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Bentleys, Matzos and the Chumra Machine


Matza for Passover 2014

Matza for Passover 2014
Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

There’s a funny video making the rounds lately. It starts as an advertisement for Bentley automobiles, and ends up being an advertisement for handmade matzos! The voice-over informs us that “Hand-made is always better” – and it tells us that this principle which is true for cars, is also true for matzos. “You can’t ever compare the quality of hand made to mass machine made matzah,” it says. “If you’re going to do it, do it right.”

The video is put out by Chabad, and reflects the Rebbe’s insistence that his followers use Shmura handmade Matzah, at least for their sedarim. We are used to Chabad trying to spread Chabad ideology beyond its adherents. But there are others who are trying to spread its message.

We recently discussed the attempt of Rabbi Yair Hoffman to encourage everyone to eat one and a third matzos in two swallows in less than two minutes. In his latest column in the Five Towns Jewish Times and Yeshivah World News, he refers to the Bentley ad, and presents various arguments for and against the legitimacy of machine-made matzos. He concludes that “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,” and thus to eat hand-made matzos. Is this true?

First, let’s discuss the Bentley comparison. I’ve been in a Bentley, and I can agree that it is an extraordinary car. But does this mean that hand-made is always better? And is the superiority of a Bentley relevant to matzah? Let’s take a look at another video about the manufacture of Bentley automobiles (actually, feel free to skip it – it’s not that important):

Note that we are talking about a very small number of products, which are manufactured very slowly and carefully, by dedicated craftsmen who are presumably being paid very well. The possibility of human error is therefore very small. Second, and more significantly, it’s not as though machine-made cars are likely to involve errors in their manufacture – they are less likely to do so. It’s simply a matter of certain touches requiring fine motor skills that are better performed by hand. And note that certain parts of the Bentley manufacturing process, which require uniform processes done with great precision in rapid time, are done via machine!

With matzah, the Bentley advantage is simply irrelevant. There is no important aesthetic enhancement of matzah being produced by hand with fine motor skills. If we are talking about a concern to avoid the possibility of chametz, then machine-made matzah, which avoids human error and is more uniform across large scale processes, is superior.

In fact, this brings us to the fascinating case of the Liska Rebbe, described in Ami magazine. Due to “the fear that a small part of the Matzah that wasn’t baked properly can come in contact with liquid, thus rendering it chometz,” the Liska Rebbe and his followers do not eat any matzah on Pesach except for the minimum quantity required at the seder. (The article notes that the Divrei Chaim was strongly opposed to this practice, yet the article states that this is a sacred custom.) Now, this is of course an extreme and arguably bizarre chumra. But it should be noted that it is based on actual incidents, and that this concern does not arise with machine matzos, only with handmade matzos. Thus, handmade is not always better.

There are, however, other concerns with machine made matzos. In particular, there is a question about whether machine matzos satisfy the requirement of being made with intent. There is no need to get into all the intricacies of that here; suffice it to note that there have been great rabbinic authorities on both sides of this dispute. Rav Yisroel Yaakov Fisher, for example, head of the Badatz Eidah Charedis, wrote that people should be scrupulous and only eat machine matzos, due to the absence of risk of human error. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ate machine matzos his entire life.

About the Author: Rabbi Natan Slifkin is the author of several works on the interface between Judaism and the natural sciences. Later this year he is publishing The Torah Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom, and he is currently developing a Biblical Museum of Natural History to be located in the Beit Shemesh region. Rabbi Slifkin's website is www.zootorah.com and he also runs a popular blog at www.rationalistjudaism.com.


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3 Responses to “Bentleys, Matzos and the Chumra Machine”

  1. Yori Mendel says:

    Usually it is. I don’t like tasteless Cardboard.

  2. I think so! But that’s just my preference.

  3. Basha Kline says:

    I love them, especially the burnt bit and look forward to receiving them knowing they have been made by someone of consequence…!

Comments are closed.

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