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The Machine-Matzah Controversy: A History

Rabbis, Matzo and Invention

By: Rabbi Moshe Taub

 

 

Written for, and first published in, Ami Magazine, Pesach Issues 5773 and 5774

                                        

 

 

 

Boy, do I have a story to share with you. It has all the ingredients of a great yarn. It has intrigue, controversy, and, most importantly, relevance, as it affects you, the reader, whether you know it or not.

 

It also involves a heated debate between the two towering halachic figures of their time.

 

Before we begin, a brief introduction is in order.

 

Background

 

What type of matzo did you eat by the seder? Was it hand-made? Machine-made? Square? Round? What do you plan on using the rest of Pesach?

 

When I was growing up my family would bake our own hand matzos at the Shatzer matzo bakery in Kensington, NY; because of this the sight of machine matzos seemed quite foreign to my young eyes.

 

Now go back 150 years –when machine-matzos were first introduced - and imagine how alien they appeared to the Jews living in that era. We also must consider that the introduction of machine-matzos came at a very precarious time, both socially and religiously. The aftereffects of the Industrial Revolution were still being felt all over the world, and for the Jews there was another revolution that was just beginning: the Haskala, and to a greater extent, Reform.

 

There was reason many were suspicious of innovation. There was also cause for the Jews of that time to secure themselves with, and warm themselves in, the traditions of our past, even those with no clear basis in halachah.

 

Summing up the ethos of the time succinctly, the Chasam Sofer coined the well-known pun, “chodash assur min haTorah” - innovation [a play on the prohibition of ‘chadash’] is biblically forbidden.

 

But what were the limits of innovation? Was any societal or technological innovation at the time to be shunned? As Rav Eliezer Halevi Hurwitz rhetorically pondered (Bitul Moda’ah): “Should we, too, ban the new innovation for printing sefarim (i.e. the Gutenberg press)?!”

 

On the other hand, by then we already witnessed the fact that small steps and even minor innovations were all that were needed to give birth to movements that led away from Torah. Reform, at first, desired certain changes, some of which seemed relatively not too controversial, yet the gedolim smelled danger as well as the certain encroachment on more serious halachah to come.

 

With this backdrop in mind, let us discover the story behind machine matzos and the resulting controversy.

 

The Birth and the Demand

 

(Most facts stated below without a given source are taken from the sefer Bitul Moda’ah by Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson z’l, known as the Shoel U’Meishiv)

 

Although the heated controversy was 20 years away, this story really begins in Ribeauvillé, France in 1838 when the first matzo baking machine was invented by a Frenchman named Isaac Singer and approved by his local rabbis as well as rabbanim in Furth, then a major yeshiva center. By 1845 the new invention was in use in Germany (Frankfurt). Seven years later, in 1852, there was a machine matzo factory in Poland, in the city of Poznan (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. The Shoel U’Meishiv 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 Pressberg (home of the Ksav 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 matzo factory demanded twice the workers as a machine matzo facility would. The owners of these hand matzo 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 matzo 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 afford matzos!

 

But the reasons went beyond the economic. There was –at least in Pressberg (see shu’t Ksav Sofer for further details) – 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 350 km east and entered Galicia, and the town of Lvov (Lemberg). It arrived with the haskamah from none other than Rav Yaakov Ettlinger - the Aruch L’ner-  one of the leading lamdanim and rabbanim of his age.

 

This is when the main story begins.

 

Lvov, Krakow, and the birth of a machlokes

 

The town of Lvov was lead for many years by Rav Ettinger (not to be confused with Rav Ettlinger, the Aruch L’ner). 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 Berura quotes this sefer over 200 times!).

 

Rabbi Nathanson was so prodigious that he 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.

 

So back to the story…

 

Eruption

 

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 – and 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. He died in Odessa 28 years later. Even during his tenure there, the progressives and conservatives, the frum and the reform were confused regarding whose side he most stood most 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.

 

Now is when things begin to get interesting.

 

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 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 matzo. 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-matzo.

 

In fact, R. Dembitzer published a book in Breslov in 1859 titled ‘Moda’ah L’Beis Yisreol’ (‘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 matzo? None other than the Gerrer Rebbe (Chidushei HaRim), the Sanzer Rebbe (Divrei Chaim), as well as one of the leading halachic authorities of the time, hagoan haRav Shlomo Kluger, the great rav of Brody.

