By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
It looks like an ordinary car commercial, albeit one that touts the luxurious, high-priced, handmade Bentley. Twenty seconds into the commercial, we see that it is really about shemurah matzah—explaining its quality and its rather steep price. But the high price of shemurah matzah has, of late, caused a number of people to once again pose the question: Can we fulfill the obligation of consuming matzah on Pesach with matzos prepared by machine rather than by hand?
The History. Ever since the exodus from Egypt, Jews have been consuming matzos prepared by hand. Then, in 1856, all of that changed, at least for some people. In Vienna, Austria, a Jewish baker created an international stir. He introduced machinery in the production of matzah. There was an earlier machine, created in 1837, but that one did not stir up any controversy, perhaps because it did not automate as much as the later version.
When the issue became known in Galicia, the controversy began. Rav Shlomo Kluger wrote a response about the issue to his student Rabbi Chaim Nosson Dembitzer, the famous rabbi and historian in Cracow, and Rabbi Leib Horowitz, Cracow’s chief rabbi. The response is found in HaElef Lecha Shlomo (Hashmatos 32).
The Battle Begins. In 1859, Rav Kluger joined up with Rav Mordechai Zev Ettinger, the author of the Maamar Mordechai, and together they published the Modaah L’Beis Yisrael, in which these two luminaries categorically forbade the use of machine matzos and placed it under a ban. They gave a number of reasons for forbidding it.
Rav Ettinger’s brother-in-law and chavrusah, Rav Yoseph Shaul Nathanson, author of the Shoel U’Meishiv, was a world-class posek in his own right. Shortly after the printing of the Modaah L’Beis Yisrael, Rav Nathanson printed a booklet entitled Bittul HaModaah, in which he permitted the matzos. Sadly, the chevrusahschaft with his brother-in-law the Maamar Mordechai ended on a somewhat sour note. A 25-year collaboration on dozens of great halachic works came to a tragic end because of the argument.
Initially, the Maharsham of Brezen (Responsa Maharsham Vol. II #16) also issued a ruling permitting machine matzah—even for use at the Seder. This heter was based on the notion that the machinery required constant turning by human labor. Later, he rescinded the heter (Vol. IV #129) based on the idea that the power was emanating from electricity and the human labor was merely a grama—a cause. The Divrei Malkiel, however, permitted it even with the electricity being the power source.
Another authority who permitted the matzos was the Ksav Sofer, son of the famed Rav Moshe Sofer (Chasam Sofer).
Reasons for the Prohibition. What were Rav Kluger’s reasons forbidding the matzah? There were four reasons for his strict ruling: (1) He felt that the requirement of lishmah was lacking. (2) He was concerned about crumbs and leftover dough that would stick to the machines. (3) He was concerned that the feeling for whole or broken wheat kernels, which is normally done by hand, would no longer be accomplished. (4) He provided a sociological reason for the poor: since the cost of matzos would be considerably lowered, people would no longer provide the poor with charitable contributions.
The Rebbes Get Involved. The Sanzer Rebbe, Rav Chaim Halberstam (Divrei Chaim O.C. #23, and #24) agreed with the position that forbade the matzos. The Sochetchover, in Avnei Nezer (O.C. #537) also came out strongly against machine matzos and cited the Sanzer Rebbe as well as the Gerrer Rebbe forbidding it.
During the First World War, without consulting with the Munkaczer Rebbe, some in his kehillah purchased machine matzos so that everyone would be able to fulfill the mitzvah of matzah. They did so out of concern for the wartime shortages, which would have made matzah-baking well near impossible. In reaction to this, and based on the ruling of the Sanzer Rebbe, the Munkaczer Rebbe had these matzos burned on chol ha’moed as if they were chametz.
Why the Mishnah Berurah’s Silence? What is perhaps most shocking is that well after the introduction of machine matzos, Klal Yisrael merited the Mishnah Berurah, written by the posek of the generation, the Chofetz Chaim, yet the Chofetz Chaim was strangely silent about machine matzos for use in the Seder. It was a debate that ripped at the heart of Klal Yisrael, and yet we have nothing from the Mishnah Berurah. Why the silence? It is, of course, a matter of record that the Chofetz Chaim used hand matzah. But why did he not even discuss the issue?
Additional Reasons to Forbid. After the initial reasons forbidding the machine matzos, other poskim brought up other issues that were pertinent at the time. The machine’s motor was excessively hot and would heat up the matzah dough to the point of concern that it might cause it to become prematurely chametz. In the early machines, oil would actually drip out of the machines, and some of the dough that entered the oven caused the other dough attached to it to become halachically considered hot, through the principle of cham miktzaso cham kulo. Some of the additional arguments might even seem to be a bit of a stretch: for example, that matzos have to be round, so square matzos are chukas ha’goyim; and finally the last argument, that chadash, innovations, are forbidden from the Torah.
The Real Issue: Lishmah
Let us, however, look at the one issue that has withstood the test of time—the issue of lishmah. The Talmud (Pesachim 38b) quotes Rava that the verse in Sh’mos (12:17) which states, “And you shall guard the matzos” indicates that it is to be guarded [created] for the sake of matzos. The Gemara cites a Braisah that would have allowed the use of the loaves of the Korban Todah or the rekikim offered by a nazir for use as matzah were it not for this derashah that it must be guarded for sake of matzah.
