Hand-baked shmurah matzo
Machine-made matzo

Matzo or matzah (Hebrew: מַצָּה‎; with many other spellings in English, plural matzot) is an unleavened bread traditionally eaten by Jews during the week-long Passover holiday, when eating chametz—bread and other food which is made with leavened grain—is forbidden according to Jewish law. Currently, the most ubiquitous type of Matzo is the traditional Ashkenazic type, which is hard like a cracker. However, some Mizrahi Jews have traditionally prepared Matzo as a soft and pliable type of flat bread, and these "soft matzos" have recently[when?] regained some popularity. Matzo is eaten by Jews as an obligation during the Passover Seder meal; during the rest of the holiday its consumption is optional.


Torah-related sources

Matzah is mentioned in the Torah several times in relation to The Exodus from Egypt:

And they shall eat the meat on that night, roasted over the fire, and matzos, with bitter herbs, shall they eat it.
—Exodus 12:8
In the first month, in the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, you shall eat matzos, until the evening of the twenty-first day of the month.
—Exodus 12:18
You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat matzos, the bread of affliction; for in haste did you come forth out of the land of Egypt; that you may remember the day when you came forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life.
Deuteronomy 16:3
Six days you shall eat matzos and on the seventh day shall be a solemn assembly to the LORD your God; you shall do no work therein.
Deuteronomy 16:8


There are numerous explanations behind the symbolism of matzah. One is historical: Passover is a commemoration of the exodus from Egypt. The biblical narrative relates that the Israelites left Egypt in such haste they could not wait for their bread dough to rise; the bread, when baked, was matzah. (Exodus 12:39). The other reason for eating matza is symbolic: On the one hand, matza symbolizes redemption and freedom, but it is also lechem oni, "poor man's bread." Thus it serves as a reminder to be humble, and to not forget what life was like in servitude. Also, leaven symbolizes corruption and pride as leaven "puffs up". Eating the "bread of affliction" is both a lesson in humility and an act that enhances the appreciation of freedom.

Another explanation is that matza has been used to replace the pesach, or the traditional Passover offering that was made before the destruction of the Temple. During the Seder the third time the matza is eaten it is preceded with the Sefardic rite, "zekher l’korban pesach hane’ekhal al hasova". This means "remembrance of the Passover offering, eaten while full". This last piece of the matza eaten is called afikoman and many explain it as a symbol of salvation in the future.

The Passover Seder meal is full of symbols of salvation, including the opening of the door for Elijah and the closing line, “Next year in Jerusalem,” but the use of matzah is the oldest symbol of salvation in the Seder.[1]

Ingredients, five species of chametz, and preparation

The precise detailed religious requirements for matzah are not universally agreed upon; for example there is disagreement over what grains may be used, whether matzah which is wetted after being baked then becomes chametz or not, and so on.[2] Some strictly observant Jews insist that grain for matzah must be supervised since harvesting—shmurah matzah.

At the Passover seder, it is customary to eat matzah made of flour and water only; matzah containing eggs, wine, or fruit juice in addition to water is not acceptable for use at the seder,[3] although acceptable during the remaining days of the holiday. However, most strictly Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews will not eat this kind of matzah during Passover.[citation needed]

Biblically, five specific species of grain become chametz after wetting. The actual species are not known with certainty, although they would necessarily have been crops that grew in the middle east in Biblical times. When the Bible was translated into European languages, the names of food grains common in Europe were used, some of which were not grown in ancient Israel:[citation needed]

  1. Wheat, חיטה
  2. Barley, שעורה
  3. Spelt, כוסמין
  4. Rye, שיפון, and
  5. Oats (according to Rashi) (or two row barley according to Rambam's interpretation of Mishnah Kil'ayim 1:1; Yerushalmi Challah 1:1), שיבולת שועל

As more accurate historic and botanical evidence comes to light, some scholars today propose that only the 'five grain species' native to the Land of Israel can become chametz.[4][5] They are:

  1. חיטה - Chittah – durum wheat (T. durum),
  2. שעורה - Se’orah – barley - 2 row (Hordeum vulgare), and
  3. כוסמין - Kusmin - emmer wheat (T. dicoccon),
  4. שיפון - Shiphon - einkorn wheat (T. monococcum),
  5. שיבולת שועל - Shibbolet – barley – 6 row (Hordeum vulgare)

Bread wheat, spelt, rye and oats did not grow in the Land of Israel in the biblical period, but evolved later in the northern Fertile Crescent and Europe.[citation needed] All grains in the genus of Triticum, such as bread wheat (T. aestivum) or spelt (T. spelta), are forbidden. Oat-grain is practically gluten-free and belongs to a different tribe from wheat, spelt, rye and barley. Millet and teff are borderline; it takes a few days for them to rise.[citation needed] However, despite this historical information, many authorities clearly say things such as "Chometz: fermented grains (wheat, oats, barley, rye and spelt) are all proscribed on Passover".[6]

Concerning Identification of שיבולת שועל "oats" see חמשת מיני דגן (Clarification: In modern Hebrew כסמת is used for buckwheat, which is not a grain at all.)

Matzah dough is quickly mixed and rolled out without an autolyse step as used for leavened breads. Most forms are pricked with a fork or a similar tool to keep the finished product from puffing like a tortilla, and the resulting flat piece of dough is cooked at high heat until it develops dark spots, then set aside to cool and, if sufficiently thin, to harden to crispness. Dough made from the five grains is considered to begin the leavening process 18 minutes from the time it gets wet; sooner if eggs, fruit juice, or milk is added to the dough. The entire process of making matzah takes only a few minutes in efficient modern matzah bakeries. Noodles are now made from Passover flour and eggs, as used for egg matzah, then baked under Rabbinical supervision.

After baking, matzah may be ground into fine or coarser crumbs, known as matzah meal, used to make matza balls and added to other foods, such as gefilte fish, instead of flour. Kosher for Passover cakes and cookies are made with matzah meal or a finer variety called "cake meal", which gives them a denser texture than ordinary baked foods made with flour. Very coarse matzo meal is known as matzo farfel.

Common and less usual varieties

Handmade shmura matzo
Matzo-forming machine, ca. early 20th century (the Lviv Museum of the History of Religion)
Machine matzo produced from shmura wheat in Israel

There are two major forms of matza, with several subcategories. In many western countries the most common form is the hard form of matza which is cracker-like in both appearance and taste, used in all Ashkenazic and most Sephardic communities.

Although most people have a clear idea of matza as similar to crackers, there is no requirement that matzah be crisp for any purpose, including the seder. Yemenites, and Iraqi Jews traditionally made a form of soft matza which may look like Greek pita or like a tortilla. Soft matza is made only by hand, and generally with shmurah flour, as described below, like traditional "Shmurah Matza". A problem with this matzah before the introduction of freezing is that it did not keep for more than a day or two, being subject to staling like any soft bread, not a problem with hard matzah. However, soft matzah freezes well, and is more practical than it was.[7]

Besides their shape, handmade and machine-made matza are distinctively different. Handmade hard matzo is dense and chewy, while machine-made matza is lighter and crispy. Shmurah matza is generally available only around Passover, and is more expensive. Hard shmura matzah is often a round hand-made matzah about a foot in diameter; machine-made hard matzah is usually square and much smaller.

Flavored varieties of matzah are produced commercially, such as poppyseed- or onion-flavored. Oat and spelt matzah with kosher certification are produced, an are suitable for people who cannot eat wheat. Organic wheat matzah is also available.[8] Chocolate-covered matzah is a favorite among children, although some consider it "enriched matza" and will not eat it during the Passover holiday. A quite different flat confection of chocolate and nuts that resembles matzah is sometimes called "chocolate matzah".

Matzah contains typically 111 calories per 1-ounce/28g (USDA Nutrient Database), about the same as rye crispbread.[9]

Shmurah matzah

Shmura ("guarded") matzah (Hebrew מַצָּה שְׁמוּרָה maṣṣā šəmūrā) is made from grain that has been under special supervision from the time it was harvested to ensure that no fermentation has occurred, and that it is suitable for eating on the first night of Passover. (Shmura wheat may be formed into either handmade or machine-made matzah, while non-shmura wheat is only used for machine-made matzah. It is possible to hand-bake matzah in shmura style from non-shmurah flour—this is a matter of style, it is not actually in any way shmura—but such matzah has rarely been produced since the introduction of machine-made matza.)