 

There was also another rav who wrote a letter prohibiting machine matzo.. 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.[1] 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 – Moda’a L’Beis Yisroel

 

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

 

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 matzo 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 chamtez! 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 yisroel for millennia was to have round matzo, and to change the shape to square was 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. 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, for the reformers to get their foot in the door, as it were.

 

In addition, they pointed to serious questions relating 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 Mishnah 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 Megilla 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 parnassa (sustenance) with the advent of machine matzo factories is reason enough to ban them.

 

The Shoel U’Meishiv Responds. The Second Pamphlet

 

That same year (1859), in response to ‘Moda’a L’Beis Yisroel’, 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 baal 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 beracha ‘m’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 in strong words 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 –Manishewitz, for instance, owns dozens of patents –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 matzo 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-chometz matzos – and as we can see this too was an unsettled debate, See Shaarei Aaron ad loc)

 

The Ksav Sofer also dismissed the square matzo 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 Chasidim 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 chasideshe branch uses machine-made matzo. However, whereas during the early days of this machlokes many did write of their concern that machine-matzo may contain real chometz, this is no longer a concern today even among chasidim (Nitei Gavriel in the name of the Klausenberger rebbe. See also shu’t Mishne Halachos 1:114).

 

Sadly the Jewish journalists of the 19th century got wind of this debate and began to pick sides as well as go beyond their breadth of ken by placing themselves between the heads of giants. Most notably was the Jewish newspaper ‘Hamagid’ –a largely haskalah leaning paper – who 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 whilst 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.

 

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 Berura nor the Aruch HaShulchan ever even mentioned machine matzo, on the other hand great poskim like Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach ate only machine-made matzo.

 

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

 

That is a story unto itself, and just as fascinating. It will have to wait till next year, when iy’H I will write a sequel to this article, and when Ami will hopefully be headquartered in Yerushalim Habenuyah, where we can all witness as Rav Shlmo Kluger and the holy rebbes of Europe sit together with the Shoel U’Meishiv and the Ksav Sofer as they argue their respective cases in front of Moshe rabbeinu, Rebbe Akiva, and Rav Yehudah HaNasi.

 

Where ‘Time Magazine’ Got it Wrong

 

Before we describe what happened next, let me share a 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 write:

 

 “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 Nathenson as brother-in-laws!

 

How could they err so?

 

Perhaps this was due to the fact that there was a brother-in-law element to the story. In his younger days Rav Nathenson would study with his brother-in-law Rav Mordechai Zev Ettingah (not Rav Kluger!). The two soon became a world-renown Torah-force to be reckoned with. They even published very popular sefarim together, including the important work ‘Magen Gibburim’, one of the most oft quoted sefarim in the Mishnah Berrura.

 

It was therefore a shock to many to discover that in ‘Moda’ah L’Beis Yisroel’ one of the rabbis who had written strongly against machine matzos and the ruling of Rav Nathenson was none other than Rav Ettingah!

 

Time Magazine was right that a brother-in-law was involved, they just got the wrong name.

 

But that is not even the central discovery I want to share; that was just its introduction.

 

A few moths ago I was looking something up in one of Rav Nathenson’s works (‘Divrei Shaul’, Bereishis/Shmos, 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 Nathenson asking if the rumors were true - that he and his brother-in-law, Rav Ettingah, 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 Nathenson 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![2]

 

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 Nathenson 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 Vienne they stay away from machines!”[3]

 

A similar story of humor being shared between disputants is told about Rav Moshe Feinstein and the Satmar rebbe. They famously debated on several sensitive matters of halacha. One of the more prominent issues that they disagreed upon was the purpose of a mechitza in a shul. The outcome of Rav Moshe’s understanding was that a valid mechitza need not be as high as what many may assume. The Satmar rebbe strongly disagreed. It once happened that Rav Moshe and the Satmar rebbe were at a shiva house together. Sitting in front of the avel the Satmar rebbe leaned-in toward Rav Moshe and started to speak to him in learning. Rav Moshe was surprised and, glancing at the avel, hinted to the rebbe that perhaps now was not the time to learn Torah. The rebbe pointed to an ottoman next to the avel’s feet and replied, “No, we can talk in Torah in front of the avel because according to you that stool is a mechitza!”

