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Frank W. Nelte

March 1996

Matzos and Passover -- the Facts!

In the Old Testament a number of different Hebrew words are used in reference to "bread." Let’s very briefly look at some of these words.

1) "Lechem" is the common Old Testament word for "bread." It is used 297 times in the Hebrew text.

2) "Challah" (or "hallah") is a word which refers to a specific type of bread referred to as "cake" in the KJV. While we today think of cake as "fancy sweetened baked bread", in King James English "cake" referred to "fried or baked bread, usually small in size and round and flat in shape" (see Webster’s Dictionary). So the word "cake" in the KJV of the Bible usually refers to a type of bread that was somewhat thinner than the typical loaf of bread. Think of "bread" as about four inches thick, and "cake" as about two inches thick, where both types of bread commonly had the same composition or ingredients. This word only appears 14 times in the Old Testament.

3) "Rakik" (or "raqiyq") is used only 8 times in the Old Testament. This word means "a thin cake," and is usually rendered in the KJV as "wafer." Think of "rakik" as more or less the same as "challah", but just a bit thinner, perhaps about an inch thick. It was "a thin cake" when compared to the thickness of normal bread. The 8 places where "rakik" is used make quite clear that it is not speaking about something that was only one tenth of an inch thick, like what we today refer to as "wafers".

4) "Uggah" is a word which is used 7 times in the Old Testament, and in the KJV it is always translated as "cake." The word is derived from the verb "uwg," which means "to bake" and this verb "uwg" is only used one time in the Old Testament (in Ezekiel 4:12). The noun "uggah" referred to "a round loaf of bread baked on hot stones or in a pan." This is the word which is used in Genesis 18:6, where Abraham urged Sarah to quickly make "cakes upon the hearth." It is also used in Ezekiel 4:12, the only verse where the verb "uwg" is also used, referring to the food Ezekiel was to bake for himself.

And then there is the Hebrew word "mazzah".

5) "Mazzah" (plural is "mazzot") is used 53 times in the Old Testament. (There are variations as to how this word is transliterated into our alphabet; other common forms are "matsah" and "matzos".) This word comes from the root verb "matsats," which, according to Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, means "to suck out; hence: to draw out with pleasure, to taste." This verb is only used once in the Old Testament, in Isaiah 66:11, where it is in the KJV rendered as "you may milk out".

That ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory (Isaiah 66:11).

The context of this verse illustrates this meaning of "to draw out with pleasure."

With the meaning of this root word in mind, we should understand the meaning of "mazzah," which in Gesenius is given as:

"what is sweet, i.e., unfermented bread, such as is used at the Passover".

Of the 53 times this word is used in the Old Testament, in the KJV it is translated as follows:

- 33 times as "unleavened bread";

- 5 times as "unleavened cakes";

- 14 times as "unleavened";

- 1 time as "without leaven" (i.e., Leviticus 10:12).

Four of the five places where "mazzah" is translated as "unleavened cakes" are in Judges 6:19-21, where Gideon made a large quantity of unleavened bread for the angel who had appeared to him. From Exodus 16:36 we know that "an ephah" was equal to ten omers. In The Jewish Encyclopedia one tenth of an ephah (i.e. an omer) is equated to the volume of "43 medium-sized hens’ eggs."

So the one ephah of flour which Gideon used (verse 19) was ten times this volume of "43 eggs," or in the region of 40 to 50 pounds. This went along with the meat of one whole animal, albeit a young one.

The point is this: the "unleavened cakes" which Gideon baked were quite big in size, each the size of a fairly large loaf of bread. This took quite some time -- but then so did the killing and then the cooking of a whole animal.

The word "mazzah" is used only once before Exodus chapter 12. That one occurrence is Genesis 19:3, where Lot baked unleavened bread for the angels who had come to him.

So when the word "mazzah" is used without an accompanying noun, we should commonly understand that the word "bread" is implied. This is also indicated by the number of times the translators felt the need to supply the word "bread" or "cake."

Now let’s look at where our modern "matzos" have come from? How did we get them? Did the Jews always use matzos? To get the answers to these questions let’s look at some Jewish reference works.