Based upon this Gemara, the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 460:1) rules regarding the matzos that will be used for the Seder that we do not have these matzos kneaded by a gentile, by a deaf person, by a person without his faculties, or by a minor.
And while it may be true that there is a requirement to eat matzah made completely lishmah at the Seder, what about the rest of Pesach? The Mishnah Berurah (460:2) cites a custom that the Children of Israel are holy and have the custom during the entire duration of Pesach to eat matzos that were prepared lishmah.
The Rashba, which is cited authoritatively by the Beis Yoseph, rules that even if an adult Jew is standing behind the child or gentile and warns him to make the matzos lishmah, it is ineffective. Although the Ritva cites his rebbe the Raah saying that it is not necessarily forbidden, the Pri Chadash rules like this Rashba, as does the Magen Avraham. The Rosh, however, in Pesachim (2:26) rules that a Jew standing behind the gentile telling him to do it lishmah is effective.
Another issue comes into play, however. Some may argue that since the Jew is turning on the switch of the machine, it is counted as if the Jew has done it himself. This is actually the subject of great debate. Some authorities are of the opinion that since the electricity is enabled through manpower—koach adam—only in the first moment of activity, then the fact that the electric current continues to flow by itself cannot be counted as if it is koach adam. (The Chazon Ish (O.C. Chapter 6), by the way, regarding another halachic issue, disagrees with the notion of it not being considered koach adam.)
One hurdle that must be overcome by the position permitting the machine matzos is how to distinguish this case from that of animal slaughter done with a blade attached to a water wheel, where the man just allowed the water to cause the water wheel to turn. The Gemara in Chullin states that such a slaughter is forbidden.
We need to understand the underlying rationale for this Rashba. Why, in fact, does a Jew standing behind the child or gentile not help? Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Mikraei Kodesh 8:2:3) and the Minchas Chinuch (Mitzvah #10) both explain that a person cannot control what is in the hand of his friend. This would present a problem regarding a gentile, a deaf-mute, one who has lost his faculties, and a minor. Rav Frank argues that it would not present a problem for a matzah machine. Thus, according to Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, the machine matzah would be acceptable even according to the Rashba.
There may be other explanations for the Rashba as well, however. One explanation might be that every action must be accompanied by an intent. Here, the electricity might be considered a series of numerous actions. If this is the case, then the person’s intent may not be connectable to all those actions made by the electricity. This is the explanation of Rabbi Ben Tzion Abba Shaul, zt’l, in Ohr L’Tzion (Vol I #5 and Vol. III #11).
This author would like to suggest that although the flow of electrons back and forth might be considered separate actions by separate identities, since these electrons are not visible to the eye, there is a vast distinction between the case of slaughtering the animal through the water wheel and our case. In our case, the electrons cannot be seen, and therefore, it is a logical step to attribute the action to the person pulling the switch. If this argument is true, it may buttress the position of those who permit the machine matzah—even for the Seder itself.
Nonetheless, it would be proper, if possible, to fulfill this mitzvah in the manner that our forefathers have done and in a manner acceptable to most authorities.
Modern Hand Matzah
It may be noted that those who permit machine matzah may perhaps point out to those who insist on hand matzah that the hand matzos they eat are not the hand matzos of yesteryear. Why? There seems to be a requirement for the harvesting and the grinding to be done lishmah as well (see S.A. O.C. 453:4). Most of the operators on the combines that harvest the wheat grain are gentiles. True, there may be a Jew standing over him and demanding that the gentile perform his action for the sake of matzos, but this too is b’dieved.
The response to this is that although there is such a requirement, the requirement for harvesting and grinding lishmah is less than that of kneading and baking. Indeed, the Biur Halachah (beginning of siman 460) cites a debate between the TaZ and his father-in-law, the Bach, as to whether the requirement is less and whether a Jew standing over the gentile would be sufficient. The TaZ permits it. Also, the requirement of grinding lishmah is such that the matzah is still kosher even if the requirement was not technically met (S.A. siman 453).
Of The Chofetz Chaim
One last question remains. Why was the Mishnah Berurah silent? This author would like to suggest that at the time the Mishnah Berurah was written, the other underlying issues were still a factor and had not been adequately resolved. We can conjecture that as far as the lishmah factor, it seems likely that the Mishnah Berurah would have voiced his opposition to the matzos if he held that the lishmah issue was truly unbridgeable. He didn’t permit it at the time because it was still loaded with problems, and had he voiced it, his view would have been used to permit all sorts of problematic matzos. The wiser choice would have been silence—which the Chofetz Chaim did choose. The Chofetz Chaim was one of the wisest of the generation, and Chazal tell us in Pirkei Avos, “S’yag l’chochmah shetikah”—a good boundary for wisdom is silence.
This, then, may be the lesson of the matzah issue for Pesach. Matzah is referred to by the Zohar as “bread of emunah.” Emunah means belief and closeness to Hashem, and Pesach is the time when we draw ever closer to Hashem, in a bond that will hopefully continue with us throughout the year.
True, there are different types of matzah—but the important thing is to focus on our bond with HaKadosh Baruch Hu and, when any issue may arise that can divide us, to use the great boundary that Chazal recommended—silence. v
The author can be reached at email@example.com.