Photo Credit: Meta AI

Most people assume that eating machine matzah is some type of leniency.



But maybe not.

Let us share some highlights of the amazing history surrounding its invention – and the halachic battles that it wrought.


The Birth and the Demand

Although the heated controversy was 20 years away, this story really begins in Ribeauvillé, France, in 1838 when the first matzah-baking machine was invented by a Frenchman named Isaac Singer and approved by his local rabbis as well as by rabbanim in Furth, Germany, then a major yeshiva center. By 1845 the new invention was in use in Frankfurt, Germany. Seven years later, in 1852, there was a machine matzah factory in Poland, in the city of Posen. This is an important place and time, for the famed Rav Shlomo Eiger (son of Rav Akiva Eiger) was the rav in Posen until his death that same year. Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson asserts that Rav Eiger was alive at the time and had authorized its kashrus for baking matzos.

By 1857 many of the major Jewish cities in Europe had adapted to machine matzos. From London to Breslov to Pressburg (home of the Ksav Sofer, Rav Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer) this innovation began to spread like wildfire. The main reason for the contagion is easy for us today to recognize: The issue of price. The average hand matzah factory required twice the number of workers as a machine matzah facility. The owners of these hand matzah bakeries explained to the Ksav Sofer that after recouping the money from their initial investment in this new “machine,” the savings would be enormous, and the price of matzah would go down significantly. This would allow not only for cheaper matzos for the hamon am (average person) but would also help bring dignity to those who, up till now, had to rely upon kimcha d’pischa (moas chitim) in order to feed their families for Pesach; should he allow machine matzos, they argued, then even the very poor would be able to afford matzos!

But the reasons went beyond the economic. There was – at least in Pressburg – a shortage of frum laborers, which in turn resulted in the hiring of non-Jewish workers. If this was not cause enough for concern, there were reports by the Krakow beis din that on occasion some workers were so tired that they only pantomimed the act of working the dough.

But it gets even worse.

The working-hours at these bakeries were so exhausting that the Krakow beis din reported that there had been occasions where workers were caught sneaking bread sandwiches and the like into their mouths as they worked on the matzos!

As those familiar with geography can see from the above, this new innovation was spreading in an eastern direction. On this journey, in the years 1857 and 1858, it moved from Krakow 200 miles east and entered Galicia, and the town of Lvov (Lemberg). It arrived with the haskama from none other than Rav Yaakov Ettlinger – the Aruch L’ner – one of the leading lamdanim and rabbanim of his age.


Lvov, Krakow, and the Birth of a Machlokes

The town of Lvov was led for many years by Rav Ettinger (not to be confused with the above-mentioned Rav Ettlinger). In that town learnt a young man by the name of Yosef Shaul Nathanson. Together with the rav’s son, Mordechai Zev Ettinger, they studied the entirety of the yam shel talmud. They both went on to receive semicha, all the while learning with each other. They even published important sefarim together, including the oft-quoted Magen Gibburim (my colleague Rabbi Milevsky points out that the Mishnah Berurah quotes this sefer over 200 times!).

Rav Nathanson went on to marry the rav’s daughter, and when the rav passed away R’ Mordechai Zev, although the rav’s son, did not get the position; it went instead to Rabbi Nathanson, the rav’s son-in-law. At this point Rav Nathanson had become one of the poskei hador. A prolific author, he is most known today for his teshuvos Shoel U’Meishiv. Many still refer to him by that title, as shall we for the remainder of this story.

This background will become important later in our story.

For now, notice that the year this new machine arrived in Lvov was the Shoel U’Meishiv’s first year into his tenure, 1857.



The machine arrived in Lvov in 1857. At first they tried to test the machine, but it was too cold. On the second try it worked. In addition to the many advantages to machine matzos in the eyes of some, as listed above, some claimed that there was another advantage. There was another rav in Lvov by the name of Rabbi Simon Aryeh Schwabacher. Coming from Germany that same year and already used to machine matzos he argued to the Shoel U’Meishiv that hand matzos are dirty, as the workers do not wash their hands; therefore such matzos are muktza machmas mius (forbidden to touch due to disgust)!

We should point out that at this point in his life this Rabbi Schwabacher may have been reform, and he was likely a maskil, and indeed the Shoel U’Meishiv had to explain why he mentioned the points of this rabbi in his own defense of his psak.

(Rabbi Shwabacher left Lvov just three years after his arrival, in 1860, and assumed a rabbinic position in Odessa, Russia (now Ukraine) after once giving a Chanukah speech there in 1859 where he enthralled the audience. Twenty-eight years later, he died in Odessa. Even during his tenure there, the progressives and conservatives, the frum and the reform were confused regarding whose side he most stood for, although it seems hard to argue that he was a reformer in the classic sense. He also corresponded with the Netziv and other great rabbanim. See The Jews of Odessa: 1794-1881, Steven Zipperstein, Stanford University Press.)