The Jewish Encyclopedia

All of the following quotations come from The Jewish Encyclopedia, copyrighted in 1905, 1909 and 1912. It was printed in the USA by Funk & Wagnalls Company. All the quotations are from the article "mazzah" in Volume 8, pages 393 to 396.

The article was written in 1905 and makes reference to a previous work written in 1883. This is important to understand! What we have in this article, written by Jews, is the Jewish understanding of about 100 years ago. That was before our modern "matzos" had really become entrenched as the item to use for the Passover.

Notice these quotations.

"The size of each mass of dough for mazzah may not exceed one-tenth of an ephah, equal to 43 and one-fifth medium-sized hens’ eggs, and the time allowed for preparing it is about twenty-seven minutes."

Comments: This is a reference to the maximum amount of dough each piece of mazzah could be made from. This already tells us that each piece of mazzah would be considerably heavier than one pound; it would in fact weigh several pounds. The time allowed for preparing was the time taken from first adding water to the flour until the loaves of mazzah were placed in the oven to prevent any supposed "rising" or fermenting of the dough.

"The thickness of the mazzah must not exceed the size of a closed fist, four fingers or four inches, which was the thickness of the showbread. A later custom was to make mazzah one finger thick ("Bet Hillel," Yoreh De’ah, No. 96)." (page 394)

Comments: Did you get that?

Anciently mazzah were up to four inches thick! This is the type of "unleavened bread" that was baked in biblical times! That is how thick the shewbread was. But even "the later custom" of making the unleavened bread only "one finger thick" is still totally different from today’s modern "matzos"!

It doesn’t matter whether they meant a man’s fist or a woman’s fist, a man’s finger or a woman’s finger; they most assuredly were not baking paper-thin wafers or crackers! They were baking real bread!

Next, this article contains several illustrations showing the preparation of mazzot. These illustrations are from the 1600's and the 1700's. They all show the mazzot (plural of mazzah) as being loaves which are easily four inches thick! This is very clearly illustrated!

So it is very clear that in the 1600's and in the 1700's the Jews were baking loaves of mazzot for the Passover! At that stage the Jews did not yet have the custom of "thin crisp wafers or crackers."

This historic fact is clear beyond dispute!

But let’s continue our quotation.

"In modern times (i.e. this was written in 1905, remember) the mazzah is much thinner, varying from four to five mazzot to the inch, and is made in round form about twelve inches in diameter. In about 1875 mazzah-making machinery was invented in England and soon after introduced in America." (Page 394)

[Note! An article in the Encyclopedia Judaica, printed in 1974, puts the date for an early "mazzah machine" in a New York bakery as early as 1855, or 20 years before the date in this article in The Jewish Encyclopedia. The difference in dates is really immaterial, though I suspect that the 1905 article, being closer to the time in question, may have more merit than the 1974 article.]

My comments to the quotation above: It was the introduction of "machinery" that led to the mazzah becoming much thinner. Even then, initially they seem to have started out a bit thicker than today. Today matzos are not one fourth or one fifth of an inch thick; before baking they are about one tenth of an inch thick.

So what was the motive in moving away from mazzah that were up to four inches thick to mazzah that were now only one fifth of an inch thick?

Was it a desire to fulfill God’s instructions more faithfully? No! It was simply the easiest way to mass-produce mazzah. The motive for this change is found in financial considerations; it was an easier way to make larger profits.

The article continues:

"Eisenberg, at Kiev, Russia, recently invented a mazzah-machine capable of baking 15 poods (about 541 pounds) of dough in one or two hours ("Der Jud," 1902, No. 9)." (page 394)

Here was a machine that could handle 541 pounds of dough in a mere two hours. But it was dependent on the mazzah being very thin. Machines are good at rolling out!

Here is the next quote:

"The perforation of the mazzah, after being rolled into shape, and before baking, was for the purpose of keeping it from raising and swelling in baking.... The mazzah-machine has an automatic perforator that makes lines at intervals of a half inch." (pages 394-395)

Comments: The point is that because the Mazzah is so thin, therefore air-bubbles are likely to result in the baking process. The small and evenly-spaced air-bubbles created by these automatic perforations are considered preferable to the larger and uncontrolled ones that would result without the perforations.

