Practical Aspects of Matzoh Baking


Personally, I find the different terms used in reference to matzoh very confusing: On the one hand, I have been told that if one is working on the dough constantly, one need not be concerned if more than eighteen minutes elapses before the matzoh is baked. On the other hand, I have been told that if eighteen minutes elapses, the dough becomes chometz. And then I see a product advertised as “Eighteen minute matzoh.” I thought that if it is more than eighteen-minute matzoh, it is chometz. Also, could you explain to me the advantages of hand matzoh over machine matzoh, and if there is a valid reason why some people use only shmura hand matzoh for the entire Pesach.


In order to answer your question, it is necessary to explain the process of making matzoh. Although matzoh is the simplest of products, just flour and water, a tremendous amount of detail is involved in preparing it in a halachically correct way. We will divide our discussion into three headings: the flour, the water, and the manufacture.

The flour requirements

To fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzoh on seder night, one must be certain that the flour was “guarded” to guarantee that it did not become chometz.

It is important to clarify that there are two different halachic issues. The first factor is that one must be careful that the matzoh is baked in a way that it does not become chometz, so that one does not, G-d forbid, violate the prohibition of eating chometz on Pesach. This concern exists for all matzoh that one may consume any time during Pesach.

However, even if one is guaranteed that the matzoh is 100% free of any concerns that it has become chometz, there is an additional requirement so that the matzoh eaten at the seder fulfills the mitzvah of eating matzoh. This matzoh must be made lishmah – meaning, that one must supervise the process and be sure that the matzoh not become chometz, specifically for the sake of fulfilling the mitzvah.

The concept of lishmah

There are several mitzvos that can be performed only with an item that is made lishmah: this means that it is manufactured with the specific intention to be used for the mitzvah. These include the mitzvos of tzitzis, tefilin, mezuzah, and matzoh. Thus, for example, the leather used in the manufacture of tefilin must be tanned specifically for the kedusha of the mitzvah of wearing tefilin. For this reason, when placing the hide into the chemical solution that makes the hide into usable parchment or leather, one must state that it is being manufactured lishmah. Even a small job such as blackening the tefilin straps should be performed specifically for the sake of the mitzvah of tefilin. For this reason, prior to repainting one’s tefillin, one should state that he is doing this for the sake of the mitzvah of tefilin.

In a similar way, the manufacture of matzoh is required to be lishmah. For this reason, before beginning work in a matzoh bakery, the workers 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 matzohs that will be used for the mitzvah.”

Although the Gemara (Pesachim 40a) discusses the fact that the flour used for the mitzvah of matzoh must be prepared lesheim matzos mitzvah, it does not state clearly at what stage this is necessary. Among the early poskim, there are three opinions as to the stage from which one is required to guard the flour from becoming chometz and from which one must prepare the flour lesheim matzos mitzvah: from the time of harvesting, from the time of grinding, or from the time of kneading. Shulchan Aruch rules that it is preferable to “guard” the wheat from the time of the harvest, but it is satisfactory to use wheat that was guarded only from the time of grinding. Other poskim require lishmah from the time of the harvest. In normal usage, “shmura matzoh” refers to matzoh guarded from the time of the harvest.

Harvesting lishmah

There is a dispute among Rishonim whether any act that must be performed lishmah can be performed only by a Jew, or whether it can be performed by a non-Jew who is instructed by a Jew standing over him to perform this act lishmah. This dispute has major ramifications for many mitzvos, such as preparing hides to be made into parchment for writing tefilin, mezuzos and sifrei torah, and preparing hides for manufacture into tefilin “batim” and tefilin straps, or preparing threads for manufacture into tzitzis. According to the first opinion, hide that was tanned by a non-Jew for the sake of the mitzvah is not kosher for use. According to the second opinion, if a Jew stands and instructs the non-Jew to tan the hide lishmah and remains near him, the resulting hide or parchment can be used for the mitzvah.

Based on the above dispute, some contend that a Jew should operate the controls that cause a combine to harvest the wheat to be used for shmurah matzoh.

At times, it seems that matters were simpler when wheat was harvested by hand. A friend of mine, who was born in the Communist Soviet Union, described to me how his father harvested wheat for matzoh baking with a hand-held sickle. However, even harvesting the wheat by hand under these circumstances creates its own interesting shaylah. Poskim rule that when cutting grain for matzoh in a non-Jew’s field, one should preferably not cut the grain that he himself intends to use for mitzvas matzoh (see Sdei Chemed vol. 7 pg. 377). This is because of concern that the field might have been originally stolen, and thus the matzoh baked with wheat from this field might be considered stolen matzoh, which is invalid for matzos mitzvah. There is a complicated halachic reason why this concern does not exist when harvesting wheat for someone else to use.

