It is Pesach. I want to speak with you about matzo, about the Americanization of matzo to be exact. I want to tell you a true story. It shows us that what happened regarding the making of matzo and reveals so very much about our modern day society and values. My comments are based a great deal on the research of Dr. Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis University under the sponsorship of the American Jewish Archives.

Until the late 1800s matzo was made by hand, everywhere. When I say everywhere, I mean in every city and village, every yeshivah and shul, in every shtetl and dorf. For the month before Pesach, lots of poor Jews would find temporary employment assisting in the making of matzo, a job that would frequently make a huge difference for the good concerning the annual income of these workers.

Individuals had their specialties. There was the baker and the apprentice to the baker called the mehl mester. He measured the flour. Then there was the weiser-giesser who poured cold water into the batter under the critical gaze of the kneader. After the matzo was rolled it was turned over to the perforator, a youngster who handled a wheel called the roedel. The handle would be turned and the roedel would run over the matzo in parallel lines to prevent it from rising and swelling. The derlanger carried the matzo on a rolling pin to the schieber, a man who placed it in the oven with a shovel. Before he did this, for just the right amount of time, he examined carefully each piece to be sure it met standards.

So it went, for century after century, generation after generation. Matzo was made everywhere there were Jews. No particular brands dominated the market.

Then came Dov Baer Manischewitz who settled in Cincinnati, Ohio, and built there the largest matzo factory with the largest oven on earth. He developed an automated means of preparing the dough, a process that would yield kosher for Passover matzo untouched by human hands. He created a new technology to create a superior product, but how could he gain acceptance for it?

He would need rabbinic approval, not only from American but also from European rabbinic authorities, and most important--the okay from leading rabbis in Palestine. He would have to convince the masses of Jews that the matzo that was ballyhooed as hand made was inferior to matzo made by machine. He would have to overcome the reality of the cottage industry that made matzo cheaply in thousands of localities and supplant that reality by demonstrating that he could manufacture matzo mechanically more cheaply than the small matzo makers could. He would have to overcome halachic objections; objections based on interpretations of Jewish law. What chance did he have against such odds?

Professor David Ellenson of the Hebrew Union College recently published an old responsum, an answer to a question asked about Jewish practice. This responsum dealt with whether machine made matzo was acceptable Jewishly. The answer written by Solomon Kluger goes on for four fully printed pages of single spaced text. The answer is a definitive NO! Why?