder night - yet one who eats matza on the other days of Pesach is still fulfilling a mitzva, even if it is not obligatory. According to this perception, what our sages meant when they said that eating matza on the seven days of Pesach is "voluntary" is that, by way of contrast with the obligation to eat matza on the night of the fifteenth, on the rest of Pesach a person is free to decide whether or not he wants to fulfill an additional mitzva by eating matza. According to this view, the verse retains its simple meaning, as is written, "You shall eat matzot for seven days" (Exodus 12, 15). This is how Ibn Ezra and Chizkuni explained the verse; this is also implied by what the Rosh wrote. This was also the practice of the Vilna Gaon. It should be noted that even they held that the mitzva consists of eating a kazayit of matza at each festive meal; eating more than that does not constitute an addition to the mitzva. 1 B - Matza Shemura (Protected/Guarded Matza)
The Torah says, "and you shall keep [also: guard, protect] the [festival of] matzot" (Shemot 12, 17). Chazal interpreted this commandment as calling for watching over the matzot, to ensure that they not begin to ferment.
Chazal meant that the matzot that people eat for the sake of the mitzva on the first night of Pesach must be actively protected from fermentation, for the very next verse says "in the evening you shall eat matzot". The law concerning the other matzot one eats on Pesach is like the law of other foods: they may be eaten as long as there is no cause for concern that - according to the halakhic definitions – they might have become chametz. We have been commanded to take extra precautions to protect the matza used for the mitzva on seder night from becoming chametz.
From what time does one need to guard the matzot? L’khatchila, the wheat should be guarded from harvest time. It is customary to harvest the wheat when the kernels are still a bit moist, for if they were to dry out completely and a lot of rain were to fall on them, the grains would ferment. Similarly, afterwards, when the grains are stored, care must be taken to store them in places where one need not fear that they might come in contact with water.
One may also fulfill the mitzva of eating matzot on seder night with matzot that were protected from fermentation from the time the wheat was ground into flour. As long as the wheat kernels showed no signs of fermentation, so that the status granted them by halakhah was not spoiled (because no grains were seen to have split or sprouted), one need not fear that they had become wet and fermented. Matza that has been guarded only from the time of grinding the wheat into flour is just not as "de luxe" matza shemura as matza made from wheat grains that were guarded from harvest time.
Under extenuating circumstances, if flour that has been guarded from the time of grinding is also not available, one may buy regular flour in the market, and fulfill the mitzva of guarding against fermentation by guarding the dough from the time of kneading (Shulchan Arukh Orach Chayim 453, 4). Even if it is customary in that place to rinse the grains of wheat lightly before grinding them, it is still permissible under extenuating circumstances to buy regular flour in the market. Since a brief rinse is not presumed to be enough to cause the grains to begin to ferment, we may assume they did not ferment. However, if it is customary to soak the grains a little in water, it is forbidden to buy flour for matza in the market, since it is presumed halakhically to be chametz (Mishna Berura 451, 24). Therefore, in actual practice, one should not buy flour for matzot that does not have special kashrut supervision for Pesach, since the wheat grains are frequently soaked in water, and there is a genuine concern that they may have fermented. 2
In actual practice, the custom today is to be meticulous about matza shemura, to buy matzot that have been guarded from the time of harvest for the seder night, and to use them to fulfill the mitzva of eating matza. This practice has taken root so thoroughly that people have come to call matza that has been guarded only from the time of grinding non-shemura matza, even though it is considered matza shemura according to halakha, and one may fulfill the mitzva of eating matza by eating such matza. C – Does the Protection have to be done with the Intention of Fulfilling a Mitzva?
Guarding the matzot to be used for fulfilling the mitzva of eating matza on seder night means two things: 1 - being extra careful to prevent fermentation; 2 - guarding intentionally for the sake of matza to be used for a mitzva (matzat mitzva). Therefore, one must be careful that the kneading and baking of the matzot is done by Jews who are of mitzva age. Such Jews can be relied upon both to guard against fermentation and to keep in mind that their actions are for the sake of matzat mitzva. One may not employ non-Jews, minors or others who lack halakhic mental capacity, for kneading or baking matzot, since one cannot count on them to have the appropriate intent (She’iltot, Rashba).
