Matzo is a form of unleavened bread eaten during Passover and has profound symbolic importance. Explore this article to know all about matzah/matzo.

Passover Matzo

Passover is a Jewish festival that celebrates the liberation of the Hebrews from the enslavement of the Egyptian Pharaoh. Matzo is a traditional Jewish food, which holds great significance during the Passover celebrations. Matzo is known by a variety of names, such as matzah, matzoh, matza, matsah, matsa and matze. Five grains are forbidden for consumption during the Passover in any processed form, except dry-roasting and as matzo. These grains are barley, spelt, rye, oats and wheat. Matzo is a bland, cracker-like unleavened flatbread made from white plain flour and water. Similar to the Southwest Asian lavash and the Indian chapatti, the matzo meal dough is pricked at several places to prevent it from rising, thereby producing a hard, flat bread. There are two types of matzo preparations - one is the traditional Ashkenazic type which is very hard like a cracker, the other softer version like flat bread which has become very popular now. Continue reading to know more about what matzo is and its symbolism in Passover.

What Is Matzah?
While leaving Egypt in haste, the Israelites did not have enough time to allow their bread dough to rise. Hence, they baked the dough that produced matzah. Thus, the historical reason behind preparing matzah is commemorating the exodus of Jews from Egypt. Matzah also has a symbolic meaning behind its preparation. On one hand, it signifies redemption and freedom, while on the other, matzah resembles "lechem oni" or "poor man's bread." Since leaven bread puffs up, it signifies corruption and pride. Consuming matzoh during Passover teaches the lesson of humility and appreciating one's freedom.

Matzah is eaten three times during the Seder meal. Before eating matzah for the third time, the Sephardic rite is held which goes as ""zekher l'korban pesach hane'ekhal al hasova". This means, "Remembrance of the Passover offering, eaten while full." The third and last piece of matzah eaten is known as afikoman, a symbol of salvation in the future. The ancient Israelites considered bread to be a symbol of salvation. The Garden of Eden was fertile with bread trees as it was blessed with "motsi lechem min ha'arets", signifying "brings forth bread from the earth."

This was used to symbolize "that in the future, He will bring forth bread from the earth," in other words, the paradise of the Garden of Eden will be restored. However, in the first century after the temple cult, the symbolism of the bread was transferred to matzah. Since then, matzah has become a symbol of Passover as bread is already connected with salvation in the Jewish community. Today, different forms of matzah are made, the most common being the hard form that appears and tastes like a cracker. This is used in all Ashkenazic and Sephardic communities in the United States. The other is a soft matza used by Mizrahi, Yemenite Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Hispanic and Latin Sephardi Jews.

Biblical References
There are various indications to Matzah in the Torah 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
Matzoh Factory
Frenchman Isaac Singer is credited with the invention of a matzo-dough-rolling machine that created a huge controversy among the Jewish communities about the issue of handmade dough versus machine made dough in 1838. In 1888, the first matzo-making factory was opened in Cincinnati, Ohio by a Lithuanian immigrant named Dov Behr. The factory was named B. Manischewitz Company. His business grew exponentially and by 1920, he was the world's largest matzo producer. He was a strict follower of Kosher and produced 1.25 million rectangular, sheet-like matzos in a day.