For this week’s Ask A Rabbi, we thought it might be fun to read two different takes on a great question.
I’ve heard that only round matzah is kosher for Passover. Is that true? What about the square ones? Do those not count?
As a child, I grew up with the obligatory orange-and-white box of Manischewitz matzah on Passover. One year my mom bought Streit’s and I thought it was revolutionary. It wasn’t until I was in rabbinical school and I went to a seder at a cousin’s home that I saw round matzah for the first time. If you, too, have had mostly square matzah bought from a grocery store, then you might not have a mental image of what I’m talking about.
Usually round matzah is quite large and not “polished” looking. It may be burnt in spots, the outside edge can be jagged, and the pieces of matzah don’t stack neatly on top of one another. The reason for its appearance is that this type of matzah is made by hand, with each piece being formed individually, and because matzah needs to be made within a certain timeframe, it is typically made in a rush.
It wasn’t until about 150 years ago, following the industrial revolution, that matzah could be mass-produced by machines. There were some rabbinic authorities who didn’t like the idea that such an important religious food could be produced in this way, but eventually it became accepted practice and many people began to use machine-made matzah. This matzah was much more economical, and thus became the norm for many American Jewish families, like mine.
Both round and square matzah are completely kosher when produced according to the strict laws of Passover. Eat up!
Until the late 19th century, most matzah was made by hand and was round by virtue of the hand-rolling process (though not impossible, think about how hard it would be to roll out square matzah). When it became possible to make matzah by machine, a square shape was much easier to produce.
From Exodus 12:17, we learn that we are to guard or watch our matzah, which has been interpreted to mean that we must ensure that it never becomes chametz (meaning that grain and water has been allowed to ferment and rise for more than 18 minutes). There is a type of matzah called shmura matzah (watched or guarded matzah). For it to be shmura matzah implies that it has been hand-made and therefore round.
There are some communities that prefer matzah be made in this fashion, hand-made and watched (and thus round). There are some that prefer to use shmura matzah for seder nights and machine-made matzah throughout the rest of the holiday. For most, matzah, whether it is hand-made or machine-made, whether it is round or square, is acceptable. All of these kinds of matzah are kosher for Passover, if certified that way (you can check for certification by looking at the matzah box and seeing if it reads “Kosher for Passover”). Whether or not you want round or square matzah at your Passover table this year is up to you, your standards, and the standards of your particular community.
No matter the shape of your matzah this year, may your Passover be a meaningful one!
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