 

The Waters Cool…Briefly

 

From the 1870’s until the turn of the century things 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 (something that Rav Nathenson was very disturbed by).

 

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 chasideshe shul in Dvinsk, did not approve of them.[4] 

 

It should then be of no surprise that Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstien of the famed (non-chasidesh) Slabodka yeshiva also allowed machine matzos, even when the machine is run on electricity (shu’t Levush Mordechai).[5]

 

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 Berrura (for reasons unknown),[6] he does state in a letter his strong suspicions relating to machine matzos.[7]

 

So too do we find those in the chasideshe veldt that seemed to have broken ranks. The maggid of Yerushalaim R’Shalom Schwadron’s grandfather, the great chasideshe 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.[8]

 

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 Marharsham (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”.[9]

 

The Avnei Nezer further argues that nothing is added by having new people enter this debate. “Who is greater than Rav Nathenson 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 Marharsham’s ruling caused quite a stir, it may have been for naught. Even till today, what the Marharsham’s position regarding machine matzos really was remains hotly debated. In some letters (like the one written to St. Louise) seems to allow it, in others he even seems to prefer it, and still others where he says that he ‘never allowed it’.

 

So much confusion surrounds the Marharsham’s opinion that twenty years ago a great grandson of his wrote a long treatise on the matter for a Torah journal of Karlin.[10]

 

The Machine Makes ‘Aliya’

 

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 yisroel.

 

Already in 1873 the first matzo-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 the winds changed. Six years earlier the Cohen/Halperin machine matzo 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 hashkama –in theory –to machine matzos.[11]

 

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

 

In fact, the very same Marharsham 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 look only to the pashkivillim (posters) that painted the walls of Yerushalaim in 1908-1909 where every opinion regarding machine matzos, every argument, is quoted, debunked, and quoted anew. As the Jewish Observer once put it, it was an all-out ‘pashkavillim war’.[12]

 

[See Sidebar for Pictures of These Pashkivillim]

 

The machine matzo debate has now arrived in our holiest city.

 

In one of the pashkivillim citizens of Yerushalaim are invited to see the matzo baking of Rav Shmuel Salant himself!

 

While it comes as no surprise that some wanted machine matzos banned, it may however surprise readers to learn that the pendulum swung both ways. Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach reported how he remembered[13] that the situation with hand-made matzos was so bad[14] that many rabbanim wanted to ban hand-made matzos![15]

 

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

 

Rav Shlomo Zalman himself would only eat machine matzos on Pesach. However by the seder, he would also try to find mehadrin hand matzos to fulfill all opinions.[16]

 

As Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank explained[17]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[18] , is to go from dough to oven in just a few minutes, something which a machine makes far more plausible. [19]

 

 

We should point out that although we have written in the past of the dangers of innovation in halacha, these poskim would point out an obvious distinction: it is only innovation that could have easily have been done in the past yet, for whatever unknown reason, was ignored or bypassed that we mustn’t now ignore the mysterious 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 what the rishonim would have also rejected machine matzos had these machines been invented earlier? That is the crux of mattirim’s argument as it pertains to innovation.

 

While this debate in Israel has cooled, we can still find allusions to it. For instance Dayan Fisher (d. 2003) writes[20] that while both types of matzo are acceptable, 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![21]

 

So, we began in Lvov and ended in Yerushalaim. In both Europe and Israel what began as a heated debate ended in mutual respect.[22]

 

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

 

‘Only In America’[23]

 

NPR’s ‘Planet Money” recently had a report on matzo in general, focusing on Manischewitz.[24]

 

“My guide through the factory is one of the world's leading authorities on making matzo. 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 the April 10, 2012 edition of the New York Times, each year about 130 million dollars is spent on matzo. Manischewitz alone –according to a recent story in the New Yorker –produces over 76,000,000 individual pieces of matzo 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 matzo-brei when he comes over to visit!

 

The story of how machine matzo 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 year before the eruption of the ‘matzo storm’ examined in the last chapter.

 

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 of some type.

 

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 matzo 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.

 

Matzo 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 matzo during Pesach.

 

However, machine matzos were still largely unheard of in America. In the above referenced New Yorker piece Rav Ber is likened to Steve Jobs (the creater of Apple Computers) whose genius was not based on invention per se, rather in taking that which already exists and perfecting and streamlining it.