In any event, for reasons known and unknown, the Shoel U’Meishiv approved the new adaption to machine matzos.

That same year in Krakow their beis din also ruled to allow machine made matzos.

But soon opposition would mount.

There was a man in Krakow by the name of R. Chaim Dembitzer who was not at all happy about this new development of machine matzos. While questions would soon surface whether he was really a rav – or a dayan, as he referred to himself – that reality is of no real consequence for he set out to gather letters from the great rabbanim of the time showing that the leaders of the Torah veldt forbade such matzah. Regardless of Dembitzer’s standing or goals, the facts remain that he did receive many responses from some of the great poskim of the time prohibiting machine matzah.

In fact, R. Dembitzer published a book in Breslov in 1859 titled Moda’ah L’Beis Yisrael (“A Warning to the Jewish People”) where he records all of the responses he received.

Who were some of the gedolim who responded banning machine matzah? None other than the Gerrer Rebbe (also known as the Chidushei HaRim), the Sanzer Rebbe (also known as the Divrei Chaim), as well as one of the leading halachic authorities of the time, Rav Shlomo Kluger, the great rav of Brody.

There was another rav who wrote a letter prohibiting machine matzah. In fact, this letter came from a posek living in the town of Lvov, where the Shoel U’Meishiv’s original allowance came from!

Who was this man?

None other than Rav Mordechai Zev Ettinger, the Shoel U’Meishiv’s old chavrusa and brother-in-law!

While we do not know what went on in the Shoel U’Meishiv’s personal life, we could only imagine how uncomfortable his time in Lvov was becoming. There is strong evidence that a few years later (1862) he sought to leave Lvov, and accepted the position of rav in the town of Brisk; it was even made public. For reasons that are still unclear he never did take that position, choosing instead to stay on in Lvov.


The First Pamphlet

What was the reasoning of these great men who disagreed with the Shoel U’Meishiv and prohibited machine matzah?

The arguments found in that pamphlet, written by Rav Kluger and others, ran the gamut from the intriguing to the very convincing.

For instance, one of the fears (incidentally indicating that the old machine matzos were once circular in shape and not square as they are today) was due to the following protocol: after the machine shaped the matzah into a square-shape, a worker would round it off so that it would be circular, taking the excess dough back and adding it to the other dough so it could be used in the next batch of matzos. The fear was that in the meantime, the extra dough would have time to turn into chametz. Indeed, it is for this reason that machine matzos are all square today (so as to avoid cutting off extra dough), for even those who allowed machine matzos accepted this argument.

However some now argued that the custom among Klal Yisrael for millennia was to have round matzah, and to change the shape to square is a problem onto itself.

Some went even further and challenged creating such an innovation in making matzos simply because it differed so radically from how we had been making matzos for thousands of years. And some went so far as asserting that this innovation came from German Jews who are known to appreciate innovation more so than their Galiztianer brethren.

That was not to be taken as a compliment to German Jews.

Some important rabbanim even suggested that the introduction of this machine was a surreptitious way to bring innovation among the charedim, allowing the reformers to get their foot in the door, as it were.

One especially serious objection related to kavana (intent). The Shulchan Aruch (siman 460) rules that matzos have to be made by an adult, and that matzos for the seder must have specific intent. The Mishna Berurah, for instance, rules (ad loc #3) that even to watch over a non-Jew would not help in this regard. This being the case, how could a machine have kavana?!

There were also concerns regarding the ability to clean the machine from all the dough that would become stuck in crevices, as well as other similar concerns. Furthermore, as the matzos moved toward the oven there was a fear that the heat escaping would speed-up the chimutz process before the matzos are placed inside the oven.

A separate issue raised was the concern for all of the people who would lose their jobs making hand matzos. One of the reasons, points out Rav Kluger, that the Gemara gives for postponing the reading of the megillah when Purim falls out on Shabbos is the concern that the poor people will not receive their matanos l’evyonim. So we see, he argued, that we must be mindful of the poor when making community policy, and the fact that many would lose their parnassah with the advent of machine matzah factories is reason enough to ban them.


The Shoel U’Meishiv Responds. The Second Pamphlet

That same year (1859), in response to Moda’ah L’Beis Yisrael, the Shoel U’Meishiv put out his own pamphlet, titled Bitul Moda’ah (“Nullifying the Warning”).

In it he responded to all the arguments against machine matzos – pointing out that most of the gedolim who were recorded in the previous pamphlet never even saw these machines; rather they relied on testimony, and often this testimony concerned antiquated machines that didn’t represent the hiddurim made to them since their inception. As the Aruch L’ner, in reference to this debate, put it, “Seeing is better than hearing.”

The Shoel U’Meishiv, together with the Krakow beis din, also demonstrated that R. Dembitzer might not have been who he claimed he was.

In fact, the Shoel U’Meishiv unflatteringly refers to him as “sheker haCheyN” (false is grace), a play on the verse in Mishlei and R. Dembitzer’s name, Chaim Nossan.

