Q & A on Pesach

How can we, in Uganda, celebrate Pesach if we cannot buy Matzot or Kosher Wine?

(The first part of my answer is an edited version of a 2013 article by my friend Shayna Zamkanei in The Times of Israel)

 

Passover begins in a few weeks, and many Jews are purchasing square “matzos” sold in cardboard boxes. But why?

In an 2004 article on www.Aish.com called “The Inner Meaning of Matzah”, rabbi Pinchas Stolper wrote: “We bake flat, crisp matzah in order to reenact the Exodus, when the Children of Israel fled Egypt in a hurry.” However, the truth is, when fleeing Egypt, the Children of Israel did not eat “flat, crisp matzah”. In fact, this flat Pesach-“bread” was were not eaten until the 19th century.

What the Israelites ate was massá (a more historically accurate transliteration than “matzah”), and that massá looked very similar to a soft pita.

We know this to be true for several reasons, the first of which is the “korékh” component of the haggadá (usually called the Seder by Ashkenazim). “Korékh” means to roll up or to wrap around, and that is what we are supposed to do when remembering Hillel and making the “Hillel sandwich.” Since we cannot roll massá that is hard and crisp, this proves that massá used to be soft and pliable.

Second, it is clear from the Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 7a) that bread and massá looked the same and could be easily confused: “Rabbah the son of Ribbi Huna said in the name of Rab: If a moldy loaf [is found during Pesah in a bread bin and we are uncertain whether it is bread or massá], if the majority of loaves [in the bin] are massá it is permitted [because we assume it to be like the majority].”
Besides this source clearly showing that one could not see the difference between massá and bread, the massá currently sold in most stores also never grows mold, no matter what we do to it. Soft massá, on the other hand, easily does.

We find more proof in later sources as well. And while eating soft massá is nowadays often seen as a specifically Sephardi custom, even Ashkenazi sources refer to massá as soft and much thicker than crackers…

For example, the Rama (Rabbi Moshe Isserlis) wrote that massá should be made thinner than a tefach (around 3 inches). A tefach thick was recommended in the Babylonian Talmud…
Also, the (Ashkenazi) Chafetz Chaim advised that massá be made “soft as a sponge” (Mishna Berura, Orach Haim 486).
In “The Laws of Baking massá,” the Shulchan Aruch deems baking to be sufficient  when “no threads can be pulled from it.”
Rabbi Hershel Schachter, rabbinic dean at Yeshiva University and halakhic advisor for the kashruth division of the Orthodox Union, stated clearly that there is nothing that prohibits anyone (even Ashkenazi Jews) from eating soft massá.

 

Today’s incarnated form of massá started with the industrial production beginning in the 1800s. Eating massá that resembles a cracker needlessly changes the Passover experience into an artificial one without any roots in Jewish sources but rather dictated by the needs of a commercial industry (easy mass production and unlimited shelf life). In any area with a Jewish community, there is no excuse for not producing soft massot, as the Israelites did.

 

Anybody who teaches that our ancestors ate crispy massot while leaving Egypt, is perverting history and reading a new custom into the Torah.

 

In conclusion, baking your own massot is on a much higher level to than to get them in boxes from Israel.

In order for you to seewith your own eyes how these massot can be baked, I posted three different videos.

1)      Here is a video of a Rabbi and his family making massot at home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3lkauu3f-k

2)      Here are (Syrian) Sephardi Jews who bake softer, thicker massot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbmFdXS7tqk

3)      In my opinion, the most delicious ones are the Yemenite style massot.
These massot seem to be the closest to the ones that were eaten in the times of the Torah and the Talmud.
In this video, you can see that they also use some oil, and egg, and some herbs, which is all optional. They come out soft and the “Hillel Sandwich” (korékh) is actually a bread roll, like it originally was.
Here is the video showing how these are made and what they look like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XELBl70zd7Y

 

Massot with egg is – according to custom – however not used for the haggadá ceremony, but can be freely made and eaten during the other meals of Pesach.

It is important to keep in mind, that when baking massot, according to halakha, we have a maximum of 18 minutes. Ashkenazim start to count the 18 minutes when the moment the water is mixed with the flour. But Sephardim (and that is the original halakha) only start counting after the kneading is stopped. And one can knead the dough as long as wanted. It is therefore smart to keep kneading until right before it is flattened and baked.

As far as the Haggadá is concerned, the Shearith Israel holiday prayer books have the Haggadah printed, starting on page 61!

If you have no kashér (kosher) wine, you should use regular grape juice from the store. It is true that grape juice is halakhically considered wine and falls under the same rules and restrictions, but one of these rules is that wine which has been cooked (boiled for even a second), is kashér. It so happens that commercially produced grape juice is always pasteurized (which is, halakhically speaking, cooked) and therefore kashér and can be used for Pesach.

 

Rabbi Sjimon den Hollander