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Machine Shmura Matzah for This Year’s Seder?

Many people have voiced concern about the availability of matzah shmura for this year’s seders due to the current challenging situation. Rav Hershel Schachter recently released a very important ruling regarding this matter, which we present in the conclusion of this discussion. Some background helps us to appreciate his decision.

The Machine Matzah Debate

A controversy that has been raging for approximately 200 years is whether machine-baked matzot shmurot are acceptable to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matzah at the seder. Let us present the background to this issue in the Gemara and rishonim and then proceed to summarize the different opinions on this issue that have emerged among the great poskim.

Gemara and Rishonim

The Gemara does not unambiguously state that matzah must be prepared specifically for the sake of matzah, as it does, for example, in the case of writing a get. The Talmud clearly states that a get must be written for the sake of the woman being divorced (“Lishmah,” see Gittin 26a). What is clear is that the Torah (Shemot 12:17) commands us to watch the matzot (u’shmarta et hamatzot).

The Gemara (Pesachim 38b) states that this pasuk teaches that matzah must be mishtameret l’sheim matzah, watched for the sake of matzah. Rashi (ad. locum. s.v. u’shmartem) explains that the Torah requires two tasks when it demands us to watch matzah. First, to make sure that it does not become chametz, and second, that one intends to make the matzah for the sake of the mitzvah. (This applies only to matzah to be consumed for the sake of the mitzvah of eating matzah at the Seder).

The Rosh (Pesachim 2:26), similarly, cites views from the geonim (Sh’iltot and Rav Kohen Zedek) that only matzah baked by a Jew is acceptable for use for the mitzvah of matzah, because only this matzah can be considered baked for the sake of this mitzvah.

On the other hand, the Rosh presents the view of Rav Chai Gaon that matzah which was baked by a non-Jew, but supervised by a Jew to ascertain that no chametz was mixed in, is acceptable. In fact, the Ritva (Pesachim 40a s.v. v’ha) cites the Ra’ah, who suggests that matzah does not have to be produced exclusively for the sake of the mitzvah. Rather, it suffices that the matzah be supervised. It should be noted that the Rambam’s opinion regarding this issue is not at all clear. See Hilchot Hametz U’matza 5:9, 6:5, and 8:13 and comments of the Maggid Mishna to 5:9.

Shulchan Aruch, Its Commentaries and Codes

The Shulchan Aruch (O.H. 460:1) rules in accordance with the views of Rashi and the Sh’iltot that matzah must be made by a Jew for the sake of the mitzvah of matzah (see further in Biur HaGra 460:1, Magen Avraham 460: introduction, Chatam Sofer 460:1, and Mishna Berurah 460:3). Common practice is for those involved in the preparing of matza to expressly state (see Biur Halacha 460:1 s.v. Ein) that their actions are done for the sake of the mitzvah of matzah (as one who has visited a matzah bakery will no doubt recall).

It is also important to note that the Rosh cites three opinions regarding from what point the matzah for the mitzvah must be watched so that it does not become chametz. The Rosh suggests that it suffices to watch the matzah from the point of lisha (kneading), but notes the practice among Jews in Germany and France is to watch from the time that t’china (grinding) begins. He cites the Rif, however, who believes that it should be watched from the time of k’tzirah (the cutting of the grain). This is the opinion of the Rambam (Hilchot Chametz U’matzah 5:9) as well. The Shulchan Aruch (O.H. 453:4) rules to a certain extent in accordance with the strict view, in that it is best to watch the wheat from the time of k’tzirah. The Shulchan Aruch writes that at minimum, the wheat should be watched from t’china, and in case of great need, it may be watched from the point of lisha. (See, however, the Mishna Berura 453:24 on why today it is absolutely essential that the grain be watched from the point of grinding due to changes in the processing of grain.)

