Friday, March 21, 2014

PESAH, Hand made vs machine made matsa

מצות אכילת מצה

In general, when making a religious article or one of its accessories to be used for a Mitsva, this item must be done with the specific intention of being used for the fulfillment of that Mitsva.  Example: we can not use left-overs of commercial leather (made originally for shoes, etc) to make a Tefilin or its straps. The leather has to be processed explicitly for the purpose of fulfilling the Mitsva of Tefilin. Before processing the leather, the artisan says: leshem mitsvat Tefilin, ["I'm processing this leather to be used...] for the purpose of the mitsva of Tefilin".  The same principle applies, for example, with the threads used for the Tsitsit, they must be manufactured for that specific purpose, and if they have been made for another purpose, or even for not specific purpose, these threads are unfit for fulfilling the Mitsva of Tsitsit.  
Similarly,  the Matsot that will be consumed during the first two nights of Pesah (matsot mitsva), must be elaborated with the explicit purpose of the fulfilling the Biblical mitsva of eating Matsa. 

Now, unlike the case of leather left-overs or commercial made strings, Kosher for Pesah Matsot, are always made for Pesah. 
In the case of the Matsot, therefore, the question is a little different and it applies specifically to Matsot made by machine.  Do we consider that the "human intentionality" extends from the man who activates the machinery, who actually says: leshem matsot Mitsva,  to the machinery itself, in which case the Matsot will be unquestionably fit. Or, is this "purposefulness" discontinued as soon as a non-human factor intervenes? The rabbis debate on this matter. Some rabbis assert that machine made Matsot are preferable to hand made Matsot, because although the question of purposefulness still remains, machine Matsot are less exposed to human errors, and that factor supersedes the matter of purposefulness. However, many rabbis (among them rabbi Obadia Yosef, z'l)  recommend to use for the two nights of Pesah, when eating Matsa is mandatory, a Matsa elaborated by hand, with a reliable Rabbinic supervision.  According to some rabbis (Rabbi E. Melamed) this purposefulness is also part of what gives a Matsa its status of shemura (see yesterday's HOTD). 

Following this last opinion it is recommended to use hand made Matsot for the first two nights of Pesah, if one can find them and especially afford hand-made matsot shemurot. If not, one can use Matsa shemura made by machine.  For the rest of Pesah, it is unnecessary to use hand-made matsot.


Lighting candles in NYC            6:49 pm
Shabbat ends in NYC                  7:50 pm


Thursday, March 20, 2014

PESAH, Regular Matsa or Matsa shemura?

מצות אכילת מצה
Matsa (in English "Matzah") is a special unleavened bread made of a flat dough. The dough is prepared with flour and water, without yeast. The flour normally comes from wheat, but in theory, Matsa could also be made with barley, oats, rye or spelt's flour. The whole elaboration process from the time the flour gets in contact with water until the Matsa is baked takes less than 18 minutes.

There are different types Matsot.  In the coming days we will learn the differences between 1. Regular  Matsa and Matsa Shemura, 2. Hand-made Matsa and machine-made Matsa and 3. Regular Matsa and egg Matsa (= Matsa 'ashira). 

Let us begin with regular Matsa and Matsa Shemura. 

The difference between these two Matsot has to do with the level of supervision (shemira), more specifically, at what point of the elaboration of Matsa  the supervision begins.

For Regular Matsa the supervision begins from the moment of the mixing of the flour with water. It is necessary to make sure that the flour was kept in a dry place (humidity makes the flour Hamets). Furthermore, the water to be used to make the dough should be at room temperature level (warmer water accelerates the process of fermentation). No dough, even a small piece, might be unattended. Any piece of dough left unbaked for 18 minutes is Hamets. The machines are cleaned after each production for residues of dough, water, etc. 

Matsa Shemura: In addition to all the rules for regular Matsa, kept throughout the process of making the dough up to the baking of the actual Matsot, in the elaboration of Matsa Shemura the grain is supervised from the time of harvesting. For example: The wheat kernels are carefully examined to make sure that there are no grains which have split or that are sprouting, in which case they could be affected by a minimum moisture.  The grain is stored and transported in special places to protect it from humidity, etc.   

Obviously both Matsot are Kasher for Pesah. The use of Matsa Shemura is recommended particularly for the first two nights of Pesah (in Israel, only the first night), when we say the Berakha 'al akhilat Matsa. Why? Having Matsa Shemura during the nights of the Seder is a practice that we follow in attention to the Biblical words (Ex 12:17)  ושמרתם את המצות "and you shall guard the unleavened bread".   

