No yeast, good unleavened bread

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The last few days in Spain we have experienced the overwhelming effect of quarantine. In the supermarkets, there was not toilet paper, not there is not flour and yeast.

Some say that is because the vast majority have thrown themselves into the art of artisan baking. While others, are becoming cakes experts.

Luckily, many people have flour reserves but it is not that the case of yeast, which can be gone after a couple of cakes. For this reason, the more intrepid are experimenting with homemade sourdough.

However, this situation and my latest readings have led me to ask myself:

Why don’t we spend this Easter without yeast?

PESACH THE JEWISH PASSOVER

That’s what happens at Pesach, the Jewish Passover. On this date, coinciding with Easter, the Jewish people commemorate the exodus from Egypt. This commemoration is carried out through a series of rituals, among which we find the Seder plate and the essential: Matzot.

The Seder dish consists of a set of six kind of foods, each with its own meaning, and ii is eaten on the first night of Pesach. The groups are: maror, bitter herbs, zroah, lamb meat, charoset, a mixture of fruit and nuts, chazeret, like lettuce, karpas, vegetables like celery and beitzah, boiled hard egg. Its meaning ranges from the bitterness of slavery, by dipping karpas in brine, to the offering that ceased to be able to be offered after the destruction of the second Temple, represented by beitzah, the egg that due to its sacred condition cannot be eaten.

Today, however, I will focus on the indispensable element at the Pesach table, the matzot. The matzah, in the singular, consists of a bread made of flour and water, without yeast. This is because, as the Bible states in Exodus 12, the consumption of yeast and specifically leavened bread is totally forbidden throughout the whole of Easter:

17 “Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. 18 In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. 19 For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And anyone, whether foreigner or native-born, who eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel. 20 Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread.”

Along the Jewish community this prohibition may be followed in different ways. The procedure called shemurah, the strictest, begins by ensuring that the grains of wheat to be used for making the flour do not come into contact with any kind of moisture. Apart from that, cleaning and kasherizing all the harvesting material is a mandatory step to ensure that it does not come into contact with any hametz, i.e. fermented food.

Matzot by Claude Truong-Ngoc

 

After learning about the shemurah process, I understood the joy of many families around the world when they received their order of matzah, which was endangered by the beginning of the confinement. Without a doubt, it should not be easy to get it with full confidence and security.

However, there is also the less strict version in which supervision starts with the flour, and mainly avoiding its humidity and the possible proliferation of yeast.

As you will know if you have taken a look at the sourdough post, the mixture of flour and water under the right conditions is a whole explosion of microscopic life, something to avoid at all costs on Pesach. Some of the formulas to prevent yeasts from appearing and multiplying consist of limiting the exposure time of the flour and water together. According to Jewish law, it should not exceed 18 minutes. In addition, the dough should not be exposed to high temperatures before bieng cooked. Meaning that it should not be left near the oven while it is being preheated.

Some may be surprised to see the level of demand for the preparation of what would seem to be a simple unleavened bread. This is why the matzah is a great reflection of food as a representation of ideology, faith and identity. Where the priority is not preparing food to be eaten, the priority lies on how it has been made and its meaning.

MATZAH, AS A SYMBOL

The matzah symbolizes, on one hand, slavery and on the other, freedom. The hypothesis is that the matzah was the only food given to the Hebrew slaves. This preparation did not require a great investment of time or ingredients. In addition, its digestion was slower and heavier than that of a spongy bread, diminishing the need to eat more. On the other hand, in Deuteronomy 16:3, it is described as bread of distress and states how matzah was a reflection of a hurried departure from Egypt:

לֹא־תֹאכַ֤ל עָלָיו֙ חָמֵ֔ץ שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִ֛ים תֹּֽאכַל־עָלָ֥יו מַצּ֖וֹת לֶ֣חֶם עֹ֑נִי כִּ֣י בְחִפָּז֗וֹן יָצָ֙אתָ֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם לְמַ֣עַן תִּזְכֹּר֔ אֶת־י֤וֹם צֵֽאתְךָ֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֥י חַיֶּֽיךָ׃

You shall not eat anything leavened with it; for seven days thereafter you shall eat unleavened bread, bread of distress—for you departed from the land of Egypt hurriedly—so that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live.

Such is its importance and meaning, that eating matzah on the night of the Pesach Seder is in fact one of the mitvot of the Torah, one of those 613 rules to be followed.

Tal es su importancia y significancia, que tomar matza en la noche de Seder de Pésaj es de hecho una de las mitzvot de la Torá, una de aquellas 613 reglas a seguir.

MATZAH, SLAVES AND EGYPT

The truth is that we cannot know exactly what happened in Egypt thousands of years ago. Archaeologists, other seekers of truth and the meaning of the hidden history, have even recreated 5,000-year-old loaves of bread with traces of Egyptian yeast.

They also discovered that depending on the type of slave you were, whether you worked in the pyramids or on the contrary in the mines, your diet was different. The slave in the pyramids got good portions of meat, and not so good for the second one.

Bread and beer were also plentiful. They found the baker’s ovens of the time. From them they deduced that they probably did leaven the dough, although they understood that even so, the breads must have been dense and very hard due to the characteristics of the raw material, mainly barley and emmer grains. 

Ancient Egypt slaves

The reflection is that maybe not all the slaves had the same life. As one of the Rabbis said in Tzfat, not even all the slaves run away when they have the chance. Some preferred their known slavery before going into the uncertain.

Regardless, matzah has a purpose. It make us feel in the skin of a slave fed only on flour and water. Maybe we don’t know exactly what their life was like, maybe they ate meat, maybe they were not even disgusted with their own lives. Nevertheless, above all things, matzah comes to the table to remind the taste of lack of freedom, its value and the efforts to gain it back.

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