Huge thanks to Jacob Sasson for sending me the link to SoftMaza.com. Strange as it might seem, the Sepharadic matzot are not the wholesome crispy goodness most of us are accustomed to. Instead, their matzot might resemble pizza dough’s malleability.1
Why the difference?
Jewish law defines two types of blessings for grain products: “Hamotzi” for actual bread and “Mezonot” for everything else. Berachot 41b-42a identifies a type of bread called “pat habah b’kisnin” and classifies this as mezonot, not hamotzi – unless one is kove’a seudah establishes a meal, in which case it would be hamotzi as well.
What is this “pat habah b’kisnin“? As always, it depends on whom you ask. Shulhan Aruch 168:7 provides two main definitions. One possibility is that this bread was made with additional flavorings or sweeteners such as honey, sugar, nuts, or fruit juices.2 Then there is the opinion of R. Hai Gaon that kisnin refers to bread that is dry and presumably hard.3 Shulhan Aruch rules that the definition follows both opinions.4
Following this ruling, the typical “matzah” we all know and love should really be mezonot since it’s dry and hard. R. Ovadia Yosef addresses this issue directly in Yehave Da’at 3:12 and as always, quotes just about every relevant source. He concludes that Sepharadim would tread matzah as mezonot during the year, Ashkenazim would say hamotzi, and both have sources on whom to rely.
At any rate, it does seem odd that the same food would have different classifications at different times of the year. Either matzah should be hamotzi or it should be mezonot! The solution of course, would be to have matzah which is in fact soft, and thus wouldn’t come under the category of pat habah b’kisnin.
Another support for the soft matzah is in the haggadah itself. At the Seder we remember Hillel’s korech sandwich; he would eat the korban pesach (passover sacrifice), the marror (bitter herb) together with the matzah. As my father points out each year at the Seder, the word “Korech” means to “fold.” In order for Hillel to have been able to fold his matzah, it couldn’t have been the hard wafers we see today, but most probably was the soft matzah of the Sepharadim.
1. No, pizza dough is NOT matzah. Calm down – it’s only an analogy.
2. Though not mentioned by the Shulhan Aruch here, eggs would also be included in this category. This is why many Jews are strict on having “water hallah” for Shabbat as opposed to the more common hallot which are made with eggs.
3. Note that the Star-K follows a stricter interpretation of this criteria, stating that the hardness must be “predicated on the intention of the producer when the product is baked or manufactured.”
4. Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 3:9) additionally requires that have the appearance or shape of bread.