 

R’ Ber Manischewitz not only accepted machine matzos as kosher for Pesach, he perfected its process, and even advertised them as ‘square’, something which some rabbanim in Europe had taken issue with (as discussed last year in Part 1).

 

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 tens 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’ matzo 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 matzo even more removed from the hand of its creator(s).[25]

 

The reader should note that at this time in American history there were very few chasideshe rebbes in the country, and the absence of these, the strongest opponents of machine matzo, 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, New York just eleven years later (where he is buried and visited by many each year. He will be the subject of a future column iy’H. Others may posit that Rav Avraham Ash was the first rebbe in America).

 

Although the opposition to machine matzos in America was minimal, and even Rav Yaakov Yosef (also a student of Rav Yisroel Salanter, interestingly) supported their use on Pesach,[26] there remained some doubt in the hearts of some.

 

Enter Rav Zechryah 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. Louise.

 

Although few recognize his name, Rav Rosenfeld was one of the most important rabbanim to 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 bristly 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. Louise 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. Louise 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.[27] 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 (an article for a different time) – Rav Rosenfeld somehow found the strength to write another sefer, on yet another controversial topic.

 

In 1905[28] he published ‘Tikvas Yosef’ where he demonstrates 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 Marharsham is quoted as allowing machine matzos, with certain conditions,[29] and once again his true position remains unclear.

 

Many supported Rav Rosenfeld arguments, however there were exceptions. 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.[30]

 

Manischewitz for their part opened their doors to any and all rabbanim to see and inspect the process for themsleves. In the late 1930’s they even published a book listing over one hundred rabbanim who supported their venture. They even assert that Rav Meir Shapiro ate Manischewitz matzo 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 (jubilee) of Manishweitz machine matzo (ending right before the yiddish advertisement for Dr. Pepper!). There one finds letters from the most eminent litvehse poskim of the time.

 

One will also discover something else, something fascinating. The Manischewitz family had opened a yeshivah in Yerushalaim, 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. Indeed, already as young boys, Rav Ber Manishewitz sent his two sons to Yerushalaim to learn at the famous Yeshivas Etz Chaim, something that few families in Ohio of the time did! Rav Ber was serious about Torah and, in addition, these connections to great leaders of Israel allowed him ‘in the door’ so that he could better articulate how his machine matzo 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 if the reader recalls from Part 1 was no small part of the concern of those who wanted machine matzos banned when they were first introduced.

 

[See Sidebar for a picture that Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank and others had sent to HaPardes in celebration of Manischewitz’s jubilee].

 

Epilogue

 

Many people see machine matzos as a b’dieved, something only allowed on Pesach ex post facto, at best. The information we have provided this year and last shows that, at least among the non-chasidim, it is far more complicated than that; some gedolim even preferring machine over hand matzos.

 

In addition, no one would argue that machine matzo factories are anything but vigilant in controlling their environment. So intense is the kosher for Pesach supervision at Manischewitz, Streits, Yehudah, etc. that it caused NPR to state, “The matzo business may be the most heavily regulated business in the world.”[31]

 

Aside for gaining an understanding of the effort and Torah that goes into so much of what we enjoy, we can learn another valuable lesson from what we have learned: not every machlokos in Torah and halacha must end in bitterness. When there are legitimate poskim on either side of an issue, and after all the points have been made and all the ink spilled, each family can follow the views of their particular leaders while at the same time recognizing that eilu v’eilu (the principle that two incompatible views in halacha can each retain an inherent truth) did not perish with the closing of the Gemara.

 

“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 moshiach comes we will leave with calmness.[32]

 

This debate regarding machine matzos represents in many ways the chaotic nature in which geulas mitzraim took place.

 

May this Pesach bring about a new geulah and a new calm. May we soon join to share in matzos together with the korban pesach in Yerushalaim.

 

Footnotes

 

[1] In a recent discovery I found in in the back of the second edition of Rav Nathenson’s commentary to Chumash a note by a grandson that his grandfather and his brother in law even had prepared a book or responsa for publication; this too got lost in the machlokes.

 

[2] One last point regarding the 19th century debate. Rav Shlomo Ahron Wertheimer of Yerushalaim (d. 1935) discovered that the 13th century rishon Meiri (in his ‘Magen Avos’) seemed to have described a process of matzo baking in his time that seems to portray a very crude type of matzo 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 mentioned that if it was many would not feel obligated to it as Rav Moshe Feinstien and the Chazon Ish were very weary of modern finds –even from rishonim –influencing halacha.

