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The Matzoh Shoppers Guide: The Four Questions of Matzoh Purchasing

By Rabbi Yirmiyahu Kaganoff

Posted on 03/13/18

The Four Questions of Matzoh Purchasing


The First Question Is: On all other nights of the year we do not check our matzoh and bread, although we sometimes check our flour before we bake with it; on this night of Pesach we check our matzoh before eating it. For what are we checking?


The Second Question Is: On all other nights of the year we eat any kind of matzoh; on this night of Pesach, some people eat only hand matzoh, others eat only machine-made matzoh, and still others eat hand matzoh for the bracha and machine matzoh afterwards. What is the basis for these different practices?


The Third Question Is: On all other nights of the year we prepare our food in a leisurely manner; on this night of Pesach we eat matzoh advertised as special “18-minute matzoh.” But I thought that matzoh dough becomes chometz after 18 minutes. So what is special about 18-minute matzoh?


The Fourth Question Is: On all other nights of the year, no guests arrive early in order to “lift up” their food before Yom Tov, but on this night of Pesach some guests arrive before Yom Tov in order to “lift up” the matzos they intend on eating at the Seder. Why do only some of my guests ask me if they can do this?


“Father, what is the answer to my four questions?”


“Son, before I answer your excellent questions, hearken to how matzoh is made.”


WE WERE ONCE SLAVES IN EGYPT


Although matzoh is the simplest of products, containing simply flour and water, much detail is involved at every step to process it in a halachically correct way. In addition, halacha requires that the matzoh eaten to fulfill the mitzvah on Seder night must be produced with the intention that it is specially supervised not to become chometz for the purpose of fulfilling the mitzvah. Thus, even if we know by remote-control camera that matzoh was produced 100% kosher for Pesach, but a well-trained team of chimpanzees manufactured it, one cannot use this matzoh to fulfill the mitzvah on Seder night, because it was not produced lishmah. Only adult Jews can produce matzoh lishmah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 460:1). Therefore, before beginning work each day in a matzoh bakery the workers must say: Kol mah she-ani oseh hayom, hareini oseh lesheim matzos mitzvah, “Everything that I am doing today, I am doing for the sake of producing matzos that will be used for the mitzvah.”


Although the Gemara (Pesachim 40a) discusses preparing matzoh lishmah, it is unclear how early in its production this must be done. We need not plant the wheat for the sake of the mitzvah, since nothing at this stage can make the product chometz-dik. Until the grain can become chometz, there is no need to guard it lishmah from becoming chometz.


The early poskim have three opinions concerning the stage when one must prepare matzoh lisheim matzos mitzvah:


(1) From the time of harvesting, which is usually the earliest time the grain can become chometz.


(2) From the time of grinding, at which time it is more probable that the flour could become chometz. In earlier times, most flour mills were located alongside rivers and used the flow of the river as their power source. Thus, there is great concern that the flour could become wet and begin to leaven.


(3) From the time of kneading, when one must certainly be concerned about the possibility of chimutz (fermentation).


Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 453:4) concludes that it is preferable to guard the wheat lishmah from the time it is harvested, but that it is satisfactory to use wheat that is supervised only from the time it is ground. Other poskim require lishmah from the time of the harvest (Pri Chodosh). Nowadays, shmurah matzoh generally refers to matzoh that was supervised against chimutz from the harvest, and kosher-for-Pesach non-shmurah matzoh is supervised from the time of the grinding.


HARVESTING CONCERNS


Fully-ripe grain can become chometz even while still connected to the ground (Piskei Tosafos, Menachos 208). Thus, in order to guarantee that the grain harvested for matzoh does not become chometz, it is harvested early, before it is fully ripe (Chayei Odom 128:2; Mishnah Berurah 453:22; Bi’ur Halacha to 453:4 s.v. Tov) and when it is dry. Before cutting the wheat, someone checks to see that it has not yet sprouted. Furthermore, we cut the wheat in the afternoon of a dry day to allow the night’s dew to evaporate in the morning. A combine used to harvest shmurah wheat must be clean and dry.


The poskim dispute whether a non-Jew may operate the combine when it harvests the wheat, or whether a Jew must operate it (Sefer Matzos Mitzvah pg. 26). Those who contend that Jew must operate it is because they hold that operating a large combine is technically equivalent to swinging a sickle, and harvesting lishmah requires that someone who is commanded to observe the mitzvah actually cuts the grain.


Sometimes, it seems that life was simpler when people harvested wheat by hand. A friend of mine, who was born in the Soviet Union, once described how his father used a hand sickle to harvest wheat for matzoh baking. Even today, some people are mehader to use hand-cut flour for their Seder matzos.


After cutting, the wheat must be stored and transported in a way that guarantees that it remains dry (Sdei Chemed, Vol. 7 pg. 383), and one must make sure that it always remains shamur by an observant Jew (Bi’ur Halacha 453:4 s.v. ulipachos). Furthermore, one must be careful to store it a way that it does not become infested by insects. One must also check grain samples for signs of sprouting, which is a chimutz problem (see Rama 453:3). There is a well-established custom that an experienced posek checks the grains before they are ground (Daas Torah to 453:1 s.v. ve’od).


