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Matzo is a cracker-like unleavened bread made of white plain flour and water. The dough is pricked in several places and not allowed to rise before or during baking, thereby producing a hard flatbread.

Matzah is the substitute for bread during the Jewish holiday of Passover, when eating chametz bread and leavened products - is not allowed. Eating matza on the night of the seder is considered a positive mitzvah, i.e., a commandment. In the context of the Passover seder meal, certain restrictions additional to the chametz prohibitions are to be met for the matza to be considered "mitzva matza", that is, matza that meets the requirements of the positive commandment to eat matza at the seder. The concept of matzah is mentioned in the Torah several times in relation to The Exodus from Egypt.


There are numerous explanations behind the meaning 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 resulting product was matzah. 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 one's 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.

Bread was often a symbol of salvation in ancient Israel. This is related to the idea that the Garden of Eden was fertile with bread trees. The benediction over bread was, “motsi lechem min ha’arets,” meaning, “brings forth bread from the earth.” This implies “that in the future He will bring forth bread from the earth,” or the paradise of the Garden of Eden will be restored. After the Temple cult, sometime in the first century, the saving symbolism of bread was applied to matza. Matzah became a substitute for the pesach because bread was already a symbol of salvation in the Jewish community.

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.

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. Matzah made with these items without the use of water is acceptable during the remaining days of the holiday, although most strictly Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews will not eat this kind of matzah at all during Passover.

There are two major forms of matza, with several subcategories. In the United States, the most common form is the hard form of matza which is cracker-like in both appearance and taste, which is used in all Ashkenazic and most Sephardic communities. Many Mizrahi, Yemenite Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Hispanic and Latin Sephardi Jews traditionally made a form of soft matza. In those communities, matzo looks similar to pita while in others it can resemble a tortilla. However, it is made under proper supervision, just like the hard form of matzah. The soft form of matza is only made by hand, and generally with shmurah flour, as described below, like traditional "Shmurah Matza".

Among Ashkenazi matzah, one can distinguish between what is called shmura matzah — a round matzah about a foot in diameter — which is made by hand, and machine-made matzah, which is usually square and much smaller. Shmura ("guarded") matzah is made from grain that has been under special supervision from the time it was harvested to ensure that no fermentation has occurred. In addition, it is made with the intention of using it to fulfill the commandment of eating matzah on the first night of Passover.

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