Some authorities disagree with the second meaning above. They hold that the mitzva of guarding the matza requires special care to prevent fermentation, but does not require that it be made while having special intent. Thus non-Jews and minors are fit for baking the matzat mitzva, as long as an adult Jew supervises their work for the sake of a mitzva, making sure they do their work with alacrity and that their dough does not begin to ferment (Ra’ah).
In actual practice, at the time of kneading the matza dough one should be careful to fulfill both meanings of "guarding". One should be careful, then, that Jews knead and bake the matzat mitzva, with explicit intent that they are making matza for the sake of the mitzva. However, at the time of harvesting and grinding, the first meaning is sufficient, so that the harvesting of the wheat and the grinding of the flour may be done by non-Jews, on condition that Jews stand nearby and supervise their work, to assure that no fermentation takes place (Shulchan Arukh 460, 1; Mishna Berura 460, 3; Sha’ar Hatziyun 4). 3
Lekhatchila, one should say out loud - at the beginning of working on matzot - that all the work is being done for the sake of producing matzat mitzva; however, bedieved, if he only thought that, he fulfilled his obligation (Bi’ur Halakha 460, 1, based on Pri Megadim).
He should have in mind specifically that it is for the sake of the matzat mitzva that one eats on seder night, but if he had in mind that it be for matza for Pesach, he has fulfilled the obligation (Shulchan Arukh Harav 453, 14). D – The Fitness of Hand-made vs. Machine-made Matzot for the Mitzva of Eating Matza
A great dispute arose among halakhic authorities, from the time people began making machines for baking matzot. The dispute centers on two principal questions: a) Are the machine-made matzot kosher for Pesach, that is, is it certain that they are completely free of fermentation? b) Can one use them for fulfilling the mitzva of eating matza on seder night?
As far as the concern for fermentation goes, it has been agreed that it all depends on the nature of the machine and on the supervision, so that as long as there are kashruth supervisors who ensure that there is no risk of fermentation – the matzot are fit for Pesach. Thus even specially righteous, God-fearing Jews eat machine-made matzot on Pesach.
The second question, however, is still hotly debated. Some say that the mitzva of guarding the matza requires that the entire process of kneading and baking be done with explicit intent that they are for the sake of matzat mitzva, and since a machine cannot have intentions, one cannot fulfill the mitzva of eating matza on seder night by eating machine-made matza.
Most halakhic authorities hold that one can fulfill the mitzva by eating machine-made matzot for several reasons. Some explain that the mitzva of guarding the matza only requires one to ensure that there is no fermentation, and it is irrelevant whether this is done while making the matza by hand or by supervising the activity of a machine. Furthermore, it is a human being who operates the machine, and if he operates it with the intent of making matzat mitzva then, automatically, all of the machine’s operations will be considered to have been done for the sake of the mitzva.
In actual practice, machine-made matzot can be used to fulfill the mitzva of eating matza on the seder night. Many are scrupulous about fulfilling the mitzva with hand-made matzot that were baked under good kashruth supervision. However, even they grant that it is not necessary to eat hand-made matzot throughout the seder meal; but rather the scrupulous thing to do is to eat hand-made matzot for those kazayit quantities of matza that we were commanded to eat for the sake of a mitzva (as explained further in this book 16, 22-25). 4 E – Is there a Special Value in Eating Hand-made Matzot throughout Pesach?
The mitzva of guarding the matzot was said about the matza we were commanded to eat for the sake of a mitzva on the night of the fifteenth of Nisan. The idea is to honor the mitzva by giving the matzot extra protection. In other words, matzot that were not guarded, but for which there need be no concern that they may have become chametz according to the rules of halakha, are permissible for eating on Pesach; they are just not fit to be used as matzot mitzva, since they were not specially guarded for that purpose.