 

[3] Shu’t ‘Tirosh VeYitzhar’, 1:188, end

 

[4] Both of their respective views are expressed in letters: Rav Meir Simcha to his surrounding areas, and the Rogatcahver in a 1909 letter to Yerushalaim. 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 Tzphanos Paneach 2:39.

 

[5] For a full list of those who discuss electricity as it pertains to machine matzos, see shu’t Vayevarech Dovid 1:91.

 

[6] I would venture to suggest that he did not mention the issue because this debate was still ongoing, and, because there were respected and trustworthy views on both sides, the Chofetz Chaim may have wisely surmised that adding one more name to either the ‘approve’ column or the ‘disapprove’ one would accomplish but one thing: cut the number of those who would study his monumental work in half, as the ones whom he offended would avoid his work. Even more surprising than the Mishnah Berrura’s omission of this debate is the Aruch Hashulchan’s. He as well fails to mention machine matzos. The difference between the M.B. and the Aruch Hashulchan, it seems to me, is that M.B. comes to explain the Shulchan Aruch, as a collected commentary, and it is not always its goal to share customs unless directly reflecting on a point being discussed. The Aruch Hashulchan however is meant not as a commentary to the Shulchan Aruch per se but rather a research tool to be used instead of or in concert to the Shulchan Aruch (for those who desire more background material, etc.). Accordingly the Aruch Hashulchan often brings the minhagim from across Europe. Nevertheless, regarding machine matzos, he may have had the same fears which I suggested above that the Chofetz Chaim may have had.

 

[7] See ‘Chafetz Chaim –Chayav U’Poelo’ vol. 3

 

[8] shu’t Marhasham 5:82, as quoted by Hildesheir and Lieberman.

 

[9] 2:537 (may not be found in some volumes). See also siman 372 where the Avnei Nezer expresses his displeasure even regarding the mass production of matzo, of even hand-made. He felt that this too was not just a new development, but should concern us because when one makes matzo for themselves they are far more particular than one making it for unknown and unseen people.

 

[10] ‘Kovetz Beis Ahron V’Yisroel’, vol. 3:51

 

[11] To a plant in Haifa. This was later rescinded due to concerns unrelated to this discussion

 

[12] Jewish Observer, April 2004. Much work on this topic proceeded my own and whose research benefited me greatly. 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 Brandies.edu, Jewish Observer ibid., Hildesheimer and Leiberman’s ‘The Controversy Surrounding Machine Made Matzot’, inter alai.

 

[13] Although born the year following this debate -1910 –this was still a controversial issue for at least a decade after. It is more likely that he was referring to a later time

 

[14] See part 1 for what these problems might have been

 

[15] Halichos Shlomo, Pesach, 157-158 #46

 

[16] While everyone agrees that he ate machine matzo for the remaining days of Pesach, what he did by 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 is written above seems to be the most accurate

 

[17] Mikroei Kodesh, Pesach vol. 2 p. 11 ff

 

[18] hashmatos C’M 196

 

[19] See also Hagadas Moadim Uzmanim, p. 22

 

[20] Even Yisroel vol. 1, Rambam, Chometz U’Matzah, ch. 6

 

[21] 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

 

[22] See Nittei Gavriel who quotes from the Klausenberger rebbe z’l that even those against machine matzos would no longer call such matzo ‘chometz’

 

[23] See ‘Sarna’ mentioned in a footnote above. Much of the material found in this section would not be possible without his investigations into this subject

 

[24] April 10, 2012

 

[25] 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.

 

[26] See ‘Tikvas Yosef’ at length; See also the yarchon ‘Hapardes’ March 1938 in the supplement (mentioned in more detail below) for a complete list of the many chashuvim who gave their haskama to the Manischewitz Co.

 

[27] Refer to shu’t Ro’sh, klal 21

 

[28] Although the book states that it was published in 1903, this was impossible

 

[29] His letter to Rav Rosenfeld can be found in shu’t Marharsham 2:15

 

[30] Found in the back to the Darkei Teshuvah’s sefer on Chumash, ‘Tiferes Banim’. His words echo the argument made by the Avnei Nezer

 

[31] Ibid

 

[32] See Radak