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Why is it that every story about Chassidim manages to always gravitate back to the same two or three small minded issues? Regardless of whom the reporter or what the subject is, it comes down to the oversimplified or perhaps even lowest common denominator that is perhaps just easier for readers to intellectually digest.

This time the subject that was featured in the New York Times this past Shabbos was about preparing to bake Matzos for Pesach here at the end of June. But Pesach does not happen again until April 14, 2014. So one of the subliminal suggestions that is floated out there in the piece is—don’t these people have anything else to do?

If you did not see the story it was about the Satmar Chassidic group, mostly from Kiryas Yoel in upstate New York ascending on a sun baked ( I mean scorching hot, not really baked) farm in Yuma, Arizona in order to harvest wheat that has not come in contact with any moisture due to the overt dryness in that region at this time of year. In a way it is beautiful story about scrupulousness and the strictest adherence to the requirement that the wheat for Passover use remain the furthest distance from even the most remote possibility of it becoming leavened or Chometz.

But despite the front page picture of the men garbed in black milling around the field in their long coats and black felt hats in 106 degree heat the story quickly focuses on the petty and ridiculous. A staple of these stories in the secular press that have anything to do with Chassidim are that even though they are out there in the world they refuse to shake hands with women they meet. In this case the woman was the wife of the farmer in Arizona who they do business with. If that’s not enough to communicate how strict or perhaps backward these men are, the reporter goes on to tell us that the trip to the southeast for wheat is really about the continued competiveness for leadership of the sect between Reb Aharon Teilebaum, the older brother and Reb Zalman Leib.

The go to guy on understanding these matters is sociologist Dr. Samuel Heilman of New York who has a knack for breaking things down to the level of the absurd explains to the Times that this aspect of the competition between the two is one saying to the other, “my Matzo is more kosher than yours.”

So what do we know after reading this story? We know that Satmars still do not shake hands with women; two sects are competing with one another for supremacy or something and that even though it’s over a hundred degrees they still dress like its winter outside.

And oh yes—one more thing—that Matzo cost the consumer about $25 per pound, so someone is making money somewhere. The unanswered question is which of these is most important?

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5 thoughts on “SATMAR MATZOH IN THE TIMES By Larry Gordon

  • July 1, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Your point about Mr. Heilaman is dead accurate. He is the typical self-hating Jew who loves nothing more than getting his high by telling any media outlet that will listen to him rant about how evil the religious Jews are, of course using subtle language to make his point.

  • July 1, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    This is a big kidush hashem that satmar cahsidim have the big misiras nefesh in such heat to go check and observe to make sure that everything is correct and according to halocho to the max. Klal yisroel should be and is proud of them, wishing that we all should be like them.

  • July 1, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    The author of The Times article should have researched the reasons why certain things are done or not done. Regarding Chasidic men not shaking hands with women: Orthodox and Chasidic people do not touch members of the opposite sex (other than blood relatives) for reasons of modesty. If a man unknowingly offers to shake a woman’s hand she can politely decline. Rather than embarrass someone, if a man offers to shake my hand I do it very quickly and let go. Regarding harvesting wheat now, the writer should have spoken to the mashgiach who supervises the growing and harvesting, and learned when summer wheat is used and when winter wheat is used. It is more technical than what I could explain. This synopsis of the original article is rather negative. May I suggest that honest inquiry superceed negative criticism. It would be an enlightening learning experience. Price could depend upon whether the “shmura” matza is machine or hand baked and the fact that the wheat is supervised from the planting and harvesting, all the way through the baking and packaging.

  • July 2, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    Just trying to explain whats missing in this story.

    In the days before the combine harvester came along wheat was generally harvested before it was ripe (chayei odom klal 128) in order to prevent wheat shattering, then it was threshed separately after drying, (for p’shutim it was dried in the field and for shmure it was watched while it dried).

    Since the combine came along this changed, the wheat has to be dead and dry before harvest, so it can be cut and threshed at once.

    This is where the problem starts, in the eastern states where it rains during the harvest season you know for sure it rained on ripe wheat, so its only good b’shaas hadchak (when there’s no other Joice) (t’shuvos meil tz’duku 69).

    Wheat has to dry down to 13% moisture before its stored or it will spoil, A farmer that has available a drier will harvest his wheat at 20% moisture and take on the extra cost of drying in order to save the quality of his wheat, from this stage the rain will hurt the crop and it can sprout which is chometz.

    That’s the benefit of growing wheat in Arizona, it doesn’t rain in the day’s when the wheat is mature till it’s dry for harvest and storage.

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