Thursday, February 28, 2013

PESAH: Matzah Shemura vs. Regular Matzah

Maṣa (or in English "Matzah") 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 elaboration process, from the time the flour gets in contact with water until the maṣa is baked should take less than 18 minutes.

There are different types of maṣot that are used during Pesaḥ.

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

Let us begin with regular maṣa vs. maṣa shemura

The difference between these two maṣot is the supervision (shemira), i.e.,  at what point the supervision begins.

Regular maṣa is supervised from the moment of mixing the flour with water. Certainly, it is also necessary to make sure that the flour was kept in a dry place (humidity can make the flour Hameṣ), and that the water which will be used to make the dough is at room temperature level (warmer water will accelerate the process of fermentation).

Maṣa shemura: In addition to all the regulations of regular maṣa, 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 maṣot

We use maṣa shemura particularly during the first two nights of Pesaḥ (in Israel is one night only), when we say the Berakha 'al akhilat maṣa. Having maṣa shemura during the nights of the Seder is a practice that we follow in attention to a special Biblical instruction (ushmartem et hamaṣot). During the rest of Pesaḥ, however, there is no need to use maṣa shemura because during the rest of the Holiday there is no formal obligation to eat maṣa but only to refrain from eating Hameṣ.


Martha Stewart visits a Matzah factory

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Story of Matzah

 When we were slaves in Egypt, every single day we ate Maṣa. Breakfast, lunch and dinner we ate just Maṣa!  Maṣa was the food conceived by the cruel Egyptians to be the ideal meal for the Jewish slaves. It was cheaper than any other food. It lasted longer than regular bread in the slave's stomach. And it was very cost effective. Why? First because you only need regular flour and water to make Maṣa. But mainly because of the 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 flat dough into the oven. Why? Because the Jewish slaves had to work without a pause. The Egyptians were not willing to waste 15 extra minutes of Jewish work for the dough to raise and be made into regular bread. Thus, we declare at the very beginning of the Hagada: ha lahma 'aniya... that the Maṣa brings to our memories "the bread of poverty and affliction, that our ancestors ate in Egypt" 

On the other hand, upon our sudden departure from Egypt, we also ate Maṣa. Why? Because we did not leave Egypt progressively, during the course of a few months, weeks or even days. We were rescued by HaShem in a super express 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, there was no time to prepare bread for the journey. Not even 15 minutes to wait for the dough to rise. We had to leave swiftly.  In our memories, therefore, Maṣa has also the good taste of "freedom". 

Maṣa represents both, the nice flavor of freedom and the bitterness of slavery. During Pesach we literally relive the sourness of captivity and the sweetness of liberty. Maṣa celebrates our freedom. Without forgetting our suffering.

Dedicated to the young Sara Miriyam bat Tamar, daughter of Oren and Tamar Besalely. May HaShem bring her refua shelema.   


Funny Matzah Factory

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Eight Misvot of Pesah

Pesah is less than a month away. This year, 2013, we will celebrate the first seder of Pesah Monday, March 25 at night. 

The laws and customs of Pesah are so many and diverse that our Rabbis indicated that immediately after Purim we should start reviewing the laws of Pesah

Let us begin then by remembering what the Miṣvot of Pesah are.

In his introduction to Hilkhot Pesah Maimonides describes very briefly each commandment, enumerating a total of eight Misvot from the Tora (excluding the subject of the Pesah sacrifice orqorban Pesah). There are 3 positive commandments and 5 prohibitions.


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

2. To tell the story of Pesah --the Hagada--to our children during the night of Pesah (in the Diaspora, it becomes automatically mandatory for the first "two" nights). This Miṣva includes many other Miṣvot and traditions, like drinking the 4 cups of wine, eating maror, etc. 

3. To dispose (=disown) of our Hameṣ on Pesah eve, the 14th of Nisan (Monday March 25th in the morning). 


4. The prohibition of eating Hameṣ during Pesah

5. The prohibition of eating anything that contains Hameṣ during Pesah

6. The prohibition of owning Hameṣ during Pesah (bal Yera-e)

7. The prohibition of owning Hameṣ during Pesah (bal Yimaṣe). 

(Miṣvot 6 and 7 are indeed identical: an exceptional case in the entire Tora!)

8. The prohibition of eating Hameṣ on Pesah eve (Monday March 25th), from noon time.

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


Monday, February 25, 2013

SHUSHAN PURIM: Is it still Purim today?

Purim is not over yet!  

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. The King granted their petition so the Jews of Shushan fought against their enemies on the 13th of Adar and on the 14th of Adar, and celebrated their deliverance on the 15th of Adar. While outside of Shushan the Jews celebrated their deliverance only on the 14th of Adar.  

The Megila distinguished between walled and unwalled cities (Esther 9:18-19) saying that the Jews of the provinces, who live in unwalled cities, celebrated Purim on the 14th of Adar. While those who live in Shushan, a walled city, would celebrate Purim on the 15th of Adar.

The second Bet haMiqdash was already built by Zerubabel, but at the time of Purim, Jerusalem was still unwalled. The walls were erected in the time of Ezra and Nehemia, approximately 30 years after the events of the Megila. Jerusalem --the eternal capital of the Jewish people-- would have had a status inferior to Shushan and other walled cities in the world. Thus, in honor of Yerushalayim the rabbis established that the cities that were walled in the days of Yehousha bin Nun would be given automatically the status of "walled cities", and therefore, in Yerushalayim, Purim will be celebrated on the 15th of Adar. 

Since then, in Jerusalem and its surroundings --every village from where one can see Jerusalem-- Jews read the Megila and observe Purim today. According to some opinions the city of Tiberias, in the north of Israel, is also considered a walled city. Tiberias has walls, but only on some parts of the city. But the Kineret lake --a natural fortification to the city-- is seen also as part of the walls of the cities.

"Celebrating Purim in Tel-Aviv,  1932"