He also compiled letters from across Europe seeking support for his position. They included: the Ksav Sofer (see his teshuvos, Orach Chaim, hosofos 12); the Aruch L’ner; and the rav of Danzig, Rav Yisroel Lipshutz, the author of Tiferes Yisroel. The latter not only supported machine matzos but wrote that it was he who requested such a machine be brought to Danzig, and that when he saw it he proclaimed the berachaM’chadesh chadashim – bless be He who creates new things”!

As to the issue of the workers who would lose jobs, the Shoel U’Meishiv argued that there were other ways to help those individuals, and that this innovation would help far more people.

As for the issue of intent, he argued forcefully that the machine does not work on its own (comparing it to rolling pins, which, of course, don’t work on their own either) and since a Jewish adult is operating it there is no issue.

(Today these machines are far more advanced and in addition they are not mechanical in nature but rather electrical, leading to issues beyond the scope of this brief monograph)

Regarding the issue of innovation, the Shoel U’Meishiv rhetorically asked whether it would also then be forbidden to ride a train.

The Aruch L’Ner also wrote in defense of innovation, as well as a vindication of German Jewry who are “upright” while also accepting “the innovations of men of science…for the purpose of observing mitzvos.”

Regarding the issue of requiring circular matzos, the Shoel U’Meishiv and others dismiss this out of hand. In fact some even suggest (based on Beitza 22b, Menachos 57a) that since many of the laws of matzah are learned from the lechem hapanim, which were square, square matzos are preferred!

(See Ibn Ezra to Vayikra 2:4, relating to the shape of the matzos used for a korban mincha where he and other rishonim debate their shape; some say they were circular, while others say square. This would seem like a much stronger comparison –as they were actual non-chametz matzos and as we can see this too was an unsettled debate. See Shaarei Aaron, ad loc.)

The Ksav Sofer also dismissed the square matzah concern by stating, “In the merit of the four-cornered matzos, may Hashem redeem us from the four corners of the earth.”

The Shoel U’Meishiv also expressed disappointment in the perceived motive behind his brother-in-law’s attack against his psak. However, from what I have seen, his brother-in-law’s letter was first written in 1856, several months before Lvov welcomed their new machine.

While the Shoel U’Meishiv wanted to avoid this issue turning into a chassidim vs. misnagdim debate, in many ways that is precisely what happened, largely due to the letters from the Sanzer and Gerrer Rebbes. To this day almost no chassideshe branch uses machine-made matzo. However, whereas during the early days of this machlokes many did write of their concern that machine matzah may contain real chametz, this is no longer a concern today even among chassidim (Nitei Gavriel in the name of the Klausenberger rebbe. See also Shu”t Mishneh Halachos 1:114).

Sadly the Jewish journalists of the 19th century got wind of this debate and began to pick sides as well, going beyond their area of expertise by placing themselves between the heads of giants. Most notably was the Jewish newspaper Hamagid – a largely Haskalah leaning paper – which published derogatory articles about those who wanted to prohibit machine matzos.

Due to their clear bias it is hard to know if some of the facts they cite are true. For instance, on March 9, 1859 Hamagid reported that the Shoel U’Meishiv was taken to court in Lvov where he had to prove that his pamphlet was not filled with lies, as was told to the censor by the advocates of the first pamphlet against machine matzos. The Shoel U’Meishiv was able to convince the judge that nothing wrong or untrue was to be found in his book, reported Hamagid. A fantastic account…if proven true. Perhaps I am being too cynical.

There was also another individual who took to writing into various journals and newspapers in support of machine matzos while attacking – in very strong words – Rav Shlomo Kluger. This fellow, R. Chaim Kara, would later write to the Gerrer Rebbe explaining that at the time he had no idea who Rav Shlomo Kluger was (!) and had he known he would have spoken with more respect.

(One last point regarding the 19th century debate. Rav Shlomo Ahron Wertheimer of Yerushalayim (d. 1935) discovered that the 13th century rishon Meiri (in his Magen Avos) seemed to have described a process of matzah baking in his time that seems to portray a very crude type of matzah machine. He therefore posits that had gedolim against machine matzos been aware of this precedent they would have yielded to the Shoel U’Meishiv.

(We should note, however, that many of the Meiri’s works were only discovered recently, and indeed Rav Wertheimer was a celebrated researcher of kisvei yad (manuscripts). While I have not yet been able to discover if this particular source in the Meiri was also a modern discovery, it should be mentioned that if it was, many would not feel compelled to accept its conclusions, as Rav Moshe Feinstein and the Chazon Ish were very weary of modern finds – even from rishonim – influencing the halacha.)

As we can see from all the above, the new innovation of machine matzos led to a heated machlokes that shook the Torah world of its time.

So what do we take from all of this? On the one hand, neither the Mishnah Berurah nor the Aruch HaShulchan ever even mentioned machine matzah; on the other hand, great poskim like Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ate only machine-made matzo.