Many Haredi or ultra-orthodox Jews are extremely scrupulous about the supervision of their matzah, as eating leavened products during Passover is liable to the extremely grave divine punishment of Kareth (or a sin-offering if unintentional); consequently many have the custom of baking their own matzo, or at least participating in some stage of the baking process. Ultra-Orthodox Shmurah matzah is typically expensive, generally between $18–$22 per pound in the US, but sometimes costing up to $50 per pound for special varieties with particular stringencies.

Among many Hasidic Jews, only hand-made shmurah matzah may be used, in accord with the opinion of Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz, who ruled that machine-made matzoth were chametz.[10] According to that opinion, hand-made non-shmurah matzot may be used on the eighth day of Passover outside of the Holy Land. However, today such matzah are generally not made.

However the non-Hasidic Haredi community of Jerusalem follows the custom that machine-made matzah may be used, with preference to the use of shmurah flour, in accordance with the ruling of Rabbi Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld, who actually ruled that machine-made matzah may be preferable to hand made in some cases.

Passover challah from shmurah matzah

Weight of the average daily Challah yield of the Boro Park Shmurah Matzah Bakery in Brooklyn - purported to have the largest daily output of handmade Shmurah Matzah
Overview of complete box of daily Challah yield at Boro Park Shmurah Matzah Bakery. Paper hanging at right is a request for the packer to pray for sick individuals as he performs the Mitzvah of separating the Challah from each basket.

The commentators to the Shulchan Aruch record that it is the custom of some of Diaspora Jewry to be scrupulous in giving Challah from the dough used for baking "Matzot Mitzvah" (the Shmurah Matzah eaten during Passover) to a Kohen child to eat.[11]

"Egg" and other unconventional matzos

"Egg (sometimes enriched) matzah" are matzot usually made with fruit juice, often grape or apple juice instead of water, but not necessarily with eggs themselves. There is a custom among some Ashkenazic Jews not to eat them during Passover, except for the elderly, infirm, or children, who cannot digest plain matzah; these matzot are considered to be kosher for Passover if prepared otherwise properly.

The issue of whether egg matzah is allowed for Passover comes down to whether there is a difference between the various liquids that can be used. Water facilitates fermentation of grain flour, but the question is whether fruit juice, eggs, honey, oil or milk are also deemed to do so. The Talmud (Pesachim 35a.) states that liquid food extracts do not cause flour to leaven the way that water does. According to this view, flour mixed with other liquids would not need to be treated with the same care as flour mixed with water. However, other Talmudic commentaries (Tosafot) say that such liquids only produce a leavening reaction within flour if they themselves have had water added to them and otherwise the dough they produce is completely permissible for consumption during Passover, whether or not made according to the laws applying to matzot. As a result, Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Code of Jewish Law, (Orach Chaim 462:4.) granted blanket permission for the use of any matzah made from non-water-based dough, including egg matzah, on Passover.[12] Many egg matzah boxes no longer include the message, “Ashkenazi custom is that egg matzah is only allowed for children, elderly and the infirm during Passover.” Even amongst those who consider that enriched matza may not be eaten during Passover, it is permissible to retain it in the home.

Another view is that, since the Hebrew term for egg matzah is matzah ashirah (Hebrew: מצה עשירה‎, literally, "enriched matzah" or "rich matzah"), it cannot be used to fulfill the requirement of eating matzah at the Passover Seder. This is because such matzah would be considered "rich", while the matzo eaten at the Seder is called "poor man's bread" (Hebrew: Hebrew: לחם עוני‎) (Deut. 16:3)[13][dead link]

A basic principle of whether a given dough can be used for mitzva matzo is that doughs that do not have the potential of becoming chametz by simply sitting for 18 minutes cannot be made into mitzva matzo. Thus, a dough made from juice, etc., is of doubtful validity as mitzva matzo and may be used for the mitzva only in cases of illness or age.