Thus it is permissible to eat matzot that are kosher for Pesach, even though they are not shemurot, throughout Pesach.
Nevertheless, there are those who are particular to eat matza shemura throughout Pesach. There are two reasons for this. One reason is that some authorities hold that while there is no duty to eat matzot throughout Pesach, yet one who does choose to eat matzot does fulfill a mitzva; therefore, one who wants to fulfill a mitzva by eating matzot should eat matza shemura. Yet, according to this it is sufficient to eat a kazayit of matza shemura at every meal. Similarly, it is sufficient to use our regular matzot, which are guarded from the time of grinding, and we have learned above that one can fulfill the requirement for the matzat mitzva with matza that has been guarded from the time of grinding.
The second reason is that some authorities hold that one of the reasons for eating matza shemura is out of concern for possible fermentation; for out of all the foods we eat on Pesach the matza is the likeliest one to undergo fermentation. Therefore, if the wheat grains are not protected from harvest time there is a reason for concern that they may have fermented. Thus there is good reason to be stringent and to eat only matza that has been guarded from harvest time throughout Pesach.
One should realize that today the advantage of matzot that have been guarded from harvest time is not only in their having been protected from contact with water from harvest time, but rather that, in general, much more care is taken throughout their manufacturing process. For example, the machines are stopped every eighteen minutes for a careful cleaning. Thus these matzot benefit from a whole series of exacting practices.
In summation, regular matzot, which have been guarded from fermentation from the time of the grinding of the wheat into flour, are kosher for all of Pesach lekhatchila. Even those who hold there is a mitzva to eat matza throughout the seven days of Pesach agree that one fulfills the mitzva with such matzot. The more scrupulous eat matzot that have been guarded from harvest time, primarily because they are more careful to avoid possibilities of fermentation throughout their manufacture. 5 F – Water that has Stayed Overnight
The sages prohibited kneading the dough for Pesach matzot with lukewarm water. The warmth hastens the fermentation process, increasing the risk of the dough becoming chametz if the workers are not especially quick in kneading the dough and baking the matzot. Chazal forbade kneading the dough even with regular cold water found in cisterns and in springs, lest the ground, that had absorbed the heat of the sun, had warmed the water. Therefore they required drawing the water before nightfall and keeping it overnight in a cool place. Such water is called mayim shelanu (water that has stayed overnight). This is the water that is used to prepare matzot for Pesach (Shulchan Arukh 495, 1 and 3). 6
A problem arose in hot countries. Wherever they would keep the water it would warm up a bit, while, to the contrary, if they left the water in the springs it would stay cooler. Nevertheless, the halakhic ruling is that they have to leave the water out overnight, in accordance with the Sages’ original enactment; if, as a result, the water warmed up a bit, they must put it in refrigerators or in walk-in coolers (Mikraei Kodesh, Pesach 2, 7).
Some hold that one should not take water from a faucet and leave it out overnight for baking the matzot, since the water might be from an open reservoir and may have been warmed by the sun. Furthermore, there is concern that the chlorine dissolved in the water might hasten the fermentation process (She’arim Metzuyanim Bahalacha, 109, 3). In actual practice this possibility is of no concern. Indeed, there are a few meticulous people who make hand-made matzot who are scrupulous about drawing the water from wells or springs, but in the machine-made matza factories they take regular water from the municipal system, filter it thoroughly, and leave it in a cool place all night; that is their "mayim shelanu" (the custom of my teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, was to prepare mayim shelanu using water from the faucet). G – Preventing Fermentation during Kneading
The flour for matzot is ground at least one day before kneading it into dough, since the grinding heats the flour slightly, increasing the risk that the dough will ferment (Shulhan Arukh 453, 9).
No salt or pepper is added to the dough, since they might warm the dough, increasing the risk of fermentation (Shulhan Arukh 455, 5-6).
Lekhatchila, one should not make a matza dough with more than 1,666 grams of flour (that is the least amount that obliges one to separate challah from dough with a bracha). A dough that is larger than that is difficult for one person to knead thoroughly and quickly, so parts of the dough may begin to ferment. Bedieved, if a person kneaded a larger quantity, the matza is kosher as long as the dough did not rest for eighteen minutes and no signs of fermentation appeared in it (Shulchan Arukh 456, 1-2).