Well, the truth is we only told the first half of this story. Machine matzah continued to spread throughout the second half of the 19th century and into the 20th. This innovation travelled south to Eretz Yisrael, and west to America, changing in design and concern with each passing decade.


A Machlokes Among Brothers-in-Law

Before we describe what happened next, let me share a more recent discovery that highlights the sad reality of the initial machlokos and what was left in its wake.

In April of 2009 Time Magazine published a brief history of the “machine matzo debate.” They wrote:

In 1959, a well-known Ukrainian rabbi named Solomon Kluger published an angry manifesto against machine-made matzo, while his brother-in-law, Rabbi Joseph Saul Nathenson, published a defense.”

In just this one sentence we find three major inaccuracies. (a) Their date is off by a hundred years; (b) although quoted in it, Rav Kluger was not the one who published this sefer; (c) they mistook Rav Kluger and Rav Nathanson as brothers-in-law!

Unfortunately, the machlokes took its toll on the real brothers-in-law involved.

A few months ago I was looking something up in one of Rav Nathanson’s works (Divrei Shaul, Bereishis/Shemos, vol. 2) when I noticed that near the end of the sefer a relative of his offers a brief biography of its author. He mentions that the family once wrote to Rav Nathanson asking if the rumors were true, that he and his brother-in-law, Rav Ettinger, had written a monumental work of responsa based on the questions they received while sitting together in the beis medresh.

This would indeed be an epic work, as I am unaware offhand of any sefer of shailos v’teshuvos written by a set of chavrusos.

Moreover, the book was to be called “Shu”t Sheves Achim” (“Responsa: Unity of Brothers”), a most appropriate title for such a unified holy venture.

Rav Nathanson responded to this query with a melancholy and revealing play-on-words, by stating that the “sheves achim,” the peace among brothers, no longer exists.

Machlokos does not just harm our relationships with each other, but has the power to even conceal Torah.

Rabbi Tzvi Yechezkel Michelson (hy’d d. 1944), in a discussion about this machlokos, decides to end his treatment “on a humorous note.” He reports that Rav Shlomo Kluger and Rav Nathanson had many other communal needs to work on together. They had no choice but to move on from the harsh arguments and words regarding machine matzos. It would seem they developed a positive attitude toward this once vitriolic debate. Once, Rav Kluger and Rav Nathenson came together to Vienna to meet with the Kaiser regarding a matter of communal import. Rav Kluger sent a request to an officer asking if they could meet that day, instead of waiting till the morning. The official explained that whatever they came for would have to wait till their scheduled meeting the next day with the Kaiser, as he is very busy and “not a machine.”

Rav Kluger smiled, turned to Rav Nathenson and said, “You see! Even in Vienna they stay away from machines!” (Shu”t Tirosh VeYitzhar, 1:188).


The Waters Cool…Briefly

From the 1870’s until the turn of the century, passions slowly started to die down in Europe. While there were still people – and their respective rabbanim – on both sides of the fence, it became clear that machine matzos were (a) here to stay and that (b) those supporting it were not out to harm Torah or mesorah.

By the 1890’s, and in many ways still true today, the question of the permissibility of machine matzos became divided along chassidim/misnagdim lines.

For instance, in the city of Dvinsk, Rav Meir Simcha, author of the Meshech Chochma and Ohr Sameach, who was the rav of the non-chassidim of the city, allowed machine matzos and wrote a letter to his community stating such, while the Rogatchever Gaon, Rav Rosen, who was the rav of the chassideshe shul in Dvinsk, did not approve of them.

Both of their respective views are expressed in letters. Rav Meir Simcha to his surrounding areas, and the Rogatchever in a 1909 letter to Yerushalayim. It is interesting that the latter seemed to have kept his opinion to himself in his own city, likely to avoid machlokos, or, perhaps, R’ Meir Simcha was viewed more as the rav ha’ir. See also Shu”t Tzofnas Paneach 2:39.

It should then be of no surprise that Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein of the famed (non-chassideshe) Slabodka yeshiva also allowed machine matzos, even when the machine is run on electricity (Shu”t Levush Mordechai).

However, there were exceptions to these dividing lines, on both sides. For instance, while the Chafetz Chaim does not mention this raging debate in his halachik works like the Mishnah Berurah (for reasons unknown), he does state in a letter his strong suspicions relating to machine matzos.

We also find those in the chassideshe veldt that seemed to have broken ranks. The great chassideshe posek Rav Shalom Mordechai Schwadron –known as the Maharsham –wrote a number of teshuvos on the topic of machine matzos. While it is difficult to know precisely where he stood on the issue, it is safe to say that he leaned toward permissibility. He even stated that the suggestion that something should be presumed guilty simply because it is an innovation to how we had performed it in the past is a very weak argument (Shu”t Maharsham 5:82, as quoted by Hildesheir and Lieberman).