Those who contend that Ashkenazi Jews should not eat egg matzah on Passover cite Rema (Orach Chaim ibid., 4) ruling that the custom among the Ashkenazim is to refrain from eating egg matzah on Passover, unless it is necessary for children or the elderly who would have difficulty eating regular matzah. Commenting on Rabbi Yosef Karo's permission to use egg matzah, the Rema responded "…in our communities, we do not knead (matzah) dough with fruit juice.…And one should not change from this unless in a time of emergency for the sake of a sick or old person who needs this" Those who follow this prohibition of eating egg matzah on Passover also include chocolate covered matzah, grape flavoured matzah and the many other varieties available.

Although according to Jewish law once matzah is baked it cannot become chametz, some Jews consider that moistened matzo becomes unkosher if it rises.[2] Many dishes using matzo, sometimes with water, are made, such as matzo pizza, matzo brei, matzo with cream cheese and jam, matzo with butter and sugar, etc. Some kosher restaurants serve these matzo variations during passover, as well as the rest of the year when chametz considerations do not apply.

World War II "Victory Matzo"

At the end of World War II, the National Jewish Welfare Board had a matzo factory (according to the American Jewish Historical Society, it was probably the Manischewitz matzo factory in New Jersey) produce matzo in the form of a giant "V" for "Victory," for shipment to military bases overseas and in the U.S., for Passover seders for Jewish military personnel.[14]

Matzah cookery

Matzot are used not only by themselves but in several roles in Passover cuisine where they can substitute for flour or pasta. In English-speaking countries, where Ashkenazic culture dominates, matzo balls and matzo farfel are widely used in soups and as pasta, as well as matzah meal being used in baked goods such as cakes. Matzah brei is another popular dish of Ashkenazi Jewish origins made from matzo fried with eggs.

Sephardim use matzah (soaked in water or stock) as a substitute for phyllo or lasagna pasta to make pies known as mina (or, in Italian, scacchi).

Matzo meal pancakes, made from fried matzo meal (powder ground matzah), egg, and milk, are eaten when wheatflour pancakes and bread are forbidden.

Some Ashkenazim do not cook with matzah, believing that mixing it with water may allow leavening;[2] the mixture is called "gebrochts" by Ashkenazic Jews.

Christian beliefs

According to Western Christian belief, matzah was the bread used by Jesus in the Last Supper as there he was celebrating Passover; Communion wafers used by Roman Catholics (as well as some Protestant sects) for the Eucharist are flat. Some Orthodox Christians use leavened bread, as in the east there is the tradition that leavened bread was on the table of the Last Supper. However, in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church churches, unleavened bread is used for communion (called qddus qurban in the lithurgical language Ge'ez). In Koine Greek matzah became known as ἄζυμος, Greek for unleavened bread. The term is no longer widely used in English but was used by the Catholic Church in the Douay-Rheims Bible.

Forms of the word

Spelling in English varies, as the word is a transliteration from Hebrew. Pronunciation also varies; there is no approved "correct" spelling and pronunciation. Spellings listed in the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary include matzo, matzah, matso, motsa, motso, maẓẓo, matza, matzho, matzoh, mazzah, motza, and mozza. The plural is given as matsot, matsoth, matzot, matzoth, (irreg.) matzoths, mazzot, and mazzoth; the regular English plural, added "s", is also used. Israelis and Sefaradim pronounce the second vowel like English "ah"; Ashkenazi pronunciation is like "oh". This is a general difference in pronunciation of this Hebrew vowel, and is reflected in the variant English transliterations. Various translations into English of the Hebrew Bible use different spellings, or translate the Hebrew into "unleavened bread" or "unleavened cakes" (azymes is found in some old translations). Yiddish usage, also found in English, is matse and matses.

Azymes is an archaic English word for matzah, derived from the Greek word "ἄζυμος" (ázymos: "unleavened") for unfermented bread in Biblical times.[15] This word is not used in modern English—the Hebrew word is transliterated instead—but cognates of it are still used in many Romance languages (Spanish pan ácimo, French pain azyme, Italian azzimo, Romanian azimă). It was the usual word for unleavened bread in the early Catholic English Douay-Rheims Bible.