When there are several people engaged in kneading, flattening and rolling out the dough, some authorities hold it is permissible to knead larger quantities, and, indeed, many customarily do this. Even so, initially it is proper to be stringent and not to knead more than the measure that the Sages said (Mishna Berura 456, 7).
When the kneading is done by machine, it is customary even initially to be lenient and to knead large volumes of dough.
One may not knead the dough in a hot place, since the heat hastens the fermenting. Therefore one may not knead outside in the sun or in a sunny place. Sometimes it gets hot even on a cloudy day, so that even if the sun is not shining, one may knead the dough neither outside nor inside a building opposite the windows, lest the heat pour in through them. Obviously one may not knead in a place that is heated by the oven (Shulchan Arukh 459, 1). Someone even gave a measure for the heat, saying one may not knead in a place where the temperature is thirty degrees Celsius or higher (Sefer Matzot Mitzva Chapter 7, note 29). Bedieved, if they kneaded the dough in a hot place but did not see any signs of fermentation in the dough or the matza – then the matza is kosher for Pesach (Shulchan Arukh 459, 5).
Lekhatchila, one may not stop working the dough for even a moment (Shulchan Arukh 459, 2). If the hands of the person kneading the dough heat up, he should cool them in cold water. There are some who are scrupulous to cool their hands in water from time to time in any event as they are kneading (Mishna Berura 459, 27). H – More Laws about the Matzot
The oven should be heated thoroughly, so that the dough begins to bake immediately. If the heat is low, the dough might begin to ferment before it bakes. Clearly one may not bake the matzot in the heat of the sun. If one did so, then even if the heat was very strong and it seems clear that the dough did not ferment, nevertheless one cannot use this matza to fulfill the mitzva of eating matza, for matza has been called "bread of poverty" in the Torah, and what is baked in the sun is not properly called bread (Shulchan Arukh Harav 461, 6).
It is not necessary, however, to bake the bread specifically in the flames of the fire, but rather even if the flames burn under a metal or earthenware plate, as long as the plate is roasting hot - one may bake on it (Shulchan Arukh 461, 2).
Similarly, one may bake in an electric oven whose heating elements are glowing hot, for that is considered like fire. But matzot that were baked in a microwave oven are disqualified from being used as the mitzva of eating matza, since they were not baked by fire. Some say they are kosher, for no early source indicates that the matzot must be baked specifically with fire (see Mikraei Kodesh by Harari, p. 335 – Rabbi Auerbach disqualified such matzot, and Rabbi Yisraeli held them to be kosher).
One may not decorate the matza with pictures, lest they wait to draw the picture and, meanwhile, the matza ferments. One may not make a thick matza (8 cm) on Pesach lest the fire does not bake it through and through sufficiently and it begins to ferment (Shulchan Arukh 460, 4-5). However, one may make a matza that is a little thinner than a tefah (a hand-breadth).
The Ashkenazic custom is to make the matzot thin and hard, so that the heat goes through them thoroughly and there is hardly any risk that the matza will ferment (Rama 460, 4). Some Sephardim make the matza about as thick as a finger. Others, like the Ashkenazim, make them thin like wafers since they usually bake them before Pesach, and, if they don’t make them thin like wafers, they won’t last properly (Kaf Hachaim 460, 44).
One cannot fulfill one’s obligation with a stolen or a robbed matza (Shulchan Arukh 454, 4). Sometimes a purchaser takes the matzot into his possession without paying immediately, but if the seller showed that he wants to receive payment immediately, the purchaser must be careful to pay as the seller requested. If the seller seeks the buyer out, seeking payment for the matzot, and the purchaser sends him away with a "come back later", then the purchaser cannot fulfill his obligation with those matzot, because they do not belong to him (Mishna Berura 454, 15).
Comments and feedback are welcome. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org