Another great chassideshe posek was none-to-thrilled with this disruption in chassidehshe practice. The holy rebbe of Sochatchav, Rav Avraham Borenstein, known as the Avnei Nezer, responded in a short but sharp letter regarding this psak of the Maharsham (who he does not mention by name), comparing those who would allow machine matzos in the face of the great rebbes who had already banned it as “a fly facing lions” (Avnei Nezer 2:537, though it may not be found in some volumes. See also siman 372 where he expresses his displeasure even regarding the mass production of matzah, even hand-made. He felt that this too was not just a new development, but should concern us because when one makes matzah for themselves they are far more particular than one making it for unknown and unseen people).

The Avnei Nezer further argues that nothing is added by having new people enter this debate. “Who is greater than Rav Nathanson who already allowed it?” asks the Avnei Nezer. “Yet the holy rebbes have already rejected his view….”

This is a fascinating argument. The Avnei Nezer seems to be saying that once the first generation of a holy debate closes we must assume that all the points on both sides have been exhausted. Our job then is simply to follow how our parents and teachers guided us.

Although the Maharsham’s ruling caused quite a stir, it may have been for naught. Even today, what the Maharsham’s position regarding machine matzos really was remains hotly debated. In some letters he seems to allow it; in others he even seems to prefer it; and still others he says that he “never allowed it.”

So much confusion surrounds the Maharsham’s opinion that twenty years ago a great grandson of his wrote a long treatise on the matter for a Torah journal of Karlin (Kovetz Beis Ahron V’Yisroel, vol. 3:51).


The Machine ‘Makes Aliyah’

The short but sharp letter of the Avnei Nezer quoted above was written in 1909. That letter, along with several others from Europe, made its way to Eretz Yisrael.

Already in 1873 the first matzah baking machine was brought to Israel, however, likely due to the fact that it never became popular, it did not cause a stir.

But by 1908 and 1909 things changed. Six years earlier the Cohen/Halperin machine matzah plant was founded and their matzos became prevalent among many of the non-chassidic charedim at the time (then called perushim). This was not by chance, as this factory was given hashgacha by none other than Rav Shmuel Salant. Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld also gave his haskamah – in theory – to machine matzos, for a factory in Haifa. This was later rescinded due to concerns unrelated to this discussion.

The chassideshe charedim, however, truly believed these matzos to be a major violation of law.

In fact, the very same Maharsham who caused a stir in Europe because he allowed machine matzos was now being quoted as one of the main sources of the chassidim disallowing them!

Anyone who might be confused as to the give-and-take to this debate need only look to the pashkivillim (posters) that painted the walls of Yerushalayim in 1908-1909 where every opinion regarding machine matzos, every argument, is quoted, debunked, and quoted anew. As the Jewish Observer (April 2004) once put it, it was an all-out “pashkavillim war.”

The machine matzah debate had now arrived in our holiest city.

In one of the pashkivillim, citizens of Yerushalayim were invited to see the matzah baking of Rav Shmuel Salant himself.

While it comes as no surprise that some wanted machine matzos banned, it may surprise readers to learn that the pendulum swung both ways. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (in Halichos Shlomo, Pesach, 157-158 #46) reported how he remembered that the situation with hand-made matzos was so bad that many rabbanim wanted to ban hand-made matzos! (Although Rav Shlomo Zalman was born the year following this debate, 1910, this was still a controversial issue for at least a decade after.)

This may sound odd to our ears but keep in mind that this debate – going all the way back to Rav Nathanson – was not just about if machine matzos were kosher for Pesach, but if they were superior to hand matzos.

Rav Shlomo Zalman himself would eat only machine matzos on Pesach. However, at the seder, he would also try to find mehadrin hand matzos to fulfill all opinions. (While everyone agrees that he ate machine matzah for the remaining days of Pesach, what he did during the seder is a matter of dispute. Based on the two sources I found that discuss his custom (Halacha Shel Pesach (Freidman) p. 481 and Halichos Shlomo, ad loc.), what I have written seems to be the most accurate.)

As Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (in Mikraei Kodesh, Pesach, vol. 2 p. 11 ff) explained a machine has no concept of daas (knowledge) so the “wrong” type of intent is impossible to place on it. All that matters is that we are able to establish that a machine is the extension of the person who turned it on. In the view of these poskim once we eliminate such concerns then a machine is not just permissible to be used for the baking of matzos, but recommended. This is because by having a machine designed for this purpose one thereby eliminates human error. In addition, the custom, based on the Chasam Sofer (Hashmatos C”M, 196), is to go from dough to oven in just a few minutes, something which a machine makes far more plausible. (See also Hagadas Moadim Uzmanim, p. 22.)

We should point out that although many have noted the dangers of innovation in halacha, these poskim would point out an obvious distinction: it is only innovation that could have easily been done in the past yet, for whatever unknown reason, was ignored or bypassed that we mustn’t now ignore the unknown concerns of old and act differently for ourselves.

