One of the most important Mitsvot of the Pesah Seder is to eat Matsa. As we have already explained, while all Matsot are equal in composition (flour, water, less than 18 minutes) there are a few types of Matsot. We already mention the Matsa Shemura and compared it with the regular Matsa (see here). Today we will explore other types of Matsot.
The Matsot that are consumed during the first two nights of Pesah, called Matsot Mitsva, should be elaborated with the explicit purpose of fulfilling the Mitsva of eating Matsa during the first nights of Pesah.
For centuries, the Matsot were made by hand. This changed in 1838 when Isaac Singer invented the first machine to make Matsot. Back in the 19th century, there was a great debate among the rabbis of Europe on this matter. Some rabbis objected to the machine-made Matsot, arguing that it was impossible to clean these machines to the point that there was not even the slightest residue of dough between one production and another, which would imply that the machine-made Matsot would be Hamets (Rabbi Shelomo Kluger and others). On the other hand, other rabbis argued that machine-made Matsot had a kashrut standard higher than hand-made Matsot, since possible human errors that could lead to the accidental fermentation of some Matsot would be avoided (Ketab Sofer and others).
While this controversy lasted for several years, the rabbis mostly concluded that, by setting certain guidelines to ensure a strict supervision of machine cleanliness, the Kashrut of the machine-made Matsot was indisputable.
Then came another point of debate, which is still relevant until today. It is the matter of “intentionality” or kavana. To understand this point correctly, I will have to explain it a little more extensively.
When a Jewish religious article, or one of its accessories, is to be used in the performance of a Mitsva, this article should be made and manufactured with the specific intention of being used for the fulfillment of that Mitsva. Examples: You cannot use pieces of leather, which were originally manufactured to make shoes, belts, etc., for manufacturing a Tefillin or its straps. Why? Because Jewish law states that the leather used to make the Tefillin has to be processed “explicitly” for the purpose of being used for the Tefillin. For this reason, before processing the leather that will be used for Tefillin, the person in charge has to say: “leshem mitsvat Tefilin” [“I am processing this leather] to be used … in the Mitsva of Tefillin”. Intentionality in the manufacturing process is an halakhic requirement. The same principle applies, for example, to the threads used for the Tsitsit (the fringes of the Talit), these too must be made from the beginning for this specific purpose. If they have been made for another purpose, or even without a specific purpose, these threads are NOT fit for the fulfillment of the Mitsva of Tsitsit. And this is the case for other Mitsvot.
Returning to our subject: The Matsot that are consumed during the first two nights of Pesah, called Matsot Mitsva, must also be elaborated for the explicit purpose of fulfilling the Mitsva of eating Matsa. And the question that surged when the machines were invented is if we can consider that the “human intentionality” required for the elaboration of the Matsot would be “transferred” from the man who activates the machinery (when saying “leshem matsot Mitsva”) to the machine itself? Or, if we must assume that “intentionality” is disrupted as soon as a non-human factor intervenes. This fascinating discussion still remains inconclusive, and applies in many other areas, for example, there are many Yehudim who would only use Tsitsit made with threads that were hand made, etc.
In the case of the Matsot, it is necessary to clarify that this debate is relevant exclusively for the Matsot that will be used during the Seder, that is when we say the Berakha ‘al akhilat Matsa. Some rabbis say that the machine-made Matsot can be used for the first two nights, and many other rabbis (I think most) among them Rabbi Obadia Yosef, z’l, would “recommend” (Mitsva min hamubhar) to use for the first two nights of Pesah, handmade Matsot. For the rest of Pesah you could use the regular Matsot.
Hassidim (Chabad and other Hassidic groups) are very strict on this subject and the consume exclusively Matsot hand-made throughout Pesah.
There may also be an economic consideration involved. Obviously handmade Matsot are more expensive than machine-made Matsot, therefore, in the case of a family that cannot afford the cost of the hand-made Matsot, many rabbis would approve the use of machine-made Matsot Shemurot for the Seder, relying on the less rigorous opinions.
For a final verdict on what customs to follow, consult with the Rabbi of your community.