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Satmar Matzah as New York Times Front Page News

This kind of stringency borders on silliness.
satmar harvest

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The NY Times must be learning Daf Yomi. Just when we all started learning about the laws of chametz and matzah, the Times runs a front page above the fold story on Satmar A (as opposed to Satmar Z) protocols for matzah baking. It seems that Satmar A, and maybe others I really don’t know, are not satisfied with the “shmura m’shaas ketzira” and add an extra layer of stringency. They are careful to use wheat that did not even become wet while it was growing. They grow wheat on a far flung farm in Arizona where there is no rain for months while the wheat grows.

Why do they do this?

Halacha requires that we use “Shmurah Matzah” at the Seder (and some authorities say all Pesach). Shmura Matzah is not synonymous with round, dark matzah. Matzah can be Shmurah and any shape. Shmurah means that the ingredients for the Matzah were watched to ensure that the grains did not become leaven by coming in contact with water and not being baked within 18 minutes. There are three opinions in halacha as to when the ingredients for matzah must be “watched” in order to qualify for “Shmurah Matzah.” The most “watched” that halacha requires in that the wheat be watched from the time of harvesting. That is why most Matzah says “Shmurah m’shaas ketzira” – watched from the time of reaping.

There are no opinions in halacha that require that the grains not come in contact with water before they are reaped. None that I could find at least.

So what’s going on here?

The NY Times tells us exactly what is going on here. Here is what Professor Samuel Heilman has to say:

“…the competition between the two Satmar groups — each led by one of two brothers — was about one-upmanship.

“One is always looking to be more authoritative than the other,” Professor Heilman said, “and one of the ways they’re making this happen is over matzo — our matzo is more kosher than yours, we’re more scrupulous and careful over matzo baking than you are.”

One-upmanship in halacha. Nailed it. When so many of us are mitzvah observant, we need to do things to signal to others that we are different. We are better. That signal is the extra level of stringency that is completely unnecessary. For more on this social phenomenon check this out: Judaism as a First Language

But I think there is something more happening here. While it is true that there may be nothing wrong with being extra stringent, this kind of stringency borders on silliness. The concern that created the requirement to use Shmurah Matzah is that the wheat will actually become chametz. If water comes in contact with flour while it is in storage the wheat can become chametz. That’s science. But it is literally impossible for grains that are still growing to become Chametz. Impossible. In much the same way that it is impossible for cooked matzah to become chametz if it comes in contact with liquid. Yet, there are thousands of Jews who don’t eat gebrukst because of that very concern.

Adding stringencies like gebrukst and growing wheat where there is no rain only makes sense in one context. If Judaism is a magical, mystical, mystery and our rational minds are useless to understand the laws of Judaism then it does not matter that there is no possibility of becoming chametz. All that matters is that water and wheat do not come in contact ever. Even if the prohibition is against chametz and not all wheat and water become chametz it does not matter. But if Judaism is a religion with Divine instructions that are supposed to be understood as rationally as possible and the rules tell us what our concerns are supposed to be, there is not place for non-sensical stringencies.

When it comes to chametz, we are given specific instructions as to what the prohibition entails. The law requires us to be careful not to let the wheat and water ferment and begin to rise. It’s based on science. Anything that could help prevent that from happening is a reasonable stringency. But once we get into the kind of stringencies that will not prevent a violation of a prohibition, it is hard to see their value unless we say something magical is happening and that wheat and water may never touch. The thing is, that’s not what the Torah, Talmud, Shulchan Aruch, and responsa tell us. To them, it has nothing to do with science. It has everything to do mysticism.

Now I think I can understand why the NY Times found this so interesting. Growing wheat in Arizona so it doesn’t rain on the wheat? It’s irrational. It is religion without reason. It’s exotic, archaic, and mystical. It’s not the Judaism that so many of us practice. It’s a Judaism that almost purposely does not make rational sense and is purely mystical. That’s front page news.

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About the Author: Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D. is the rabbi at the famous Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice CA. He blogs at finkorswim.com. Connect with Rabbi Fink on Facebook and Twitter.


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13 Responses to “Satmar Matzah as New York Times Front Page News”

  1. Myriam Obadia says:

    and it's not even Judaism any longer. Since when do we condone making everyone's life harder (by adding more stringency) just to satisfy personal ambition?

  2. Anonymous says:

    The NY Times's agenda is one thing: ridicule and degrade people who love Hashem anytime possible, while glorifying the liberal and secular western lifestyle.

  3. Anonymous says:

    The NY Times's agenda is one thing: ridicule and degrade people who love Hashem anytime possible, while glorifying the liberal and secular western lifestyle.

