Friday, March 25, 2011

PESACH: The pros and cons of hand-made Matza (abodat yad)

Today is the 19th day of Adar II, 5771

When an item is made to be used for a Mitzva, a Tefilin or Sefer Torah, for example, it must be done --including each one of its parts-- with the specific intention of being used for fulfilling the Mitzva. The leather used for assembling the Tefilin, for example, can not be done from left overs of leather manufactured for doing shoes, etc. The leather used for Tefilin had to be done specifically for the purpose of fulfilling the Mitzva of Tefilin. Before processing the leather, the artisan says explicitly: leshem Mitzvat tefilin, [I'm producing this leather to be used] for the purpose of the Mitzva of Tefilin.

Similarly, in the case of the Matza, the Matzot that will be used for the first two nights of Pesach, must have been manufactured with the purpose of being used for the Mitzva of Matza. Obviously, most Matzot are made with this purpose in mind. Some late rabbinic authorities, however, questioned the medium of the baking machines in this process, even when the machine's operator articulates the proper intention. In other words: when the Matzot are baked on a machine, does this interrupts the 'human process' of intentionality? This is why some authorities will require to use for the two night of Pesach --when we say the berakha al akhilat Matza-- Matza which was baked completely by hand, without machinery.

The disadvantages of hand made Matza are that 1. these Matzot are significantly more expensive than those made by machine. 2. There is more chances for human errors than when the Matzot are baked by machines.

In sum, if one can easily afford the hand-made Matzot, they should be used for the fist two nights. If not, one should not incur in extra expenses to abide by this stricter point of view (chumra). In this case, many Rabbis would suggest to use for the first two nights Matza Shemura, (which is the most meaningful hidur) made by machine.

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Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Thursday, March 24, 2011

PESACH: Matza Shemura and regular Matza

Today is the 18th day of Adar II, 5771

Matza is a special unleavened bread, made of a flat dough. The dough is prepared with flour and water, but without yeast. The flour must come from one of the following five grains: wheat, barley, oats, rye or spelt. The whole process, from the time the flour gets in contact with water until the Matza is baked, takes less than 18 minutes.

There are different types of Matzot, that people, according to their traditions and possibilities, might use for Pesach.

First, there is regular Matza and Matza Shemura. The difference between these two Matzot is the type of supervision (shemira) they have.

Regular Matza: Regular Matza is supervised during the process of mixing the flour with the water, and before: making sure that the flour was kept on a dry place (humidity can make the flour Chametz!) and that the water was at room temperature (warmer water will accelerate the process of Chimutz!) etc.

Matza Shemura: in addition to all the regulations of regular Matza, the grain is meticulously supervised and protected from humidity from the time of harvesting, all throughout the process of making the flour, up to the baking of the actual Matzot. We use Matza Shemura during the first two nights of Pesach, when we say the Berakha Al Akhilat Matza. Matza Shemura is a tradition which everyone who can afford it should follow, in attention to a special Biblical instruction Ushmartem et haMatzot. During the rest of the Holiday there is no need to use Matza Shemura, because technically there is no obligation to eat Matza, but only to refrain from eating Chametz.

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Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

PESACH: Why do we eat Matza during Pesach?

Today is the 17th day of Adar II, 5771

Upon our sudden departure from Egypt, we, the Jewish people ate Matza. There was no time to prepare anything else for the journey, not even bread - so Matza brings the good memories of "rushing into freedom".

On the other hand, when we were slaves in Egypt, every single day of the week we ate only Matza! (Ha lachma anyia di akhalu abahatana be-ar'a'deMisraim). Matza was the food conceived by the cruel Egyptians as the ideal diet for the Jewish slaves. It was cheaper than other foods, and lasted longer than regular bread in the slave's stomachs.

One more things: it was very easy to prepare. To make regular bread you need to let the dough rest for approximately 10-15 minutes and only then you put the spongy-dough into the oven. In Egyptian captivity, the raising of the dough was skipped. Instead, they put the flat dough into the oven. Why? Because the Jewish slaves had to work without a pause. The Egyptians were not willing to concede the Jewish slaves 10 minutes of rest, which would allow the dough to raise and made into bread...

During the Pesach Seder we revive and literally "taste" the bitter experience of slavery and the sweetness of freedom, both represented by the Matza.

When eating the Matza, we celebrate our freedom, but without forgetting our suffering.

A tour to a Matza Factory, hosted by Martha Stewart:

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

PESACH: The eight Mitzvot of Pesach

Today is the 16th day of Adar II, 5771

Pesach is almost a month away.

Pesach's laws and customs are so many and diverse that our Rabbis indicated that thirty days before Pesach we should start reviewing the laws of Pesach.

Let's begin then by mentioning what the Mitzvot of Pesach are.

In its introduction to Hilkhot Pesach, Maimonides describes very briefly each Mitzvah and its timing, enumerating a total of eight Mitzvot (excluding Korban Pesach): 3 positive commandments and 5 prohibitions.


1. To eat Matza during the first night of Pesach (in the Diaspora, it becomes automatically mandatory for the first "two" nights)

2. To tell the story of Pesach --the Hagada--to our children during the night of Pesach (idem)

3. To dispose/disown of our Chametz Pesach eve, the 14th of Nissan.


4. The prohibition of eating Chametz during Pesach.

5. The prohibition of eating anything that contains Chametz, during Pesach.

6. The prohibition of owning Chametz during Pesach (bal Yera-e)

7. The prohibition of owning Chametz during Pesach (bal Ymatse). Mitzvot 6 and 7 are indeed identical: an exceptional case in the entire Torah!

8. The prohibition of eating Chametz Pesach eve, from noon.

In the following days B'H we will have the opportunity to define and review all these Mitzvot.

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Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024

Monday, March 21, 2011

Shushan Purim

Today is the 15th day of Adar II, 5771

In Jerusalem Purim is celebrated today, the 15th of Adar. In the times of Esther and Mordekhai, the Jews of Shushan asked the King for an additional day to fight against their enemies, those who were hiding behind the walls of the fortified capital of the Persian Empire. The King granted their petition so they fought their enemies on the 13th of Adar and on the 14th of Adar, and celebrated their deliverance on the 15th of Adar.

The Meguilah distinguishes between Shushan and all other places: "all the Jews in the provinces, who live in unwalled cities should celebrate the 14th of Adar". While those who live in walled cities, like Shushan, celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar.

This however, created a problem. The Holy Land lay in ruins at the time, and Jerusalem was still unwalled. Jerusalem --the eternal capital of the Jewish people-- would have had a status inferior to the other walled cities in the world. Therefore, in honor of Jerusalem and specifically to include Jerusalem, the rabbis established that "cities walled since the days of Jehousha bin Nun would be given automatically the status of walled cities". (Me'am Lo'ez)

Since then, Jerusalem and its surroundings --every village from where one can see Jerusalem-- observe Purim on the 15th of Adar. According to some opinions the city of Tiberias, in the north of Israel, is also considered a walled city. The question is, if the Kineret lake --a natural fortification to the city-- should be considered as one of the walls.

Take the shot, a Purim inspirational from Aish

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC | 130 Steamboat Rd. | Great Neck | NY | 11024