In other words, it is irrelevant that until 1838 Jews only ate hand-made matzos, for they had no other choice. Who is to say that the rishonim would have also rejected machine matzos had these machines been invented earlier? That is the crux of the argument of those who were lenient as it pertains to innovation.

While this debate in Israel has cooled, we can still find allusions to it. For instance, Dayan Yisroel Yaakov Fisher (d. 2003) writes (in Even Yisroel, vol. 1, Rambam, Chometz U’Matzah, ch. 6) that while both types of matzah are acceptable, we should be stringent and eat only machine matzos!

On the other hand, when the Chazon Ish saw that his brother-in-law, the Steipler Geon, had machine matzos for his children to eat on Pesach he promptly informed him that it was chametz! (Maaseh Ish vol. 5; see also Shaarei Ish p. 44 that the Chazon Ish said that as a matter of law one mustn’t eat machine matzos; cf. Chazon Ish O”C 6.)

So, we began in Lvov and ended in Yerushalayim. In both Europe and Israel what began as a heated debate ended in mutual respect. The Nittei Gavriel quotes from the Klausenberger Rebbe that even those against machine matzos would no longer call such matzah “chametz.

But this machine still has one more stop to make: America.


Only In America

In 2012, NPR’s “Planet Money” had a report on matzah in general, focusing on Manischewitz:

“My guide through the factory is one of the world’s leading authorities on making matzah. He’s not a rabbi, or even a Jew.

“‘I was raised Southern Baptist and my wife is Roman Catholic and I’m running operations for the country’s largest Jewish food company,’ says Randall Copeland.

“Only in America.”

According to a survey conducted by in 2017, more than 1 million pounds of the handmade variety is produced in the United States every year. According to an article in New York Times in 2012, each year about $130 million is spent on matzah. Manischewitz alone – according to a well-known story in the New Yorker – produces over 76,000,000 individual pieces of matzah annually!

While most of these sales take place on or before Pesach, there is also a not-insignificant percentage that is bought throughout the year. In fact, former president Bill Clinton has a famous friend who often makes him matzah brei when he comes over to visit!

The story of how machine matzah in America came to be, and came to be accepted by many, is a notable one.

One of the main supporters of machine matzos in Israel was Rav Nafatlai Amsterdam. Born in Salant in 1832, he would later become one of the most famous disciples of Rav Yisroel Salanter. Often supporting himself with a bakery owned and operated by his wife, he settled in Israel in 1906, three years before the eruption of the “matzah storm” examined in the last section.

Some thirty years after the birth of Rav Naftali another baby boy was born in Salant. Born to R’ Yechiel Michael Manischewitz, they named their new son Dov Ber. He too would go on to study with Rav Yisroel Salanter (in the town of Memel), and, as we could guess from his last name, he too would support himself with a bakery. He also became a rav.

Indeed, this family was not just close with Rav Yisroel Salanter, but truly desired to follow in his ways. Soon after Manischewitz Matzo was founded in Cincinnati in 1888 a friend of Rav Ber opened up a competing matzah business. Writing to his father in Europe in search of a letter from a respected rav disallowing this competition, the son received a reply letter of harsher tone, beseeching him to follow the ways of the recently deceased Rav Salanter and seek only peace.

Matzah had been baked in America since its infancy; there is even documentation of Jewish soldiers during the Civil War – on both sides – receiving rations of matzah during Pesach.

However, machine matzos were still largely unheard of in America.

R’ Ber Manischewitz not only accepted machine matzos as kosher for Pesach, he perfected its process, and even advertised them as “square.”

It should also be pointed out that, in time, the matzos that Manischewitz was producing were not exactly like the machine matzos of Europe. Manischewitz owned dozens of patents making not just their matzos ahead of their time, but even their factory. Much of their innovations were adopted by other companies of the time and are still in use – although modernized –today, such as “electric eyes” that count how many units are being produced during production.

Whereas initially a “machine” matzah was but rolled mechanically, now they were rolled, shaped, pulled, and marked all by a machine. The oven too was far more modern than what was being used in Europe, and was gas fueled.

While some would argue that these made the process less problematic from a halachic perspective, others saw this as only adding to the problem –making the matzah even more removed from the hand of its creator(s). (The Satmar Rebbe – in Divrei Yoel 1:35 – makes just that argument, suggesting that the early mattirim of machine matzos are poor evidence to the allowance of the more modern ones.)

The reader should note that at this time in American history there were very few chassideshe rebbes in the country, and the absence of these, the strongest opponents of machine matzah, allowed Manischewitz’s successes to grow exponentially. To illustrate, Rav Eliyahu Yosef Rabinowitz, often cited as the first rebbe in America, emigrated in 1899 and passed away in Buffalo, N.Y., just eleven years later (where he is buried and visited by many each year).

