Friday, March 16, 2012

PESACH: Egg Matza and enriched Matza

Egg Matza is usually made with oil and/or eggs and/or sugar, using fruit juice instead of water to prepare the dough. The Rabbis in the Talmud stated that liquid-food-extracts (juices, oils) do not cause flour to leaven like water does. Egg Matza then is not made necessarily with actual eggs, but mainly with no water (real or regular Matza = flour + water). When certified Kosher for Pesach, egg Matza can be consumed during the eight days of Pesach and even during Pesach eve (when is customary to refrain from eating real Matza), but is not suitable for fulfilling the Mitzva of 'eating Matza' in the Pesach Seder itself. 
In America Egg Matza is usually sweeter than regular Matza and it is elaborated in the shape of Matzot, which sometime might create a confusion: some people might think that those Matzot can be used for the Seder, when technically speaking, they are not consider Matzot, but non-chametz cookies...
Among some Ashkenazi Jews, there is a custom not to eat egg Matza during Passover at all, except for the elderly, infirm, or children, who cannot digest plain Matza.

Among Sephardic Jews, this type of Matza or baked foods--when the dough is prepared with fruit juices or oil and does no contain any amount of water--is called Matza 'ashira or enriched Matza,and unlike egg Matza, products under the category of Matza 'ashira do not necessarily have the shape of regular Matza. Rather, as you might verify in your local Kosher grocery, Matza 'ashira products come in the form of cookies, cakes, desserts, etc. which actually look very similar to chametz products. But as we said, since no water was used in their elaboration, if it bears the corresponding Kasher le-Pesach certification is OK for Sephardim to use on Pesach.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

PESACH: Hand Matza vs machine Matza (part 2 of 3)

In general, when an item (or one of its parts) is made to be used for a Mitzva--a Tefilin or a Sefer Tora, for example--it must be done with the specific intention of being used for fulfilling the Mitzva.  The leather used for making a Tefilin, for example, can not be coming from left overs of leather manufactured for shoes, etc. it has to be produced specifically for the purpose of fulfilling the Mitzva of Tefilin. Before processing the leather, the artisan says explicitly: leshem Mitzvat tefilin, [I'm manufacturing 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 consumed during the first two nights of Pesach, must have been manufactured with the purpose of the Mitzva of Matza. Obviously, most Matzot are made with this intention in mind. Some late rabbinic authorities, however, questioned the medium of the machinery in this process. In other words: when the Matzot are elaborated by a machine the 'human process' of intentionality continues or is it considered discontinued? To avoid this conflict some rabbinic authorities would require to use for the two nights of Pesach --when eating Matza is a Mitzva-- Matza which was elaborated completely by hand, without the use of machinery.

On the other hand, there are a few disadvantages in hand-made Matza. 1. These Matzot are significantly more expensive than those made by machine. 2. There are more chances for human errors when Mazta is elaborated by hand than when Matzot are done by machines.

In sum, if one can easily afford it, hand-made Matzot should be used for the first 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, one can use for the first two nights Matza Shemura (which is a more meaningful stringency) made by machine.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The different types of Matzot (part 1 of 3)

Matza is a special unleavened bread, made of a flat dough. The dough is prepared with flour and water and 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 should take less than 18 minutes.

There are different types of Matzot which according to different traditions and possibilities one might use for Pesach.

In the coming days we will learn the differences between 1. Regular Matza and Matza shemura, 2. Hand-made Matza and machine-made Matza and 3. Regular Matza and egg Matza (or Matza 'ashira). 

Let us begin with 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 from the moment of mixing the flour with water. Before that, one also needs to make sure the flour was kept in a dry place (humidity can make the flour Chametz!), that the water was at room temperature (warmer water will accelerate the process of fermentation!), 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. Having Matza Shemura is a practice which everyone who can afford it (the price of Matza shemura is significantly higher than regular Matza!) 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, during chol haMo'ed and the last two days of Pesach there is no obligation to eat Matza but only to refrain from eating Chametz.

Making Hand made Matza Shemura

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

PESACH: Why Matza?

When we were slaves in Egypt, every single day of the week we ate only Matza. For breakfast, lunch and dinner! (ha lachma anyia di akhalu abahatana be-ar'a deMitzraim). Matza was the food conceived by the cruel Egyptians as the ideal meal for the Jewish slaves. It was cheaper than any other food, and lasted longer than regular bread in the slave's stomach. And 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 would place the spongy-dough into the oven. In Egyptian captivity, the raising of the dough was skipped. Instead, they had to 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 extra minutes to rest, which would allow the dough to raise and made it into bread.

On the other hand, upon our sudden departure from Egypt, we also ate Matza. We did not leave Egypt emigrating from it by a slow progressive process. We were rescued by HaShem in a super speedy (bechipazon) operation that lasted just one night. (Can you visualize the mobilization of 3 million people, leaving all together in one night?). There was no time to prepare any normal food for the journey. For a different reason, there were no 10 extra minutes to wait for the dough to rise. In our memories, therefore, Matza has also the taste of "rushing into freedom". 

Matza then symbolizes both, the flavor of freedom and the bitterness of slavery. During Pesach we literally relive the sourness of captivity and the sweetness of liberty, both represented by the Matza.

Matza celebrates our freedom, but without forgetting our suffering.

Martha Stewart visits a Matzah factory


Monday, March 12, 2012

PESACH: The Eight Mitzvot of Pesach

Pesach is less than a month away. This year, 2012, we will celebrate the first seder Friday night April 6th.  Pesach's laws and customs are so many and so diverse that our Rabbis indicated that immediately after Purim we should start reviewing the laws of Pesach. Let us begin then by remembering what the Mitzvot of Pesach are.

In its introduction to Hilkhot Pesach, Maimonides describes very briefly each Mitzva, enumerating a total of eight Mitzvot from the Tora (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 (in the Diaspora, it becomes automatically mandatory for the first "two" nights). This Mitzva includes many other Mitzvot and traditions, like the 4 cups, the Maror, Charoset, eating while reclined, etc. 

3. To dispose (=disown) of our Chametz Pesach eve, the 14th of Nissan (Friday April 6th in the morning). 


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 Yimatze). 

Mitzvot 6 and 7 are indeed identical: an exceptional case in the entire Tora!

8. The prohibition of eating Chametz Pesach eve (Friday April 6th), from noon.

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