What Is The Proper Thickness Of Matzah?


By Rabbi Ariel Ovadia

Ask any Jew, religious or not-so-much, what Matzah looks like, and most probably they will answer that it is hard and thin with many rows of holes punched in. Indeed, it is the practice of almost all Jews to eat thin Matzos. Some bakeries have even made a name for themselves by selling extra-thinMatzos, notably the famed Pupa-Tzehlim Matzah bakery of Williamsburg, New York.

However, in recent years there are a growing number of bakeries that bake extra thick and – if you’re lucky – soft Matzos1. These were used by Yemenites for generations, and are now gaining popularity among many Sephardic Jews. In this article, I would like to examine the various sources that deal with the issue of the proper thicknessthat Matzos should be.

Baking a “Thick” Loaf on Pesach

The Gemara in Pesachim2 recounts an argument between Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel, whether one is allowed to bake a “thick loaf” on Pesach or not. The Gemara offers two ways to understand what this “thick loaf” is referring to: either it is literally a thick loaf, which Beis Shammai forbids because of a suspicion of Chometz and Beis Hillel permits, or, it refers to baking many loaves of bread, and the prohibition according to Beis Shammai has to do with unnecessary exertion on Yom Tov, not with the suspicion of Chometz.

The Gemara discusses what is the maximum thickness that would be acceptable according to Beis Hillel and cites the Lechem HaPanim (which was also non-Chometz) as proof that the width of a Tefach is acceptable. However, some Amoraim take issue with this comparison, because it may be that the special equipment and techniques used in the baking of the Lechem HaPanim were effective in preventing it from leavening. However, we, who do not use that equipment and those techniques, cannot be assured that a loaf will bake thoroughly without leavening at the width of a Tefach (appx. 3-4 inches). The Gemara does not conclude with any clear maximum limit.

Does the Gemara Imply any Limits?

The Tur3 quotes this Gemara as a source to allow baking many loaves of [non-Chometz] bread on Pesach. Clearly, the Tur is following the Gemara’ssecond explanation that a “thick loaf” does not mean thick in the literal sense, rather it means that one may not bake many loaves according to BeisShammai, and L’Halacha we follow Beis Hillel who permit it.

The Beis Yosef comments that obviously this Halacha does not pertain only to Pesach but also to other Yomim Tovim, as we previously explained. Still, the Beis Yosef wonders, why did the Tur not mention that one may not bake a Tefach-wide Matzah, as this Gemara seems to imply. The Beis Yosefquotes Rabbenu Yerucham who also understood from this Gemara that there must be at least a Tefach limit on the thickness of a Matzah. It seems that the Beis Yosef deemed this to be the opinion of the Tur as well, and was therefore bothered by the Tur’s omission of this Halacha. Accordingly, the BeisYosef rules in Shulchan Aruch4: “One may not bake Matzah that is a Tefach wide”.

Nonetheless, the Bach and the Magen Avraham claim that the Beis Yosef’s proof from the Gemara is unfounded. This is because the Gemaraeventually refutes the explanation that a “thick loaf” means literally a thick loaf. Hence, we are left with no source to limit a Matzah’s thickness. TheMagen Avraham also cites the fact that none of the Poskim – aside from the Beis Yosef and Rabbenu Yerucham – mention this Halacha. Therefore, he rules that even a Tefach-thick Matzah is acceptable.5

However, the Bi’ur Halacha6 is extremely critical of the opinion of the Magen Avraham, claiming that the reason why the Gemara does not conclusively understand a “thick loaf” to mean thick in the literal sense, is only because of the flawed analogy to the Lechem HaPanim. Obviously, this logic still stands, and there cannot be any comparison between the Lechem HaPanim, which was baked a Tefach-thick in the Beis HaMikdash, with great care and diligence, to our Matzos, which are baked by all Jews, without the equipment and know-how that was at the disposal of the experts in the Bais HaMikdash. The Bi’ur Halachah contends that although the maximum thickness of a Matzah remains unclear, nevertheless, the Gemara clearly implies that we should follow stricter measures for common Matzos then what was acceptable for the Lechem HaPanim.

Accordingly, some Rishonim use this logic to prove the exact opposite point than that of the Magen Avraham.

The Ritva7writes in the name of the Ra’ah, that once we had proved in the Gemara that we cannot learn the parameters of a Matzah’s thickness from the Lechem HaPanim, and since the Gemara does not offer an alternative measurement, we must not make any thick Matzah, even less than a Tefach. This, writes the Ritva, is the source for the custom to make thin Matzos for the Seder8. Similarly, the Bi’ur Halacha quotes the Rashba and the OhrZarua who concur with the Ritva.

