The Jew And The Carrot

How Manischewitz Matzo Helped Make America

By Gil Marks

  • Print
  • Share Share
iStock

Matzo is bread made from flour of members of the wheat and barley families mixed with water and then, to avoid engendering hametz, baked within 18 minutes of mixing. Historically, it was customary for each household to bake their own matzos. The result would be virtually unrecognizable to modern American Jews, it was a relatively soft, thin round loaf akin to a firm (pocket-less) pita bread.

For thousands of years, matzo was made fresh on a daily basis throughout Passover, except for the Sabbath. Mishaps in the kitchen before Passover were no problem, they were simply thrown out or eaten before the holiday, but mistakes during the holiday contaminated a family’s kitchen with forbidden hametz. Starting in the late Middle Ages, to avoid even the possibility of creating hametz on Passover, Ashkenazim developed a stringency to bake their matzo only before the onset of Passover and never during the festival. At this time a decision was made to make thinner more crisp matzos to further protect against hametz.

In 1886, Rabbi Abramson from the Lithuanian town of Salant purchased the passport of a dead man to escape from Europe — and possibly conscription into the Russian army — the name on the document being Dov Behr Manischewitz. Using his new name, Manischewitz along with his wife, Nesha, immigrated to Cincinnati, where he served as a ritual slaughterer and part-time peddler. For his first Passover in American, with matzo impossible to obtain in his new hometown, Manischewitz made his own. Two years later, he started a small matzo bakery in his basement for family and friends. Demand grew both from the Jewish community and from an unexpected market. At the time, Cincinnati was a prominent starting point for pioneers heading West, who needed durable and nonperishable items to take in their wagons for the lengthy, dangerous trip. Matzo’s keeping ability proved ideal for pioneers.

By 1900, Manischewitz opened a massive factory, revolutionizing the business by switching from coal to gas ovens, allowing for better temperature control. The company built a new oven, at the time the largest on earth. Instead of merely using machines to roll out the dough, Manischewitz established a fully automated factory with machines also mixing, perforating, and cutting the dough. The factory was soon turning out 75,000 pounds of matzo daily, much of it initially purchased by non-Jews heading west. Unlike irregular and frequently charred hand matzos, those made my Manischewitz were uniform and standardized.

At first, Manischewitz’s new factory produced matzo for non-Passover use, where hametz is no problem, as many rabbis were hesitant about using the new machinery for Passover. After the then wealthy Manischewitz donated sizable sums of money to European and Israeli yeshivas, his company eventually received sufficient rabbinic approval to use the machines for Passover matzo as well. The machines were cleaned at the outset of each run, then continuously operated, and cleaned again before the next operation.

Through aggressive marketing and advertising, Manischewitz transformed the matzo bearing his name from a local product to a high-volume commodity shipped throughout the country as well as many parts of the world. The machine transformed matzo from a product generally eaten exclusively during the festival of Passover to a widely available and inexpensive item consumed year round by some non-Jews as well as Jews. (I know a non-Jewish wine teacher who waits each year till after Passover to purchase matzos on sale to use for clearing the palates during wine tastings.) The company’s introduction in 1903 and marketing of packaged matzo meal, ground and packaged by machines, also revolutionized the culinary world transforming the matzo ball from a solely Passover dish into a food enjoyed year round. Today, Manischewitz, produces more than half the matzo consumed in America on Passover.

Gil Marks is the author of five books, including the highly-acclaimed James Beard Award-nominated — the awards ceremony is on May 6 — “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food”.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Pioneers, Matzo, Made America, Manischewitz, Hametz

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.