By Hillel Fendel, www.IsraelNationalNews.com
Passover is known as the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Matzot), based on the Torah commandment (Exodus 12:14-20 and Leviticus 23:4-8) to eat matzoh on the holiday. Matzohs (plural: matzohs or matzot) come in various forms; see below for a link to the actual baking process.
Matzoh is the baked product of grain and water that has not been fermented (leavened). Hametz, its forbidden-on-Passover counterpart, is any fermented grain product. Only wheat, spelt, barley, oats, and rye can become matzoh or hametz, according to the Torah. Strict custom (e.g., Ashkenazi Jews) also prohibits the consumption on Passover of rice, millet, and bean products, known on Passover as kitniyot; one reason is because they swell when dampened and resemble leavened products.
Fermentation takes place only after the flour and water have been in contact for at least 18 minutes. In order to become matzoh, therefore, the dough must be baked within that time period. This is accomplished by protecting the ingredients from moisture and/or heat before they are combined, kneading and otherwise preparing the dough very rapidly, and then baking it at extremely high temperatures.
For more details and do-it-yourself instructions, click on (or copy and paste) this URL: www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Passover/At_Home/Food_and_the_Kitchen/Matzah_Baking.shtml
Different kinds of matzoh include the following:
Simple matzoh, made of flour that was carefully watched from the time it was milled. Not all “simple matzoh” can be eaten on Passover; it must have “Kosher for Passover” certification.
Matzoh shmurah, made of flour made from wheat that was carefully watched from the time it was harvested, in accordance with Exodus 12:17 “and you must guard the matzohs.” The custom of many is to eat only this at the Seder; others eat only this throughout the weeklong holiday.
Hand matzoh. No machines are used, and the flour is the same as in matza shmurah. It is traditionally used to fulfill the commandment of eating matzoh at the Seder meal, usually round and quite chewy.
Egg matzoh, known in Hebrew as “rich matzoh” – a dough kneaded with fruit juice or eggs. It must not become hametz, but one cannot use it to fulfill the commandment of eating matzoh at the Seder meal, because of its “richness;” the Torah commands us to eat “poor matzoh” (Deut. 16:3). Strict custom is not to eat it at all during Passover, unless one is ill, weak, or a young child.
Soft matzoh. Unlike the hard matzohs familiar to most Jews around the world, the Yemenite and Iraqi Jewish communities eat soft, pita-like matzohs, as was apparently the custom in most of the Jewish world until recent centuries. In fact, many rabbis permit these matzohs to be eaten on Passover even today. They have gone out of mode not because of a Halakhic [Jewish legal] reason, but rather due to a technical issue: In the pre-freezer period, they did not retain their freshness and softness for more than a day or two, and therefore were customarily baked on Passover itself – when even a “drop” of hametz disqualifies an entire matzoh. However, now that there are freezers and soft matzohs can be baked before Passover – when a “drop” of hametz that might fall into a dough is “batel b’shishim” (less than 1/61 of the whole and therefore nullified) – such matzohs would be kosher. They must not be more than approximately a centimeter thick, however; one should consult a rabbi for precise instructions.
A commonly held stringency forbids the eating of Matzoh shruyah (also known as gebrochts), which is matzoh or matzoh products that were cooked or otherwise became wet after being baked. According to Jewish Law, once matzoh is baked, it cannot become hametz. However, some Jews, chiefly in Hassidic communities, do not eat matzoh shruyah, for fear that part of the dough was not sufficiently baked and might become hametz when coming in contact with water.
As described above, the process is precise and demanding, and is carried out under the constant shadow and fear of mishandling the dough and turning it into forbidden hametz. That is why many rabbis make a point of baking their own matzoh for the Seder night or holiday, making appointments to do so at matzoh bakeries.
At the bakery, the first step is measuring out the water and wheat flour in exact amounts, both having been specially preserved beforehand. A stopwatch is set for 18 minutes, after which time non-baked dough—and according to many, even unhandled dough within the 18 minutes—begins to ferment and rise. Large batches require many hands and stations to process the dough in the short time.
With the clock ticking tensely away, kneading brings the mixture to a full-fledged dough as quickly as possible. After shaping into a long roll, the dough is cut up into small pieces and rolled into thin round circles, up to about 8 inches in diameter. Most of the pieces do not turn out exactly that shape; some are shaped more like triangles, elongated ovals, and other more unfamiliar shapes. Each is quickly turned over to the hole-maker (“holy work”) who uses small, specially-designed hole-fashioning tools to create the small openings that will allow the oven’s heat to escape while causing minimum puffing-up.
At this point, with the clock unyieldingly approaching the 18-minute cut-off mark, three of the flat, round, holed pieces of dough are rolled onto a long stick, which is quickly given over to the baker himself. Standing next to the large, flaming, very hot oven, the baker places them inside, and within seconds, the baking process is over — either because the matzoh has been successfully baked, or because it has caught fire…
After the matzohs are removed, the 18-minute deadline has been announced, and everyone has breathed a sigh of relief, the rabbi — having supervised and checked all aspects of the assembly-line process — checks each matzoh individually. Those that are not completely baked, meaning that they are still completing the fermentation process and becoming hametz, are thrown out, leaving only 100% kosher matzohs for the joyous Passover consumption of the participants and their families.