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While the prohibition against eating leavened bread applies to all seven days of Passover, the biblical commandment to eat matza applies only to the first day (and the second day in the Diaspora).
Subsequent rabbinic opinions, like Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (The Vilna Gaon), maintain that the duty to eat matza applies to the entire seven days and has since become the custom.
Matza made with liquids other than water, such as egg or fruit juice, is called “matza ashira,” or rich matza. Due to its softer consistency, it was permitted for use during Passover (not on the first night, though) by those who cannot digest regular matza, the sick and elderly; but its use among the general populace was frowned upon, as it ran counter to the notion that matza is the bread of affliction.
Depending on the level of stringency, supervision of the matza manufacturing process begins either at the time of harvesting the grains (“guarded,” or shmura matza), milling the grains into flour (Passover flour) or from the time the dough is mixed (ordinary, machinemade matza).
In addition to eating only shmura matza, certain communities eat only “matzot mitzva,” matza baked on Passover eve, to commemorate the paschal sacrifice that was prepared on the eve of Passover and eaten with matza on the first night.
The process of baking matza takes less than 18 minutes – from the time of mixing the dough to the time it exits the oven, to prevent any fermentation taking place. Matzot are rolled flat and pricked with holes using a cylindrical roller studded with spikes (called a redler) to prevent them from rising and swelling. Strict care is taken to clean all implements and machinery between batches to prevent residue build-up that may ferment.
In addition to the physical activities of matza preparation, a prerequisite for kosher matza is that those preparing it have a mental intention that what they are preparing will be used to fulfill the commandment of eating matza.
While Ashkenazi matza is dry and cracker- like, the Yemenite and other Sephardic communities make matza that is soft and flexible, resembling the texture of a tortilla, due to its higher water content. Unlike its Ashkenazi counterpart, this soft matza requires freezing to keep it fresh and soft.
There are various customs to refrain from eating matza during the period prior to Passover – from Purim from the first of the month of Nisan or on Passover eve – so that the taste of matza is fresh and novel on the first night of the Seder.
Matza is commonly ground into meal or flour called matza meal/flour. It is used for coating, cooking and baking during Passover instead of regular flour, which is prohibited. This is based on the premise that matza that has already been baked cannot become leavened.
Some communities have the custom to refrain from using ready-baked matza for any purpose other than eating directly and do not allow soaking of matza (or matza flour) in water or other liquids (gebrochts in Yiddish). This additional stringency is intended to prevent a case of any flour that was accidentally unmixed in the matza dough coming into contact with water and fermenting.
Hand-made matza is round or irregular in shape, while machine-made matza is square.
While matza has traditionally been made with wheat flour, there are now many variations available, such as gluten-free oat matza for celiac sufferers.
Whatever your custom or taste, matza is probably going to feature in your diet in the next few days. Whether you love it or hate it, it is best to focus on the reason we eat matza in the first place: to emphasize the spiritual over the material.
A happy and kosher Passover to you all.