Although the opposition to machine matzos in America was minimal, and even Rav Yaakov Yosef, first and only chief rabbi of New York City (and also a student of Rav Yisroel Salanter), supported their use on Pesach, there remained some doubt in the hearts of some. (See Tikvas Yosef at length; See also the HaPardes edition of March 1938 in the supplement (mentioned in more detail below) for a complete list of the many rabbanim who gave their haskama to the Manischewitz Co.)

Enter Rav Zecharyah Yosef Rosenfeld. Rav Rosenfeld was already a distinguished rav in Europe when he fled to America in 1893. By 1894 he was elected rav of one of the shuls in St. Louis.

Although few recognize his name, Rav Rosenfeld was one of the most important rabbanim in the history of America. To understand his sacrifice in taking a stand regarding machine matzos at the turn of the century, one needs to be aware of the contentious decade leading up to it.

In the late 1890’s Rav Rosenfeld designed and constructed the very first city eruv in America. This was no small feat, as even before his St. Louis eruv was built it drew heavy criticism from another gaon who also served as rav in that same city, Rav Shalom Elchanan Jaffe. Rav Jaffe published a sefer, Shoel K’Inyan, a treatise seeking to show that the (proposed) eruv would be unacceptable.

Looking at the dates it is apparent that the very same year Rav Rosenfeld arrived in St. Louis he announced his plans to build an eruv! Like many rabbanim, he felt it was his duty to protect Shabbos by building a city eruv. In 1896 he published a defense of his planned eruv, in a sefer titled, Tikvas Zecharyah. Utilizing telegraph wires and the Mississippi River, the first city eruv in America was built.

Although he was viscously attacked for his eruv – and both sides sought haskamos from around the world – Rav Rosenfeld somehow found the strength to write another sefer, on yet another controversial topic.

In 1905 he published Tikvas Yosef where he demonstrated why machine matzos, and specifically those, like Manischewitz, being produced in America, are kosher for Pesach. Like with his sefer defending his eruv, he sought letters from distinguished rabbanim.

Once again, the Maharsham is quoted as allowing machine matzos, with certain conditions, and once again his true position remains unclear.

Many supported Rav Rosenfeld arguments, however there were exceptions. Rav Tzvi Hirsch Shapiro of Munkacs, the author of the Darkei Teshuvah, for instance, wrote that he simply could not offer a haskama after the holy Divrei Chaim banned machine matzos.

Manischewitz for their part opened their doors to any and all rabbanim to see and inspect the process for themselves. In the late 1930’s they published a book listing over one hundred rabbanim who supported their venture. They even asserted that Rav Meir Shapiro ate Manischewitz matzah the entire year, knowing that there would never be any kashrus concern with their product (i.e. hafrashas challa).

In the March 1938 edition of the prestigious Torah journal HaPardes, a 25-page supplement was published celebrating the yovel year of Manischewitz machine matzah (ending right before a Yiddish advertisement for Dr. Pepper!). There one finds letters from the most eminent litveshe poskim of the time.

One will also discover something else, something fascinating. The Manischewitz family had opened a yeshiva in Yerushalayim, becoming quite close with many of the poskim of the city. It is unclear when this small yeshiva was dissolved, but from the information provided in HaPardes it was clearly a serious place. (Decades later, Rav Ber’s sons argued in court that their continued funding of the yeshiva was a business expense, as its students and graduates advocated for the position that machine matzah was permissible.)

Indeed, Rav Ber Manischewitz sent his two young sons to Yerushalayim to learn at the famous Yeshivas Etz Chaim, something that few families in Ohio of the time did. Rav Ber was serious about Torah study and, in addition, these connections to great leaders of Israel allowed him “in the door” so that he could better articulate how his machine matzah process worked. So that the reader does not misunderstand this last point, it is not to suggest that friendship changes a psak, challila, rather that a posek needs to know that the man seeking to innovate is not after a more perverse prize or heading toward a more rash progression.

Knowing Rav Ber as a man of Torah, a family with deep roots in the classical Torah world, evidenced character and helped soothe any question of a “greater agenda,” which, as mentioned earlier, was no small part of the concern of those who wanted machine matzos banned when they were first introduced.



First, imagine a pasta machine.

You place your prepared pasta dough into the tiny space between two

pins/rollers and begin to crank with your hand, causing the pins/rollers to press, stretch and roll out your dough in seconds. Do this a few times and you would be ready to cut and shape fresh lasagna noodles.

Now imagine the same metal pins/rollers crank used for making and shaping matzos.

The dough starts off the same as any, but once made and cut into balls,

instead of handing to someone to roll out and shape with a rolling pin, it is handed to a man who places it into a pasta-maker-like contraption. It is simultaneously cranked as it is placed in which pulls it through the metal pins, coming out longer and thinner.

Immediately, someone then takes this-now flatter dough and passes it to the next, similar cranking device, which thins it out even more.

All in all, it passes through five such hand-cranked devices and goes from there immediately to the oven.

Amazingly, from dough to matzah takes about two minutes!