Machine Shmura Matza

The introduction of machine-made “matzah shmura” in the 19th Century aroused great controversy. Rav S.Y. Zevin presents the following history of the events regarding this issue:

A great controversy erupted among the rabbis. In every land there were those who were forbade [use of machine matzot shmurot] and those who permitted [machine matzot shmurot]. In Galicia, Rav Shlomo Kluger of Brody ruled that it is certainly forbidden and Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson ruled that it is certainly permitted. Special publications were prepared that dealt only with this issue. The work “Moda’ah L’veit Yisrael” was composed by those espousing the strict view, and “Bitul Moda’ot” was written by those espousing the lenient view.

The basic arguments for this issue are as follows: Those who rule strictly point to the fact that minors, non-Jews or those who are mentally incompetent are disqualified from preparing matzot, because matzot must be made “lishma.” Minors, non-Jews and mentally incompetent individuals are, halachically speaking, incapable of baking matzot lishma because only a mentally competent adult Jew is considered capable of this.

The lenient opinion counters that if the individual who presses the button to begin the operation of the machine is a mentally competent adult Jew, then that suffices to have the matzot considered to be made lishma.

The strict opinion replies that pressing the button does not suffice. They argue that it is analogous to a water-powered machine that performs shechita upon an animal. The Gemara (Chullin 16a) explains that only the first (immediate) action (“ko’ach rishon”) is considered to be an action that is performed by a person (shechita must be performed by a person, see Mishna on Hullin 31a), and therefore valid. Any subsequent shechitot are considered to be invalid, because they are considered to have been performed by the machine. The person’s actions are considered too indirect or remote to have the subsequent shechitot be considered his actions. The shechita is only indirectly caused by the person, (Grama), and thus is invalid.

Similarly, only the very immediate action of the matzah machine relates to the person who pressed the button. Afterwards, all the matzah is made by the koach (force) of the machine, and is analogous to matzah made by a non-Jew, which is not considered to be made lishma.

The lenient argument is that in the case of matzah, the halacha does not require that the preparing action be performed by human action (koach adam). Rather, as long as the process of making the matzot is begun lishma, the rest of the process is deemed acceptable. The Chazon Ish (O.H. 6:10) explains that as long as the process is begun explicitly lishma, the remainder of the process is viewed as stama lishma (roughly translated as “automatic pilot lishma,” see Zevahim 2b), and human action is therefore not a requirement Interestingly, there exists the same controversy as to whether wool, which is spun by machine, but the process is begun lishma, is acceptable for tzitzit. Many poskim rule leniently on this issue (aforementioned Chazon Ish, Achiezer 3:69, and Har Tzvi O.H. 6). Indeed, I heard that Rav Soloveitchik stated in a shiur at Yeshiva University that machine-made matzah shmura is acceptable for use at the Seder.

Conclusion

Since the issue of the use of machine matza shmura is mired in controversy, it should be used only in case of great need, as Rav Ovadia Yosef rules, Teshuvot Yehave Daat I:14. This year certainly qualifies as a sha’at haDechak, and thus, if one cannot find hand shmura matzah, one may use machine shmura matzah for the Seder. Machine shmura matzah should preferably be watched from the time of ketzira, but Rav Hershel Schachter rules that a bracha may be made on machine matzah baked lishma even if it was only watched from the time of t’china. Rav Menachem Genack, head of OU Kosher, has clarified to the Rabbinical Council of America that all machine matzah under OU supervision is baked lishma. In other words, an observant Jew begins the baking process with a proclamation that the matzah is being baked for the sake of the mitzvah.

Thus, we may set forth the following priorities for matzah shmura for this year’s Seder in accordance with Rav Schachter’s ruling: (Sephardic Jews may follow this protocol as well, as it accords with Rav Ovadia Yosef’s rulings in the aforementioned Yehave Da’at and Chazon Ovadia [Motzei Matzah din 19 p.76 in 5763 version Hilchot Leil HaSeder]).

1) Best to use hand made matzah shmura if available.

2) Second choice is machine-made matza shmura watched from the time of ketzira.

3) Last choice (only if there is no viable alternative)—OU-certified regular matzah which is watched from the time of t’china.

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