Paysach - Matzah


A symbol of the Passover holiday is matzo, an unleavened flatbread made solely from flour and water which is continually worked from mixing through baking, so that it is not allowed to rise. Matzo may be made by machine or by hand; the latter type of matzo, called shmura matzo ("watched" or "guarded" matzo), is the bread of preference for the Passover Seder in Orthodox Jewish communities. The Torah contains a Divine commandment to eat matzo, specifically, on the first night of Passover and to eat only unleavened bread (in practice, matzo) during the entire week of Passover. Consequently the eating of matzo figures prominently in the Passover Seder. There are several explanations for this.

The Torah says that it is because the Hebrews left Egypt with such haste that there was no time to allow baked bread to rise; thus flat, unleavened bread, matzo, is a reminder of the rapid departure of the Exodus. Other scholars teach that in the time of the Exodus, matzo was commonly baked for the purpose of traveling because it preserved well and was light to carry (making it similar to hardtack), suggesting that matzo was baked intentionally for the long journey ahead.

Matzo has also been called Lechem Oni (Hebrew: "bread of poverty"). There is an attendant explanation that matzo serves as a symbol to remind Jews what it is like to be a poor slave and to promote humility, appreciate freedom, and avoid the inflated ego symbolized by more luxurious leavened bread.

In the weeks before Passover, matzos are prepared for holiday consumption. In Orthodox Jewish communities, men traditionally gather in groups ("chaburas") to bake a special version of handmade matzo called "shmura matzo", or "guarded matzo", for use at the Seder. These are made from wheat that is guarded from contamination by chametz from the time of summer harvest to its baking into matzos five to ten months later. Shmura matzo dough is rolled by hand, resulting in a large and round matzo. Chaburas also work together in machine-made matzo factories, which produce the typically square-shaped matzo sold in stores.

The baking of shmura matzo is labor-intensive, as only 18–22 minutes is permitted between the mixing of flour and water to the conclusion of baking and removal from the oven; however, most are completed within 5 minutes of being kneaded. Consequently, only a small number of matzos can be baked at one time, and the chabura members are enjoined to work the dough constantly so that it is not allowed to ferment and rise. A special cutting tool is run over the dough just before baking to prick any bubbles which might make the matza puff up; this creates the familiar dotted holes in the matzo.

After the matzos come out of the oven, the entire work area is scrubbed down and swept to make sure that no pieces of old, potentially leavened dough remain, as any stray pieces are now chametz, and can contaminate the next batch of matzo.

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