I recall hearing for the first time the exciting news that my beloved rav, Rav Hershel Schachter, rules that it is permissible for Ashkenazic Jews to use soft matzah made by Yemenite Jews on Pesach. However, I was also informed that Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach did not agree. Many people have asked me if Ashkenazic Jews may rely on Rav Schachter’s ruling. Here is the evolution of my thoughts on this matter:
My First Reaction—The Rama’s Ruling
At first, I was shocked that Rav Schachter made such a ruling. After all, the Rama (Orach Chaim 460:4) writes that the matzah should be made only as “rekikin,” which seems to imply that they should be thin matzot, similar to the ubiquitous cracker-like matzah with which we are all familiar.
Strong Evidence to Rav Schachter’s Approach
However, this is not the entire story. The Ba’eir Heitiev (460:8) comments on this Rama that “the custom is to make matzah the thickness of a tefach, handbreadth” (approximately 3.5 to 4 inches). Moreover, the Mishnah Berurah (486:3) speaks of soft and sponge-like matzah without expressing any reservations whatsoever regarding its acceptability for Pesach. This seems to constitute incontrovertible evidence to Rav Schachter’s ruling! The fact that the Shulchan Aruch HaRav (486:2) and Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chaim 460:2) make similar statements seemed to seal the deal for me.
Practical Concerns Regarding Soft Matzah
My enthusiasm, however, was greatly diminished after reading the following in an article written by my friends Dr. Ari Greenspan and Rav Dr. Ari Zivotofsky (Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society):
“With the way that soft matzah is made today, there is a very real concern of chametz. We have visited many matzah factories, and in some of the soft matzah bakeries we saw what appears to us to be not fully baked dough, as opposed to fully baked soft bread. The Shulchan Aruch Harav (460:10) says that thick matzot are kosher—in theory. But one must inspect them carefully to ascertain that they are truly baked through the entire thickness. His admonition should be taken very seriously. Note that soft matzah is often made much faster than hard matzah… Concern relates to the degree to which the interior of the matzah is baked. It is disconcerting that the modern soft matzot are baked mimicking the process used for Ashkenazi matzot during the last 150 years. However, the ovens of soft matzah were different years ago, and certainly not as hot as modern matzah ovens, where a hand matzah is often baked within 30 seconds. Such hot furnaces will quickly heat the outside of the thick matzah, making it look well baked but not yet baking the inside. Removing it from the oven will yield a soft matzah looking well-done outside, yet possibly chametz on the inside. This is not a new concern: the Chatam Sofer reported (Shu”t OC 121) that thick matzah does not bake well. Soft is not what should be looked for, rather fully baked is required.”
Rav Asher Weiss’ Reservations
Rav Asher Weiss also writes (Haggadah Minchat Asher, 5764, siman 15, page 322) that the basic halacha is that soft matzah is permissible, but he is concerned that we are not experts in making them soft and thick and guarding against chimutz; there is therefore a concern about chametz. He suggests that it is possible that this concern led to Ashkenazi matzot being so thin and hard. Furthermore, he says that he is wary of innovation, and such things fall under the rubric of “do not forsake the Torah of your mother” (Mishlei 1:8), and certainly on Pesach it is worthwhile to accept stringencies.
Conclusion: Concerns About Rav Schachter’s Ruling
Despite the abundant love and respect I have for Rav Schachter, the practical concerns appear to outweigh the persuasive theoretical support Rav Schachter draws from the Mishnah Berurah, Shulchan Aruch HaRav and Aruch HaShulchan. In light of the fact that all Jews, and especially Ashkenazim, have adopted so many stringencies regarding Pesach, I am very hesitant to permit soft matzah for Ashkenazim on Pesach. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Asher Weiss are not in general inclined to stringency and do not hesitate to issue a lenient ruling if it is appropriate to do so. The fact that these two poskim express concern regarding soft matzah gives one serious pause and motivates me to not recommend soft matzah for Ashkenazic Jews.
By Rabbi Haim Jachter
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.