  4. Anonymous says:

    hi kink, from your statement "he thing is, that’s not what the Torah, Talmud, Shulchan Aruch" looks you learned something but in fact you missed a clear halacha in Shulchan Aruch hilchus paisech simon 466 and 267.
    Reply to #27 Show Quote.
    Please check shulchun Urich או"ח תס"ז ס"ה. Where the mechaber quotes the Rasb"a as following:
    שו"ע (או"ח תסז, ה) – דגן שבמחובר שנתייבש לגמרי ואינו צריך ליניקה, כמאן דמנח בכדא דמי ומקבל חימוץ אם ירדו עליו גשמים.

    My doctor says: fever is a sign of infection.
    Our Torah states: sprouting in wheat is a sign of chumetz, due to the water that saturated the grain after maturity.

    לשיטת הרשב"א החטים הנקצרים ממקומות שפתו עליהם גשמים כשאינם צריכים לקרקע – כאן דמנח בכדא. – חמץ

  5. “Shmurah m’shaas ketzira” according to simple “Shilchan-Urech” 467.5 means that as soon as the wheat is finished growing even before harvesting should not get in contact with rain water. I guess before bashing others one should make sure not come out looking like the fool…
    and yes even according to science wheat kernels could start to germinate even before harvesting…
    and the truth is there is nothing new in this “Shmurah m’shaas ketzira” in Israel it never rains weeks before the harvest…
    sorry…

  6. Daas Torah says:

    When first reading this post, finkorswim.com/2013/07/01/satmar-matzah-is-new-york-times-front-page-news/by #efink.
    I did a double take. Is this Eliyahu Fink (Eli) or did I mistakenly wander over to Dovbear or Failled Messaiah The Successful Bigot?

    Alas, it is indeed (Eli). Leaving aside for the moment the linkage that Eli creates, tenuous at best and defamatory at worst, let us instead adopt Eli's formula and see where it leads us.

    It has been said that Jewish history is quite simple.

    There is an old fable which depicts the Jewish condition. The drinking water all the animals depended upon was being contaminated. Nobody was able to identify the culprit. Finally, the animal leaders met, examined the facts, and sentenced a poor, hapless goat to death for the crime.

    The goat protested that it was unfair to blame him for something he could not have done. He had a perfect alibi: He had never even been near the water.

    “You’re right,” replied the wolf. “Maybe it’s not your fault. but we have to kill you.”.

    In the Middle Ages, when plagues spread throughout Europe, the Jews were always blamed. “The Jews poisoned the wells!” was the refrain that led to the butchery of tens of thousands of our forebears. Whenever there was a problem afflicting the general population, Jews were the scapegoat.

    Ever since those dark days, Jews have been attempting to prove that they are normal, productive, loyal citizens. Usually for naught.

    “You’re right,” the anti-Semites inevitably respond, “but we hate you anyway.”.

    Back at the very beginning, the nochosh was victorious with his venomous power of leitzonus, scoffing to Chava about the Ribbono Shel Olam. To persuade her to sin, the snake mocked holiness. Ever since, cynicism and scorn have been realities we must deal with. Kedushah, holiness, has for eternity encountered contemptuous resistance. The face of the opponent may be charming, but the motivations are those of the snake.

    The sinas am ha’aretz for a talmid chochom is nothing new. As long as there have been Yidden doing mitzvos, they have been scorned by others. Under the guise of concern over social welfare and with calls to “share the burden,” those who fear Hashem have been accused of being anti-social parasites almost forever.

    Rabi Akiva (Pesachim 49b) said regarding himself, that in his earlier years as a shepherd when he was not yet familiar with Torah, his hatred of a talmid chochom was intense: “If I saw a talmid chochom,” he recalled, “I wished to bite him like a donkey (whose bite hurts more than that of a dog).”.

    In telling the story of how Rochel, daughter of the fabulously wealthy Kalba Savua, chose the shepherd, Akiva, for a husband despite her father’s protestations, the Gemara (Kesubos 62b) depicts him as a kind and humble person.

    Tosafos points out that although he was gentle and compassionate, he still wished he could bite another human being with the aim of causing him great pain. Despite the fact that he was a shepherd, engaged in a vocation that requires tenderness, and notwithstanding his nature as a good, kind, sympathetic and loving individual, he was consumed with hatred for talmidei chachomim.

    Such is the malice of genial, gentle am haaratzim towards talmidei chochomim. That is the way it has always been ever since the Torah was given on Har Sinai, and that is the way it is today.

    So get ready for the onslaught, because here we go again.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.

    But Eli Fink #efink goes on to tell us that the trip to the southeast for wheat is really about the continued competitiveness 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?

    This is what Eli has to say:
    "Now I think I can understand why the NY Times found this so interesting. Growing wheat in Arizona so it doesn’t rain on the wheat? It’s irrational. It is religion without reason. It’s exotic, archaic, and mystical. It’s not the Judaism that so many of us practice. It’s a Judaism that almost purposely does not make rational sense and is purely mystical. That’s front page news".