If someone rolls out his own unleavened dough equally thinly, as is done with the matzos, then this will also result in air-bubbles, but larger bubbles than those in commercial matzos. Such bubbles are not really desirable either.

However, if the dough is shaped into loaves, between "one finger and four fingers" thick then you do not get any air-bubbles! It was common amongst Jews in the 1600's and the 1700's to put a design on the tops of their unleavened loaves, (the woodcut illustrations of such mazzah loaves show grid-patterns). But such loaves did not swell up and they had no air-bubbles!

Here is a key to keep in mind:

Air-bubbles in unleavened bread are only a problem when the bread is made less than about half an inch thick!

Modern matzos are twice as thick after they are baked, as they were before baking. Before baking they are really paper-thin. And it is this extremely thin state which creates the problem of air-bubbles!

The Jewish tradition seems to be to bake the mazzot in a very hot oven, supposedly to prevent any leavening taking place during the first phase of the baking process. However, if the dough is made from totally whole grain flour, and if some oil is added to the dough, then if one bakes the bread at a moderate temperature, there is a thickness somewhere between one fifth of an inch and one half of an inch where the bread will bake without air-bubbles being formed. This thickness can be established by experimenting with different thicknesses and evaluating the resulting product.

Thus: "very thin bread" equals problems with air-bubbles; "somewhat thicker bread" equals no problems with bubbles.

Now let’s look at the next quotation.

"In the early centuries mazzah-baking was done by the wife daily for the household’s use. In the middle ages preparations were made to bake mazzot thirty days before Passover, except the mazzah shemirah, which was baked in the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan." (Page 395)

Comments: It was only during the Middle Ages that the custom of baking mazzah ahead of the Days of Unleavened Bread came into vogue! Even then, the bread that was used for the Passover ceremony itself was always very fresh! (They baked that bread on the 14th, a few hours before they kept their Passover on the 15th.)

It was considered imperative that the unleavened bread (and in those days it was a loaf, remember) for the Passover service was fresh! Recall that in the Old Testament the showbread was left on the table before God for one week; then it was replaced by fresh bread. The priests would then eat this one-week-old bread during the next seven days. But bread presented to God was never older than one week! At the time of presentation to God, the bread was always fresh.

In recognition of this the Jews, prior to machine-made mazzot, always used fresh mazzah for the Passover, even if they did use older mazzot for the Seven Days of Unleavened Bread.

Let’s continue our quotations.

"In America mazzah-baking is an important industry" (Page 395)

Comments: This was written in 1905, or perhaps revised as late as 1912. So around 1900 to 1910 "mazzah-baking" was an important industry! One consideration in the production of matzos is money! Another consideration is convenience for the baker, not for the eater.

Let’s continue.

"In New York city alone, in 1904, 10,000 barrels of flour were used in making about 1,700,000 pounds of mazzah, distributed among fifteen bakers.... The larger bakeries commence work four or five months before passover." (Page 395)

Comments: Can you see the motive of greed involved in this? Back in 1904 they did not have the means to produce their matzos "vacuum-sealed". So by Passover people were using stale matzos that were almost half a year old!

Is That Acceptable to God?

Now notice the greed factor in the production of matzos!

1) Thick bread would be stale if it was kept that long.

2) If the bread was made from whole wheat flour, including the wheat germ oil, it would spoil over such a long period of time.

3) The way to give stale bread a fresher look is to heat it up, e.g. toasting bread that is a few days old.

Therefore in order to enable factories to produce matzos as long as four and five months in advance of the Passover, the following things were done:

1) The matzos must be made from flour that cannot spoil! Thus they must be made from totally refined and processed white flour. The parts which can spoil must be removed from the flour before it is used for making matzos. The flour that is used for matzos is, in effect, dead! There is nothing in it that can still spoil. It is also nutritionally grossly deficient and depleted. That is not exactly the best product for making something to represent the Person who called Himself "the bread of life" (see John 6:35, 48), is it?