Thus, the implication of this Gemara depends on the following three opinions:

  1. Beis Yosef and Rabbenu Yerucham: One can bake Matzah up to a Tefach thick, which is the very least we can derive from the Gemara.

  2. Magen Avraham: A Tefach-thick Matzah is acceptable, because we have no clear indication from the Gemara that there is any limit.

  3. Rashba, Ritva, Ra’ah and Ohr Zarua: One should refrain from baking any thick Matzah, even less than a Tefach, because there is no indication from the Gemara what the limit is and therefore we must be stringent.

The Rama’s Opinion

To determine the practical Halachah, we must examine the words of the Rama on this issue very carefully. The Rama9 writes:

ויש לעשות המצות רקיקין ולא פת עבה כשאר לחם, כי אין הרקיקין ממהרין להחמיץ

One should make the Matzos as thin-breads, not thick like the usual bread, because thin-breads do not leaven quickly”.

It seems as though the Rama is siding with the Rashba and Ritva quoted above. Especially, given the Rama’s expression of “פת עבה” – a thick loaf, a clear reference to the Gemara in Pesachim. One can claim that the Rama’s choice of expression is meant to imply that the ideal thinness mustalso be less than the one mentioned in that Gemara – a Tefach.

However, the Bi’ur Halacha seems to understand that the Rama is not discussing a normal scenario, arguing that – based on the location of the Rama’scomment – he is only discussing shaped or molded Matzos. Such Matzos are more susceptible to becoming Chometz, due to the baker’s involvement with their shaping, and must therefore be made thin. Nevertheless, the Mishnah Berura [written by thesame author as the Bi’ur Halacha] seems to understand that the Rama is referring to all Matzos, not just shaped and molded ones.

A look at the Darchei Moshe [the Rama’s long commentary on the Tur, usually the source for his comments on the Shulchan Aruch10] may reveal what the true intention behind the Rama’s ruling. In Darchei Moshe, the Rama cites two reasons that one should bake the matzos thin and not thick:

  1. Abudarham in the name of Ra’avad in Drashos: a Matzah should be a Lechem Oni (bread of affliction), thus by making it thin it is more similar to a poor man’s bread. Similarly, the Gemara in Pesachim11 says that one may not make a scalded12 Matzah (חלוט) or a very large Matzah(אשישה), as these are more luxurious forms of bread.

  2. Mahari Weil: thick Matzos may become Chometz more easily.

These sources prove that the Rama meant to rule out thick Matzos even if they are not molded or shaped.

We are left, then, with a disputebetween the Beis Yosef and the Rama. According to the Beis Yosef, one may make a Matzahl’chatchila – up until aTefach-thick, as he explicitly rules in Shulchan Aruch; however, according to the Rama, one must make “thin” Matzos as the Abudarham, Mahari Weil,Rashba and Ritva hold.

We must now clarify according to the Rama two essential points. Firstly, which Matzos should be thin. Whereas the Mahari Weil and others are concerned about a thick Matzah not baking well enough – a concern that applies to all Matzos consumed on Pesach – the Abudarham’s reason only pertains to the Seder night Matzos, which must be akin to a poor man’s bread.

Secondly, while the Beis Yosef, Magen Avraham and others argue about a specific width, the Rama simply states that the Matzos must be thin without giving any directive as to how thin is thin. In our next article, we will address these two points as well as show the fascinating connection between thinMatzos, Kitniyos and Gebrokts. Stay tuned.

1 These Matzos are often billed as “soft” Matzos, when in fact, it is quite unusual for a Matzah to stay soft even if it is thicker, due to the high flour-to-water ratio of the dough. Because there are no additives, these Matzos tend to become hard to chew. Many bakeries who bake thick Matzos advise to keep them in the freezer and warm the right before consumption.

2 37a

3 Orach Chayim, 460

4 Orach Chayim 460,5

5 Obviously, both the Beis Yosef and Magen Avraham agree that one must ensure the Matzah is fully baked and absolutely not Chometz. They are only arguing whether the Gemara implies that one should categorically avoid a certain thickness as a precaution, so the Matzah will not become Chometz.

6 Ad loc.

7 Chiddushim, ad loc.

8 For a full discussion of the Ritva’s opinion, please see below.

9 Orach Chayim 460,4

10 This author has heard in the name of Rav Moshe Feinstein ztz”l that the Rama in his commentary on the Shulchan Aruch does not necessary follow what he writes in Darchei Moshe and may rule differently.

11 36b

12 Scalding is the process of placing the batter in boiling water before baking it, as is commonly done with bagels