GRINDING THE FLOUR


As mentioned above, most poskim require supervising the grain lishmah from chimutz from the time it is ground into flour, and all matzoh sold today as kosher lePesach is supervised at least from the time it is ground. The mashgichim must verify that the wheat is not soaked before being ground, which is common practice for non-Pesach flour in many places. Furthermore, a mashgiach must carefully inspect the milling equipment to ensure that no non-Passover flour remains in the grinders and filters.


Chazal instituted many halachos to guarantee that the dough does not become chometz prematurely. For example, one should not bake matzoh with freshly-ground flour, but should wait a day or two after the grinding to allow the flour to cool so that it does not leaven too quickly (Shulchan Aruch 453:9). They were also concerned that one should not bag the Pesach flour in old sacks previously used for chometz-dik flour. In many countries, grains are covered with leaves before grinding in order that they be moist when they are ground. This facilitates separating the different parts of the kernel. Of course, this is prohibited for Pesach-dik flour.


SPECIAL WATER: MAYIM SHELANU


Pesach matzoh must be baked exclusively with mayim shelanu, water that remained overnight (Pesachim 42a), a topic that we explored in last week’s article.


KNEADING THE DOUGH


One may not knead matzoh dough in a warm area or in a place exposed to the sun. Similarly, one must cover the windows, so that no sunlight streams through (see Mishnah Berurah 459:2). Furthermore, one must be very careful that the tremendous heat from the oven does not spread to other parts of the bakery, warming dough before it is placed into the oven (Shulchan Aruch 459:1). Thus, a matzoh factory must accommodate that the dough can be transported to the oven quickly, without exposing the kneading area to heat from the oven.


Once the flour and the water are mixed, one must strive to produce the matzoh as quickly as possible (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 459:1). If dough is left un-worked for eighteen minutes, it is regarded as chometz. However, if one works on the dough constantly, we are not concerned if more than eighteen minutes elapses before placing it into the oven. On the other hand, once one begins to work the dough, it warms up and may begin to leaven if left idle. Therefore the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 459:2) rules that once one begins working with the dough, it becomes chometz immediately if one leaves it idle. Although there are more lenient opinions as to whether the dough becomes chometz immediately, all agree that one must not allow unnecessary delay without working the dough (see Mishnah Berurah 459:18; Bi’ur Halacha ad loc.; Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 121:16). Thus, practically speaking, it is far more important to work constantly on the dough to ensure that it does not begin to leaven, than to guarantee that it takes less than eighteen minutes from start to finish.


One should not assume that all hand matzoh bakeries have the same standard of kashrus. I once visited a hand matzoh bakery and observed dough sitting on the table ready for baking, without anyone working on it. I think that people paying the kind of money this bakery charges for its finished product should not receive matzoh that is kosher only bedei’evid (after the fact).


It is, of course, a much bigger concern if dough from an earlier batch is not cleaned off hands and equipment, and mixes into later batches. All equipment must be cleaned thoroughly after each batch to make sure this does not happen.


BAKING PROBLEMS


Several problems can occur during the baking of the matzos. If the baker leaves a matzoh in the oven too long it burns, and if he removes it too soon it becomes chometz. If he removes a matzoh from the oven before it is fully baked, he may not return it to the oven to finish (Rama 461:3).


Other problems can occur while matzoh is baking. Two very common problems are that matzoh becomes kefulah (folded) or nefucha (swollen). A matzoh kefulah is one that became folded inside the oven in such a way that the area between the folds is not exposed directly to the flame or heat of the oven. This area does not bake properly, making the matzoh chometz-dik (Rama 461:5). One may not use the folded part of the matzoh nor the area immediately around the fold (Mishnah Berurah 461:28).


A matzoh nefucha is a matzoh that swells up, usually because it was not perforated properly (Rama 461:5). During baking, air trapped inside the matzoh develops a large bubble. If the swollen area is the size of a hazelnut, the matzoh should not be used, whereas if it is smaller it may be used (see Mishnah Berurah 461:34 for a full discussion).


To avoid discovering these problems on Yom Tov, one should check one’s matzos before Yom Tov to ascertain that none of the matzos are kefulah or nefucha. I can personally attest to finding both among matzos that were meant for use at the Seder.


Of course you may ask, “Why didn’t the bakery mashgiach notice these matzos and remove them?” I, too, am very bothered by this question, but nevertheless, I and many other people have found that the matzos one purchases often include kefulos and nefuchos.


Now, my dear son, I am glad you have been so patient, because now I can answer your first question: “On this night of Pesach, we check our matzoh before eating it. What are we looking for?” We are checking that there are no folded matzos, or bubbles in the matzos the size of a hazelnut.


We will continue this topic next week…