2) The dough had to be rolled out thin enough so that every particle of it would be baked firm, like a crust. (Compare this to regular bread which has a hard crust on the outside and a soft doughy part on the inside.) It is the soft doughy part of bread that spoils first. Therefore industry knew that they would have to have a product which has no soft dough in it, if it was to have a shelf-life of over four months.

In modern matzos every single particle is part of the crust. It is a very thin crust with no inside, compared to bread that is up to four inches thick. So again, there is nothing that can spoil. It has all been baked solid.

3) Nonetheless, matzos often do have a bit of a stale quality about them. The manufacturers tacitly acknowledge this, when they print on the boxes that the matzos can be "freshened up" by heating them in the oven for a few minutes prior to eating them. That is like a quick re-baking, freshening up the outside of the matzos; and since matzos don’t really have "an inside," therefore the whole three-months-old matzos is rejuvenated to "as fresh as new".

4) Because they were made to be so thin, therefore the problem with air-bubbles arose. With thicker unleavened bread this problem does not exist. To cope with this problem of bubbles, the manufacturers devised the system of automatically perforating the dough at evenly-spaced intervals before baking.

So it should be clear that the thinness of matzos is due entirely to financial reasons; it is due to greed. Industry has asked:

How can we mass-produce large quantities? Thin and flat is much easier than three or four inch thick loaves.

How can we prevent spoiling? Use totally refined flour which has nothing left in it that can spoil. Then, in addition, produce a product that does not have any soft, doughy parts to it.

How can we solve the problem of air-bubbles in these extremely thin matzos? Create a system of automatic perforations in the dough to space out all the air-bubbles evenly.

And that is why matzos today are what they are!

So the real motivation for making matzos the way they are made is a matter of greed, finding a way to produce something that could be made faster, in larger quantities and with a longer shelf-life. But the end result, modern Jewish matzos, is totally unsuitable and unacceptable for representing the broken body of Jesus Christ during the Passover service!

Anyone who understands the truth about matzos could not possibly use matzos for a Passover service without seriously compromising his own conscience.

So much for quotations from The Jewish Encyclopedia of 1905.

Please understand the following. All the laws and restrictions which the Jews follow regarding their Passover are not biblical instructions from God. They most assuredly are not! Thus, for example, there is no biblical instruction which prevents a loaf of unleavened bread from being thicker than four inches. Neither are there any biblical instructions regarding how quickly the unleavened bread must be baked. It is perfectly acceptable if it takes longer to bake unleavened bread than is permitted by the Jewish customs.

The real point to note is this:

It is very clear beyond any doubt that, prior to the invention of mazzah-making machinery in the late 1800's, the Jews for over 3000 years followed a custom of baking large loaves of unleavened bread. They never, before the invention of this machinery, ever made these lifeless, paper-thin matzos which have an almost indefinite shelf-life. Thin unleavened crackers didn’t feature in their Passover services. The Jewish Encyclopedia from almost 100 years ago makes this quite clear.

So it should be clear that, prior to machine-made unleavened bread for the Passover, the mazzah was made in the form of unleavened loaves. This point is also presented in more modern publications. For example:

The Book of Jewish Knowledge, compiled by Nathan Ausubel, and published by Crown Publishers Inc., New York; copyright 1964, has an article titled "PASSOVER" which goes from page 324 to page 329. On page 324 it has a picture with the heading "The baking of matzah (Woodcut from the Sefer ha-Minhagim, 1695)." This picture clearly shows unleavened loaves being baked. The loaves are depicted as easily the height of a man’s fist.

The same picture of matsah baking also appears in The Encyclopedia Judaica, Third Printing, 1974, Volume 11, in the article "MAZZAH" on page 1155. This encyclopedia is published by Keter Publishing House Jerusalem Ltd. The title under this picture reads: "The preparation and baking of mazzot, in a woodcut from Holland, 17th century. From J Leusden, Phililogus Hebraeo-Mixtus, Utrecht, 1663. Jerusalem, J.N. U.L.."

The article also has a picture of a "Mazzah bakery built in Carpentras, southeastern France, 1625."

Now let’s look at the instructions for the Passover in Exodus chapter 12.


