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The unleavened bread that the Israelites ate when they went out of Egypt (Exodus 12: 39), after which the festival of Passover, during which leaven (hametz) is forbidden, is called hag ha-matzot, ‘Festival of Unleavened Bread’ (Exodus 23: 15; Deuteronomy 16: 16). As the law is expounded in the Talmudic literature and the Codes, the obligation to eat matzah applies only to the first night of Passover, when matzah is eaten at the Seder. During the remaining days of the festival, leaven must not be eaten but there is no obligation to eat matzah; although some later authorities hold that it is meritorious to eat it. There are strict rules regarding the preparation of matzah; care must be taken that during the kneading and baking of the dough it is not allowed to become fermented. This care is known as shemirah (‘watching over’). Most authorities hold that shemirah is only required from the time of kneading but some hold that it is required from as early as the time of reaping the grain. Many pious Jews only use on the first night of the festival matzah that has been watched over from the time of reaping, called shemurah matzah (‘matzah that has been watched over’). The especially strict only eat shemurah matzah and no other during the whole of the festival. The watching over the matzah has to be done intentionally for the purpose of using it for the fulfilment of the precept (to eat it on the first night). This was one of the reasons why a fierce controversy arose in the nineteenth century over machine-manufactured matzah. It was argued that a machine cannot have intention. Those who favoured machine-made matzah argued that the intention of the man operating the machine is sufficient for the purpose and this is now generally accepted. Nevertheless, very strict Jews only use matzah that has been manufactured by hand.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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