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Fresh Out of the Old Oven

Ari Z. Zivotofsky and Ari Greenspan

In our journeys over the years, we’ve examined dozens of ancient matzah ovens, but most of these are just relics of now-defunct Jewish communities. That’s why we were so excited to discover some old factories still in operation; and while they’d never win an award for state-of-the-art technology, the long-standing customs — together with the fragrance of those fresh-baked matzos — are the mainstay of Pesach tradition.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

As part of a trip to the Alsace-Lorraine region in France to examine some of the spectacular but now empty shuls, we took the opportunity to visit two of the oldest machine-matzah factories in the world. To round out our mission, upon returning to Israel we visited an unusual, one night a year, traditional Iraqi hand-matzah bakery. The introduction in the mid-19th century of machines to assist in the making of matzah had tremendous halachic repercussions and engendered a veritable halachic war at the time. Some poskim, including Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson (the Shoel U’meishiv), felt that the newfangled machine which enabled mass production actually gave more control over preventing any chance of chometz. Other poskim opposed the machine product for a variety of reasons — the most basic being that for close to 3,500 years, matzos were made round and by hand, with kavanah for the mitzvah. This group, mostly of Eastern European extraction, was led by the posek Rav Shlomo Kluger. A hundred fifty years later, remnants of this fight continue until today, with some people — particularly Yerushalmim and some Briskers — eating only machine matzah, while others, especially chassidim, will not even let machine matzah into their homes during Pesach. With this controversy still simmering in the background, we were excited to head off to Alsace-Lorraine, the region where the very first matzah machine was invented and two of the oldest machine-matzah factories are still in operation.

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