Exodus Chapter 12

Here are some key verses from this chapter.

And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roasted with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. (Exodus 12:8)

They baked loaves of unleavened bread, not thin crackers.

Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel. (Exodus 12:15)

For over 3000 years (i.e., until the latter part of the 1800's) the Jews understood this instruction to refer to eating loaves of unleavened bread, not thin crackers.

And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this same day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, ye shall eat unleavened bread, till the one and twentieth day of the month at evening. (Exodus 12:17-18)

These loaves of unleavened bread were going to be a substantial part of their diet for those seven days. They were not just a ceremonial token.

Ye shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall ye eat unleavened bread. (Exodus 12:20)

Implied is that this unleavened bread would constitute a significant part of their diet for those seven days.

In Exodus 29:2 we find some instructions that pertain to the consecrating of the priesthood of Aaron. The Hebrew word "matzah" is used three times in this verse. Notice:

And unleavened bread, and cakes unleavened tempered with oil, and wafers unleavened anointed with oil: of wheaten flour shalt thou make them. (Exodus 29:2)

In this verse the expressions are:

unleavened bread = matzah lechem (i.e. "bread");

unleavened cakes = matzah challah (i.e. "loaves" or "cakes");

unleavened wafers = matzah rakik (i.e. "thin cakes").

They were all just different shapes and types and thicknesses of bread. Some of this bread was burned in the consecration of the priesthood which followed; and some of the bread (along with meat from one sacrificed ram) was for the priesthood to eat (see verses 32-33).

The point is this: in the whole procedure there were different types and shapes of unleavened bread (some were richer by having oil in them); but "thin wafers," as we today think of them, didn’t feature. At no point in God’s instructions to Israel did anything resembling a matzos of today ever feature.

When Jesus Christ observed the Passover before He was killed, He also kept it with loaves of unleavened bread. When Jesus Christ broke unleavened bread during that Passover observance, it was a loaf and not a wafer that He broke.

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. (Matthew 26:26)

It was not some thin "cracker" that Jesus Christ broke on that occasion! What He did is break pieces off from a loaf of unleavened bread. It could have been in the form of "lechem" (bread), "challah" (thinner cakes or loaves), or in the form of "rakik" (the still thinner cakes, perhaps only about one inch thick). But it had nothing to do with some thin "cracker." Before the invention of mazzah-making machinery the Jews never had the custom to make very thin flat crackers for the observance of the Passover.

It is purely for financial reasons, for the motive of making profits, that the unleavened bread used by the Jewish community for their observance of the Passover has undergone such a dramatic change since the mid-to-late 1800's, when machines were first invented to produce matzos.

Most of the customs and traditions that are observed by the Jewish community are not really based on biblical instructions. I have numerous articles from Jewish reference works in my possession, which make this abundantly clear.

Already over 1900 years ago Jesus Christ made clear that by their traditions the religious leaders were actually transgressing the commandments of God (see Matthew 15:3-6).

That is also the case with their modern custom of using matzos at their observance of the Passover, that they are transgressing God’s commandments regarding how the Passover should be observed.

A desire to want to do things in accordance with God’s will and God’s instructions does not even enter the picture, when the main question is: how can we produce something that will have a shelf-life of at least five months?

An additional factor that enters the picture for those who consider using matzos for their Passover is this: just how old are those convenient matzos that you plan to use for your Passover?

Thanks to modern vacuum-packing, they can actually look quite fresh, and still be well over three months old. Do you feel that it makes a difference to God whether you use something that is only one day old (or at least less than seven days old) as opposed to using something that was produced in some factory half a year ago ... or is God not really concerned with "picky points like that"?

In our supermarkets here in Johannesburg the matzos have been on the shelves for over six weeks, and their production date was well before that.

Out of respect for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ I don’t want to use any bread which is not fresh, and which has not been prepared for the express purpose of representing His body, for the Passover observance. Out of that same respect I also find it unthinkable to use a mass-produced product to represent the body of Jesus Christ, the Creator of all things. For me personally using mass-produced matzos to represent Jesus Christ would be like expecting the broken body of Jesus Christ to come off a conveyor belt, which already back in 1904 churned out one million and seven hundred thousand pounds of mazzah in just one city.