From the above description these matzas would seem not only kosher, but mehudar…even for chassidim who reject machine-made matzah.

The Rama rules that matzah dough should not rest before its baking.

Although the Mishnah Berurah points out that it would be ok if it rested a little bit, we should try to have it not rest at all.

In addition, the custom, based on the Chasam Sofer, is to go from dough to oven in just a few minutes, something which until now was only feasible with a machine can now be done with this new “hand” method.

With the above process almost all waiting periods in matzah production are eliminated.

What is it?

Well, it was (and may still be) the Birchas HaPesach matzos – around five years ago, when I spoke to Rav Moshe Brandsdorfer, who wrote a letter expressing his support for these “new” matzos. (The matzos were under the hashagacha of Rav Mordechai Gross.)

(Editor’s note: We do not see much evidence online that these matzos are still around.)

Rav Brandsdorfer explained his position and answered some of the detractors.

Rav Brandsdorfer comes from chashuv chassidishe yichus. His father was Rav Meir Brandsdorfer (d. 2009), rav and posek of Toldos Avaraham Yitzchak and chaver beis din of the Eidah HaChareidis. His son Rav Moshe himself is a highly respected posek and av beis din.

This yichus is important because as pointed out before, chassideshe poskim are generally weary of machine innovation in matzah. Therefore, Rav Brandsdorfer’s approval was very substantial and significant.

Now, at what point is a matzah hand made and at what point does it cross the line into something else and become machine made? As the Shoel U’Meishiv put it, does even using a simple rolling pin make matzas machine made?

Rav Brandsdorfer explained that he believes that any concern the great poskim of the past had with machines used for making matzah did not exist for the Birchas HaPesach matzas.

Echoing the words of the Shoel U’Meishiv, he explained that as opposed to machines, these crank rollers are indeed no different – halachickly – from regular rolling pins.

But even more, with regular rolling pins, they and one’s hands get warm/hot from the constant non-stop action of rolling matzah after matzah after matzah. This heat can lead to issues of possible chimutz. The Birchas HaPesach method is actually better than typical rolling pins!

As for the argument that what defines a machine is not electricity, and

therefore this too should be seen as machine matzah, he first shared a

personal matter.

“My family has the minhag of not only avoiding – of course – all machine

matzah, but we do not even use matzah where regular rolling pins are used in shaping the matzah. So of course, if someone has this family chumrah then indeed they should avoid these new matzas – as well, for that matter, even many traditional hand matzas.

“However, so long as someone does not have such a minhag, even among chassidim this is not considered machine matzah.”

Before he explained why this is not a “machine” he first added the following caveat: “Of course, when it comes to Pesach, every family has personal and familial chumros, and if one’s mesorah is not to eat from anything other than a certain method then they should avoid this.”

As to the arguments that these are machine matzas as they are utilizing a method distinct from hand made, he explained, “The concerns of Rav Shlomo Kluger and the other great poskim does not exist here. The simple fact is that these matzas are made with a koach rishon (a person is churning the crank) no different than rolling pins, as opposed to a machine where the major concern was koach sheni – a person only presses a button or the like which then causes a whole chad gadya to take place beyond his input.”

With this he explained why the kavana issue which was at the heart of many of the concerns of the past simply do not exist here.

In addition, concerns of excess dough that was cut away from the molding and shaping of the matzah is also unique to (certain crude) matzah machines, whereas in this case the matzos are simply formed from the pressure – no different from a rolling pin, leaving no excess matzah behind.

This is a significant distinction. As the rav pointed out, even tefillin made and advertised as avodas hayad (hand-made) often use various koach rishon mechanisms.

* * *


Ki lo v’chipazon teitzu… – You shall not go out in haste…” (Yeshayahu 52:12)

The navi teaches us that whereas we left Mitzraim in a hurry and therefore our dough did not have time to rise, when Mashiach comes we will leave with calmness.

Perhaps the navi is issuing a challenge to us, that when great poskim share their holy view we should not attack just because it is new, rather with a sense of calm we shall discuss it. If we can allow for an eilu v’eilu and a calm machlokos l’shem shomyaim, this alone can be a zechus for bias goel.

May this Pesach bring about a new geulah and a new calm here and in Israel!

May we be able to share in matzos together with the Korban Pesach in Yerushalayim.


Unless stated otherwise, many of the historical facts are taken from the sefer Bitul Moda’ah, by Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson, z”l.

Other sources: Jewish Observer, April 2004; Shu”t VaYevarech Dovid 1:88; R. D. Schwartz, Sinai, issue 64; J. Sarna’s written remarks on this subject based on a lecture given at Touro College and found at; Hildesheimer and Leiberman’s “The Controversy Surrounding Machine Made Matzot.”


Portions of this article – in different formats – was printed in Ami Magazine over a decade ago.


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Rabbi Moshe Taub is rabbi of Young Israel of Holliswood and former director of BVK Kosher.