In English some nouns are used for things that cannot be counted, and some for things that can. For example, we do not normally speak of "three breads", or "a kilo of loaf". All the forms of matzo are used in both senses: "three matzos", "a kilo of matza".

See also


  1. ^ Bradshaw, Paul F., and Hoffman Lawrence A.. Passover and Easter: The Symbolic Structuring of Sacred Seasons. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999.
  2. ^ a b c IsraelNationalNews: In Time for the Holiday: What is Matzah? How is it Baked?: "According to Jewish Law, once matzah is baked, it cannot become hametz. However, some Ashkenazim, chiefly in Hassidic communities, do not eat [wetted matzah], for fear that part of the dough was not sufficiently baked and might become hametz when coming in contact with water."
  3. ^ Mishna Brurah 462:1 1
  4. ^ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, Gil Marks
  5. ^ How To Prepare For Passover / Pesach
  6. ^ Behind the “Chometz-Free” Certification
  7. ^ IsraelNationalNews: In Time for the Holiday: What is Matzah? How is it Baked?
  8. ^ On organic matzah
  9. ^ Matzos Calories
  10. ^ See SH"UT Divrei Hayyim Siman 23 -
  11. ^ Be'er Heitev to Yoreh Deah ch. 322 (minor par. 7), Sha"ch to above chapter
  12. ^ "Is Egg Matzah okay for Passover use?" - Rabbi Shais Taub of Chabad-Lubavitch
  13. ^ Kosher Quest - Matzo
  14. ^ American Jewish Historical Society, March 22, 2007, retrieved Oct. 21, 2011.
  15. ^ Azymes - Catholic Encyclopedia article


  • Zohary, Michael (1982). Plants of the Bible. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-24926-0.  Up-to-date reference to cereals in the Biblical world

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • matzo — UK [ˈmɒtsə] / UK [ˈmætsəʊ] or matzoh UK / US noun [countable/uncountable] Word forms matzo : singular matzo plural matzos a type of flat bread traditionally eaten by Jewish people during the Passover holiday …   English dictionary

  • matzo — matz o, matzoh matz oh, n.; pl. E. {matzos} or {matzohs}; Hebr. {matzoth} [Heb. matsts[=o]th, pl. of matsts[=a]h unleavened.] A cake of unleavened bread eaten by the Jews at the feast of the Passover. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • matzo — [mät′sə, mät′sō] n. [Heb matstsāh, unleavened] 1. a kind of thin, crisp unleavened bread eaten by Jews during the Passover pl. matzot [mät′sōt] matzoth [mät′sōt] matzos 2. a piece of this …   English World dictionary

  • matzo — n. (pl. os or matzoth) 1 a wafer of unleavened bread for the Passover. 2 such bread collectively. Etymology: Yiddish f. Heb. massah * * * matzo [matzo matzos matzoth] [ˈmætsəʊ] [ˈmɑːtsoʊ] noun …   Useful english dictionary

  • matzo — or matzoh noun (plural matzoth or matzos or matzohs) Etymology: Yiddish matse, from Hebrew maṣṣāh Date: 1650 1. unleavened bread eaten especially at the Passover 2. a wafer of matzo …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • matzo — noun A thin, unleavened bread. Matzo is eaten by Jews on Passover …   Wiktionary

  • matzo — mat|zo matzoh [ˈmɔtsə US ˈma: ] n plural matzos [U and C] [Date: 1800 1900; : Yiddish; Origin: matse, from Hebrew massah] 1.) a large thin piece of flat bread, eaten by Jewish people during ↑Passover 2.) a type of flour used to make bread, cakes… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Matzo farfel granola — is an Ashkanazi Jewish breakfast eaten during the festival of Pesach. It is made by basically the same method as oat based granola. Many variations are possible. v · …   Wikipedia

  • matzo ball — n. a dumpling made of matzo meal, usually served in chicken broth or soup …   English World dictionary

  • matzo meal — n. matzo that has been coarsely ground into meal …   English World dictionary

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