Where is the respect for Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He brought on our behalf?

For those people who really go all out to show they are for using matzos at their Passover, let me tell you something!

Barring the total inability to make any unleavened bread yourself, if you are not prepared to make the effort involved in you yourself (as opposed to buying it from a shop!) making the unleavened bread which you intend to use to represent the body of Jesus Christ, which was broken in the most brutal way so that we might have access to healing from our sicknesses and diseases, then there is something wrong with your thinking!

If you want the convenience of going and buying the broken body of Jesus Christ from some factory, that specializes in producing a perverted commercial version of the symbol for Christ’s broken body, then there is something wrong with your perception of Christ’s sacrifice.

If you can go to your supermarket and can say: "Oh yes, I need a packet of those matzos; that packet over there will do just fine for a Passover observance for at least 300 people", it doesn’t say much for the value you attach to Christ’s sacrifice. All it says is: "Hey, I want something that is convenient. Don’t hassle me with things that require time and effort. There are more important things that demand my time."

Oh yes? Really? You really have more important things to do than spend an hour or two carefully and conscientiously preparing the symbols you intend to use to represent the body of your Creator?

Do you still believe in deleavening your home before the Days of Unleavened Bread? Should you let totally carnal people, who make no effort whatsoever to deleaven their lives before God, make the totally unleavened and pure symbol to represent Jesus Christ? Are you prepared to go to those who are unclean spiritually to have them make the symbol of Christ’s broken body for you? How can you possibly have unleavened bread, to be used for the Passover observance by a group of deeply converted people, made by totally carnal people, whose only reason for making the matzos is that they want to make money? Do you not understand that you should not go to the unbelievers to produce for you a symbol of the body of Jesus Christ? Does God accept symbols that are made by the unconverted as being pure?

How much effort did you put into deleavening your home and premises? Did the total collective effort for your family require over ten man-hours (or woman-hours)? Having made all that effort to deleaven your kitchen and home, isn’t that the time when someone, who will also take the Passover (i.e. someone who is converted), should make the unleavened bread which will be specifically used to represent Christ’s broken body? Isn’t that the time when a converted person should be in the right frame of mind to think about making the unleavened bread for this very special use?

Shouldn’t the person making the unleavened bread realize: "This batch is special! This is the one that is for use at the Passover service we will be having". The lamb for the Passover was selected four days before the Passover and from then on it was very carefully looked after. How does that stack up with buying one pack of matzos (and any old pack of matzos will do, right?) out of a million that some factory churned out?

It is not a matter that every person needs to bake his own unleavened bread. I am not speaking about the bread you will eat for seven days. I am speaking about the bread that will be used at one specific occasion, at the Passover. Isn’t there at least one converted person in every group of God’s people, who will observe this ordinance together as a group or as a congregation, that can take this responsibility of making the bread seriously? Do you need bread from a supermarket, bread that is several months old, bread that has been made by totally unconverted people? Does that show respect for Christ’s sacrifice?

People will spend many hours practicing a piece of music in order to present it as special music during services. Isn’t the preparation of the bread which will represent the broken body of Jesus Christ more important than special music? Where are our priorities? What is important to us?

Do you feel obligated to follow the modern (and commercially motivated) Jewish custom of making the unleavened bread for Passover (i.e. their matzos) paper-thin? Is there any biblical basis for making it that thin, or is it just another "tradition of the fathers"? It is just one more unbiblical tradition, that’s all.

If you did not have modern Jewish matzos as an example to look at, would you consider making the unleavened bread perhaps even one quarter of an inch thick or thicker? What do you base your practices on: modern Jewish customs and Jewish traditions or the Bible?

Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong simply assumed that Jewish customs and practices are based on the Old Testament. His assumption was wrong! He never looked into the things we have looked at in this article. It doesn’t matter to me whether Mr. Armstrong approved of matzos or not. I can’t use them for the reasons I have explained in this article.

If after reading this article you still don’t understand why it is a very serious major mistake to use matzos for the Passover, then I can’t help you.

Frank W Nelte