The water requirements: Mayim shelanu, water that remained overnight

The Gemara states that all matzoh used on Pesach must be baked exclusively with water that remained overnight, called mayim shelanu (Pesachim 42a). One should draw this water from a spring, well, or river during twilight (or immediately before) and leave it in a cool place for a minimum of one complete night to allow it to cool down (Shulchan Aruch 455:1 and commentaries). Maharil contends that it is preferred to draw the water the day before the baking, rather than draw water several days in advance (quoted by Be’er Heiteiv 455:7). The water should not be drawn or stored in a metal vessel, since metal conducts heat and thus causes the water to become warm (Magen Avraham 455:9). In addition, the water should not be drawn or stored in a vessel that has been used previously to hold other liquids (Magen Avraham ibid.). The latter vessel is not to be used out of concern that some liquid may mix with the water, and this may cause the dough to rise faster than it would otherwise. Many contemporary poskim frown on the use of tap water for matzoh baking out of of concern that the fluoride and other chemicals introduced into the water may cause the dough to rise faster (see Piskei Tshuvos 455:7).

It goes without saying that one may not use warm water for making matzohs, nor may one work in a warm area (Pesachim 42a; Shulchan Aruch 455:2). It is important to note that the requirement for mayim shelanu is not only for the matzohs eaten at the seder; all matzohs eaten the entire Pesach must be baked exclusively with mayim shelanu.

The manufacture of the matzoh

There are many halachos implemented by Chazal to guarantee that the dough does not become chometz prematurely. For example, one must wait a day or two from when the wheat is ground until it is mixed with the water (Shulchan Aruch 453:9). This is because of concern that the flour may still be warm from the friction of the grinding, and will therefore leaven too quickly. One may not knead the matzoh dough in a place exposed to the sun or in a warm area. One must be very careful that the heat from the matzoh oven does not spread to the area where the dough is kneaded or where the dough remains until it is ready to be placed inside the oven (Shulchan Aruch 459). Thus, a matzoh factory must be set up in a way that the kneading area is close enough to the oven to allow for speedy baking of the matzoh and yet be positioned in a way that the kneading area is not heated up by the oven.

Eighteen minutes

Our original question was: I have been told that, technically speaking, if one is working on the dough constantly, one need be concerned if more than eighteen minutes elapses before it goes into the oven. On the other hand, I have also been told that one may not pause once one begins to work the dough out of concern that the dough will become chometz immediately. And I have also been told that the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch state that one cannot wait more than eighteen minutes after the water is added to the flour. Which of these statements is correct?

We now have enough background information to address this question.

As strange as this answer may seem, all the above statements are correct, as we will explain. Shulchan Aruch rules that one should not leave the dough for even a moment without working it, and that if one leaves dough for eighteen minutes without working on it, the dough becomes chometz. Furthermore, Shulchan Aruch states that once the dough has become warm from working with it, it will become chometz immediately if it is left without being worked (Orach Chayim 459:2). This implies that once the dough is warm from the kneading, it becomes chometz immediately if one stops working on it. Although there are more lenient opinions regarding whether the dough becomes chometz immediately, all opinions are in agreement that one must not allow any unnecessary waiting without working on the dough (see Mishnah Berurah 459:18; Biyur Halacha ad loc.; Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 121:16). Thus, in practical halacha, it is really a much bigger concern that the dough is kneaded constantly than whether it actually took eighteen minutes from start to finish.

Machine Matzoh

Although the use of machine matzoh for Pesach has now become almost universally accepted, it is educational to understand the dispute that existed among nineteenth-century poskim concerning eating machine-made matzohs for Pesach. When the first factories began producing machine made matzoh for Pesach use, many great poskim, including Rav Yosef Shaul Natanson, author of the multi-volume work Shaylos u’Teshuvos Sho’el u’Meishiv, were vehemently opposed to their use on Pesach. Their opposition centered primarily over the following three major issues:

1. The economic factor: There was a major concern that the introduction of the machine matzoh would seriously affect many Jewish poor, who were gainfully employed in kneading and baking matzohs. Although the problem of Jewish poor is unfortunately still with us, it is doubtful that the increased use of hand matzohs would have significant impact on their plight.

