The Torah passages and Israel's holidays are full of important messages that are relevant and empower our day-to-day lives. Rabbi Shai Tahan, head of the Sha'arei Ezra community and head of the Arzi HaLebanon teaching house, opens the gates for us to understand these messages, from their source, in a clear way. This week: Soft Matzah - forbidden or allowed.
One of the main staples of the holiday of Pesach is the Matzah. We are all familiar with the Matzah--a very thin, crunchy, cardboard looking “cracker” with holes all over it. But what would be the reaction of one who would walk into a Seder on the night of Pesach, and instead of seeing the above, would see them eating something soft, resembling a pita or a laffa? Not only is it soft, but it’s thick as well; while the regular Matzah is about 1mm thick, the soft Matzah can vary from 2-4mm.
Well, that is exactly what is likely to be seen at the Seder of families from some Sefaradi descent, especially Yemeni. But one need not be in such dismay, as their Mesorah goes back to the time of the Matzah which our forefathers ate when they left Egypt.
Now, it is clear from many sources that there was a time in history--and not too long ago--in which everyone ate soft Matzot (Rabbi Ratsabi writes it was up to about 200-300 years ago, while Rabbi Ben Tzion Mutsafi testified that up to 40 years ago, practically everyone had thick and soft Matzot). But that has changed, as with time, the Mesorah had become lost to many communities, and thus they forbade the consumption of soft Matzah. But one shouldn’t think that having such a soft Matzah risks the Kashrut of the Matzah in any way, or that it may raise Chametz-related concerns; as the Chazon Ish (Chut Shani, Pesach page 156) ruled that such Matzah is fine.
Let us examine a few of the sources which support the fact that the Matzah used to be soft and thick:
*The Gemara (פסחים ז,א) talks about a person who finds bread in his house and he isn’t sure if it’s Matzah or regular bread and whether he is allowed to eat it or not. This Gemara, which is brought down to Halacha (סימן תמו,ד), clearly indicates the strong resemblance the Matzah had to bread; to the extent that one wouldn’t be able to differentiate between the two.
*The Gemara (פסחים לז,א) speaks about the maximum thickness of a Matzah, Bet Hillel holds it’s a size of a Tefach which is 10 cm (almost 4 inches) according to the Chazon Ish, and 8 cm according to Rav Chaim Na’eh.
Le’halacha, the Shulhan Aruch (סימן תס,ה) says that a thickness of a Tefach is forbidden, but even just under a Tefach is permitted; and the Mishna Berura (ס״ק יז) writes that many Poskim permit the Matzah if it was already baked to the thickness of a Tefach, and all Poskim would permit less than a Tefach, although lechatchila it is more correct to make them thin (1משנ״ב ס״ק טז).
*The Shulchan Aruch (סי’ תסא ס״ג) brings down that after the Matzah is baked, one should check to make sure that there are no threads of dough which pull out of the Matzah, and only then the Matzah is considered fully baked and is kosher. The Mishna Berura (ס״ק יג) adds that if one isn’t sure if there are strings of dough, one should push his finger into the Matzah and see if it’s doughy, or whether some dough gets glued to his finger.
This clearly demonstrates that the Matzah that was baked in their time was soft, since the Matzot that we have today are thin and crunchy like crackers, and are baked far more than the point that it might be doughy with strings of dough coming out of it, and one surely can’t push his fingers into our Matzot.
*The Mishna Berura (סי’ תסא ס״ק טו) says that the indication to see if a Matzah is fully baked is to see if the top of the Matzah's surface hardened. Once the Matzah hardened on the surface, we don’t have to worry that the inside wasn’t baked. Now, our Matzah is so thin that the whole Matzah is a surface without having any inner part, thus this Halacha wouldn’t be relevant at all, indicating once again that their Matzot were much thicker than ours (Rabbi Yitschak Ratzabi).
*When the Mishna Berura (סי’ תפו סק״ג) speaks about the measurements of Matzah, he says that even if a Matzah is soft like a sponge, one doesn’t need to squeeze the Matzah to limit its measurement, clearly indicating that such soft Matzah is kosher and was a common thing.
*The Rema (סי’ תעה,ז) writes that the size that they used to take for the three Matzot was an Isaron--עשרון, which is extremely thick and big, proving clearly that the minhag was to eat soft and thick Matzot in Ashkenazi countries as well (אור לציון וכן במנחת אשר, הגדה של פסח סי’ טו).
*The famous Ashkenazi Posek, Chok Yaakov (שם ס״ק כו) brings that one should make the middle Matzah soft and thick, big enough to be sufficient to give two Kazeitot to each person in the house. The Chatam Sofer (ספר מנהגי החתם סופר) had such a custom as well.
Rabbi Yitzchak Ratzabi, who is the head of the Yemenite community in Eretz Yisrael tells a story that happened with an Ashkenazi Rabbi, the Rav of Hod-Hasharon, who went to see how the Yemeni Matzah bakery operates. He walked into the bakery and was surprised to find out that all the bakers were actually women! He was told that the reason for that is that baking is normally done by women, and Matzah isn’t any different. After closely observing the entire baking process, he asked to have some of those soft Matzot for himself. One can just imagine the look on the faces of those who attended his Pesach Seder when he pulled out the Matzot. After seeing the initial shock and perplexed look on their faces, the Rabbi explained that while at the bakery, he was finally able to understand and experience first-hand, all the complex laws of the Gemara and Shulhan Aruch concerning Matzah baking. But most surprisingly, is that he learned them all from the women–who never studied any of those Gemarot–but rather followed to the tee, all that they saw from the previous generation.
Lema’ase the Ashkenazi Poskim almost across the board, wrote that the soft Matzah should be avoided, some say not necessarily because of a Chametz concern, but because that is the Minhag (Rav S.Z. Aurbach) which became such since the thick and soft Matzot get spoiled quickly. Others do fear that we aren’t knowledgeable enough to bake them without any concern of Chametz (מנחת אשר שם). Harav Mordechai Gross permitted such soft Matzah for those who wouldn’t be able to eat Matzah otherwise.
This article was written in cooperation with Shuva Israel