4. Handmade versus Machine-Made Matza at the Seder

A great dispute has raged among poskim ever since the invention of matza-baking machines. The dispute centers on two principal questions: 1) Is there indeed no concern that machine-made matzot may become ĥametz? 2) Can one use them to fulfill the mitzva of eating matza on the Seder night?

Concerning the question of ĥametz, it is agreed that everything depends on the nature of the machine and on its supervision. As long as there are kashrut supervisors who ensure that there is no risk of ĥametz, the matzot are kosher for Pesaĥ. Thus even the most pious and God-fearing Jews eat machine-made matzot on Pesaĥ.

The second question, however, is still debated. Some say that the mitzva of guarding the matza requires that the entire process of kneading and baking be done with explicit intent that they are le-shem matzat mitzva, and since a machine cannot have intentions, one would not fulfill the mitzva of eating matza on the Seder night with machine-made matza.

Most poskim maintain that one can fulfill the mitzva by eating machine-made matzot, for several reasons. Firstly, some explain that the mitzva of guarding the matza only requires one to ensure that it does not become ĥametz, and it is irrelevant whether this is done while making the matza by hand or by supervising the activity of a machine. Furthermore, a human being operates the machine, and if he operates it with the intent of making matzat mitzva, then automatically all of the machine’s operations are considered to have been done for the sake of the mitzva.

In practice, machine-made matza may be used to fulfill the mitzva of eating matza on the Seder night. Many are scrupulous about fulfilling the mitzva with handmade matzot that were baked under proper supervision, although even they concede that it is not necessary to eat handmade matzot throughout the Seder meal. Rather, they beautify the mitzva by eating handmade matza for those kezayit quantities that constitute the mitzva (see below 16:22-25).[4]

[4]. See R. Harari’s Mikra’ei Kodesh pp. 326-335 for a summary of the opinions. Originally, the machines were operated with more human input, which caused concerns of ĥametz and of breaking from tradition. After the machines were enhanced and improved, these concerns abated, but the concern that operating the machine does not constitute intent remained and was even magnified. Among those who prohibit machine matza are: R. Shlomo Kluger, R. Ĥayim Halberstam (the Sanzer Rebbe, author of Divrei Ĥayim), R. Yitzĥak Meir Alter (the Gerrer Rebbe, author of Ĥidushei Ha-Rim), R. Avraham Bornstein of Sochatchov (author of Avnei Nezer), and most of the great Ĥasidic leaders. Even today, most Ĥasidic poskim tend to dismiss machine-made matza. Among those who permit are: the authors of Sho’el U-meishiv, Tiferet Yisrael, Ktav Sofer, and Arukh Le-ner. Some poskim even prefer machine matza to handmade matza, since there is less of a chance of the machine matza becoming ĥametz. This is the opinion of R. Meir Simĥa of Dvinsk (author of Or Same’aĥ) and R. Shmuel Salant, the head of the Jerusalem rabbinical court, who personally ate machine matza as did the Lithuanian community in old Jerusalem. The main reason for preferring machine matza is that the most important dimension of guarding the matza is to ensure that it does not become ĥametz, and based on what they saw, machine matza was less likely to become ĥametz. R. Zvi Pesaĥ Frank, cited in Mikra’ei Kodesh 2:3, states that since gentiles and children are intelligent, a supervising Jew cannot supply proper intent on their behalf while they knead. A machine, on the other hand, has no intelligence, so the intent of the Jew operating the machine is effective. Thus, my teacher R. Zvi Yehuda Kook would eat machine-made matza at the Seder. R. Min-Hahar and R. Messas also preferred machine-made matza. R. Shaul Yisraeli stated that there is no preference for handmade matza over machine-made matza. According to R. Mordechai Eliyahu, even though one may recite the berakha over machine-made matza, handmade matza is preferable. (Responsa Oneg Yom Tov OĤ  42 explains that even though the mitzva to guard the matza is from the Torah, if for some reason one does not have matza that was guarded for the sake of the mitzva, he still has a Torah obligation to eat matza on the Seder night, presumably with a berakha, even though he has not fulfilled the mitzva of guarding the matza.)

I have written that using handmade matza enhances the mitzva based on my father’s reasoning. He explained that many things changed over the past few decades: the machines are more automated than ever, and it is thus questionable whether there is proper intent. Perhaps in the past, when more human input was necessary to operate the machinery, this problem was less of a concern, but today the machines operate at the touch of a button. Moreover, when all of the matza was handmade, there was a concern that the pressure to supply matza to the entire nation meant that matza bakers would not be sufficiently meticulous in their efforts to keep the matza from becoming ĥametz. The machines were a great solution to that issue. Nowadays, on the other hand, most handmade matza factories are extraordinarily scrupulous, to the point that the situation may have been reversed, and handmade matza is actually less likely to become ĥametz than is machine-made matza. Even though there is a consensus that the intent of the machine operator or the kashrut supervisor is sufficient, having the proper intent throughout the process (as is the case with handmade matza) enhances the mitzva. This is especially true if one bakes his own matza, since it is always better for one to fulfill a mitzva on his own rather than through an agent (this is indeed my father’s custom – to bake his own matzot mitzva).