2. The chometz factor: There were major concerns whether the factories were producing matzoh that met all the above-mentioned halachic requirements. Among the concerns raised were: Is the machinery thoroughly cleaned after each run, or does there remain dough in place, stuck to it for more than eighteen minutes? Is the dough being worked constantly, or is it left to sit after it has begun to be worked?

In the contemporary world, a factory for baking matzohs can be planned and constructed in a way that a very minimal amount of dough adheres to equipment, and mashgichim can supervise that whatever dough remains can be removed swiftly. One who purchases machine-made matzoh is relying on the supervising agency or rabbi to guarantee that the operation is run in a proper fashion.

3. The lishmah factor: There is another issue involved in the manufacture of machine matzohs – Is it considered lishmah? Is the intent of the person operating an electrically-powered machine for the sake of manufacturing matzoh considered making matzohs lishmah? The same issue affects many other halachic questions, such as the spinning of tzitzis threads by machine, and the manufacture of leather for tefilin straps and batim (or parchment). There is much discussion and dispute about this issue raised in the poskim, and it is still disputed by contemporary poskim. (See Sdei Chemed, Vol. 7, pgs. 396-398; Shu”t Maharsham 2:16; Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 6:10 s.v. vinireh d’ein tzorech; Mikra’ei Kodesh, Pesach II pgs. 11-17.) It is primarily for this reason that most halachically-concerned people today who use machine-made matzoh on Pesach still use hand-made matzoh for the seder.

Problems that emerge during the baking:

There are two very common problems that can occur while the matzoh is being baked: A matzoh that is kefula (folded) and one that is nefucha (swollen). A matzoh kefula is a matzoh folded in such a way that the area between the folds is not exposed directly to the flame or heat of the oven. This area between the folds does not bake properly, and thus, that section of the matzoh becomes chometz-dik and must be discarded (Rema 461:5). A matzoh nefucha is a matzoh that swells up, usually because it was not perforated properly (Rema 461:5 and Taz). Thus, while baking, air is trapped inside the matzoh. The matzoh looks as if it has a large bubble in it. If the swollen area is the size of a hazelnut, the matzoh should not be used (Mishnah Berurah ad loc. #34).

To avoid discovering these problems on Yom Tov, it is a good idea to check one’s matzohs before Yom Tov to be certain that none of the matzohs are kefula or nefucha. I can personally attest to having found both among the matzohs that I had intended to use for the seder. One should also verify that the bakery separated challah from the matzohs, or else be certain to separate challah before Yom Tov.

Is there an advantage in eating only shmura matzoh the entire Pesach?

There are poskim who recommend eating only shmura matzoh the entire Yom Tov. There are two reasons cited for this practice. Some are concerned that when the grain ripens, it can become chometz even while still on the stalk. By eating no matzoh other than shmura, one guarantees that this problem not occur, since shmura wheat is harvested before it is fully ripe (Biur Halacha to 453:4 s.v. Tov). A second reason for the practice of eating only shmura is to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzoh the entire Pesach. Although there is no requirement to eat matzoh except for the seder night, one fulfills a mitzvah each time one eats matzoh during Pesach (see Baal HaMaor, end of Pesachim). Some contend that one should strive to fulfill this mitzvah with matzoh that is made lishmah from the time of harvesting. According to both approaches, this practice is a chumra only and not halachically required.

Your very own Matzoh

The halachah is that one can fulfill the mitzvah of matzoh only by eating matzoh that is your property. Thus, one cannot fulfill the mitzvah with stolen matzah. Some have the practice of being certain that they have paid for their matzoh before Pesach, in order to demonstrate that the matzoh is definitely theirs (based on Mishnah Berurah 454:15).

There is an interesting dispute between poskim whether a guest at someone else’s seder fulfills the mitzvah with matzoh that is the property of the host. Sfas Emes (commentary to Sukkah 35a s.v. bigemara asya) contends that one does not fulfill the mitzvah, unless one owns the matzoh enough that one would be able to sell it. Since a guest cannot sell the matzoh that the host is serving, Sfas Emes contends that a host must give each of his guests their matzoh as a present before they fulfill the mitzvah. However, the universally accepted practice is to follow the opinion of the Mishnah Berurah (454:15), who states that one fulfills the mitzvah with borrowed matzoh.

We should all be zocheh to eat our matzoh this year together with Korban Pesach in Yerushalayim.


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