    Instead of focusing on Dikduk Hamitzvos Eli Fink looks to glorify machlokes during the 3 weeks. leave it up to the MO rabbis to turn any davar shebbikdusha into a machlokes and chilul hashem. This is pure Sinas chinom! Perhaps the Successful Bigot and #efink trying to one up each other in disguise, over who can spread a chilul hashem who can show the world how bad the Charedim are.

    "Inexcusable sinas Modern Orthodox for Hareidim"!

  7. Daas Torah says:

    Elie Fink is not seeking an answer to a perfectly legitimate question "is arizona wheat a "חומרה או מנהג טעות! Eli Fink has admitted that, in spite of the fact that there is evidence for a longstanding tradition that supports the Satmar Chumra, his pre-existing assumptions are driving him to conclude that this is a case of one-upsmanship.

    1) @AlexRapaport to Eli Fink #efink:“Shmurah m’shaas ketzira” according to simple “Shilchan-Urech” 467.5 means that as soon as the wheat is finished growing even before harvesting should not get in contact with rain water. I guess before bashing others one should make sure not come out looking like the fool….
    and yes even according to science wheat kernels could start to germinate even before harvesting….
    and the truth is there is nothing new in this “Shmurah m’shaas ketzira” in Israel it never rains weeks before the harvest….
    sorry…
    2) 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.

    Did he ever address the specifics of " a perfectly legitimate question "is arizona wheat a "חומרה או מנהג טעות "? Of Course Not!

    Here is what Eli Fink did have to say:

    - "My life experience has told me that there is rarely anything special or holy or religious when it comes to Satmar chumros".

    - "Now I think I can understand why the NY Times found this so interesting. Growing wheat in Arizona so it doesn’t rain on the wheat? It’s irrational. It is religion without reason. It’s exotic, archaic, and mystical. It’s not the Judaism that so many of us practice. It’s a Judaism that almost purposely does not make rational sense and is purely mystical. That’s front page news".

    - " Weberman Supporter".

    That's some one who calls himself a Rabbi?

    Instead of focusing on" a perfectly legitimate question "is arizona wheat a "חומרה או מנהג טעות ".
    Eli Fink looks to glorify machlokes during the 3 weeks. and turn any Davar Shebbikdusha into a Machloketh and Chilul hashem.
    This is pure Sinas chinom!

    My dear friend #benwaxman do you now undersatnd the "perfectly legitimate question "is arizona wheat a "חומרה או מנהג טעות "?

  8. Eva Feld says:

    Am Echad? One nation? One people? This is not Judaism. This isn't only making life harder, this is literally wiping out the very essence of what it is to be Jewish.

  9. William Kohn says:

    Rabbi Fink
    I am surprised that you are not familiar with the Rashba which forms the basis of the Satmar chumra (stringency). No one else need be bound by this chumra — but to suggest that the Satmar practice is cut from whole cloth and is only designed as one-upmanship between warring Satmar sects is incorrect — at best. Since I am not prepared to ascribe any improper motive to you, I will leave it at that. As a Rabbi whose opinion is valued and respected by many, you owe Satmar an apology and you owe your public more.
    As for Professor Heilman — he should certainly know that both Satmar camps embrace the same chumra. What they do do is criticize each other as not properly adhering to that chumra.

  10. Rabbi Fink, you've missed the crucial point. There has always been machloket, and not every disagreement is, or ever was, l'shem shamayim. But the big question for me is, "why in the world did this particular disagreement need to end up on the front page above the fold of the New York Times? It's not like either group of Stamars needs to read it in the Times to find out about it (or would ever even consider allowing the Times into their house). No, the real point here is that the New York Times needs to attack religious Jews, and make them look as ridiculous as possible. So if two religious Jews can be found anywhere doing something silly, you can be sure that will be front page news on the New York Times. Meanwhile, Muslims around the world are slicing off the clitorises of their daughters, and burying them in sand up to the neck and stoning them to death, because they listened to a song, or read a book, or held hands with a boy — but that's not worth talking about.
    The good news is reality will eventually assert itself. The bad news it that, the longer we wait for that to happen, the more it's going to hurt when it finally does.

  11. Eliyahu Fink says:

    The Rashba only proves my point. The Rashba is talking about wheat that is attached but completely mature so it is no longer getting nutrients from the ground and it becomes completely dry. Therefore, it is in essence dead and subject to becoming chometz.

    That is not the situation in 2013. Wheat is harvested at 10-15% moisture. It is never harvested in the state the Rashba is discussing.

  12. proving the old adage: nothing exceeds like excess.

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