During the other days of Pesah there is no need to use Matsa Shemura because during the rest of the Holiday there is no formal obligation to eat Matsa but only to refrain from eating Hamets.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

PESAH, why do we eat Matsa?

We explained yesterday that one of the three positive Biblical Mitsvot of Pesah is to eat Matsa.  Now, why do we eat Matsa? There are at least two reasons. One, is explicitly mentioned  in the Tora and the second, less known, is mentioned at the very beginning of the Hagada.  Let us begin from the second reason. 

For many, many years when we were slaves in Egypt, every single day we ate Matsa. We ate Matsa for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Matsa was the food conceived by the cruel Egyptians as the ideal meal for the Jewish slaves. First, because the Matsa lasted longer than regular bread in the slave's stomach. And mainly because Matsa was cheaper than any other food. All you need to make Matsa is flour and water. Matsa was cost-effective also because of its time-factor. To make regular bread you need to let the dough rest for approximately 15-20 minutes and only then you would place the spongy-dough into the oven. In the Egyptian captivity the raising of the dough was skipped. Instead, the Jewish slaves had to put the dough into the oven flat because they had to work for the Egyptians without a pause. The Egyptians were not willing to waste 15 extra minutes of Jewish work to allow the dough to raise and made it into regular bread.
Thus, we declare at the very beginning of the Hagada pointing at the Matsa: ha lahma 'aniya... This is "the bread of poverty that our ancestors ate in Egypt"

The Biblical text emphasizes a different reason for eating Matsa. Upon our departure from Egypt we also ate Matsa. Why? Because we did not leave Egypt progressively, during the course of a few weeks or even days. We were rescued by HaShem in a speedy operation (behipazon) which lasted just one night. (Try to visualize the mobilization of 3 million people leaving in one night!). And as much as we were eager to have our first normal meal with bread, ironically, there was no time to waste in preparing bread for the journey. We did not have even 15 extra minutes to wait for the dough to rise. We had to leave swiftly. 

Ever since, Matsa also has the taste of freedom. In our memories, Matsa reminds us of the food we take with us when we went out of Egypt. 

Matsa represents both, the sweet flavor of freedom and the bitterness of slavery. With the Matsa, particularly during the Seder when eating Matsa is mandatory, we celebrate our freedom without forgetting our suffering.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

PESAH, less than a month away

Pesah is less than a month away. The first night will be celebrated B'H Monday April 14th, 2014.  Pesah's laws and customs are so many and so diverse that our Rabbis indicated that thirty days before Pesah we should start reviewing the laws of Pesah. So, we are a little behind schedule...

Anyways, let us begin by reviewing the Biblical Mitsvot of Pesah.

In his introduction to Hilkhot Pesah, Maimonides describes each commandment enumerating a total of EIGHT Biblical Mitsvot for Pesah. In this number, Maimonides obviously excludes all the Mitsvot related to the Pesah sacrifice (qorban Pesah).

We have 3 positive commandments and 5 prohibitions in Pesah.


אכילת מצה 1. To eat Matsa during the first night of Pesah (in the Diaspora, it becomes automatically mandatory to eat Matsa during the first "two" nights)

2 והגדת לבנך . To tell the story of Pesah, the Hagada, to our children during the first night of Pesah (in the Diaspora,  the first "two" nights). This Mitsva includes many other Mitsvot and traditions, like drinking the four cups of wine, eating maror, etc.

3 השבתת חמץ. To dispose (=disown) of our Hamets on Pesah eve, the 14th of Nisan (Monday April 14th) before noon.


4 איסור אכילת חמץ . The prohibition of eating Hamets during Pesah

5 איסור אכילת תערובת חמץ. The prohibition of eating anything that contains Hamets during Pesah

6 בל-יראה . The prohibition of owning Hamets during Pesah

7 בל -ימצא. The prohibition of owning Hamets during Pesah.
(Mitsvot 6 and 7 are indeed identical, an exceptional case in the entire Tora!)
8 איסור אכילת חמץ ערב פסח אחר חצות היום. The prohibition of eating Hamets on Pesah eve (Monday, April 14th), from noon time.
In the coming days B'H we will have the opportunity to define and review each one of these these eight Mitsvot.