Saturday, April 04, 2009

What is Shmura?

Rabbi Sokol's shabbos hagodol drasha, more or less.

In short: it means, "watched". But what is watched, and from when, and why? Grain or flour, from various possible times, for various reasons. Let's go through them:

Why: 3 possibilities. Rambam suggests, in slightly different contexts, to prevent chimutz (leaven from forming), and for the sake of matza, while Rashi says it's for the sake of the mitzva of matza. What's the difference between the last two? Well, one could make matza for dog food, according to the second position, and as long as it's also going to be eaten by people, it's OK. But for Rashi, the matza has to be made for the sake of the mitzva of eating matza, not just for being non-chametz.

When: The gemara says "from the time of kneading, and Rava would watch from earlier." How much earlier, it doesn't say. The Rif suggests it's from the time of cutting, but that it was a personal chumra of Rava, not meant for everyone. The Rosh, who was of course from Ashkenaz, even if he later moved to Spain, says from the time of grinding. Why then? There's nothing in the Talmud to suggest it. R' Sokol believes that it was because of the development of water-driven mills in Northern Europe. Since there would be water involved in the grinding of grain, it would need to be guarded against coming in contact with water from the time of grinding, from the time of going to the water mill.

Nowadays, when mills are driven by electricity, that water-contact should not be a problem. Therefore, according to R' Sokol, since pretty much all matza is guarded from the time of kneading, especially since (after the 1700s) the 18 minutes includes the time of kneading, pretty much all box matza will be shmura. And it's all for the sake of the mitzva, because all the KP matza is. There is non-KP matza which isn't, like Streits Moonstrips (which are flavored).

So why do so many yeshivish favor "shmura mish'at ketzirah", guarded from the time of harvest? Probably because of the chasidicization of the yeshiva world. The black and white uniform, the treatment of the rosh yeshiva as a rebbe, non-gebrokts, all of these are absorptions from the chasidishe velt. So too here, apparently - for the Litvish, regular cheap matza should be fine, but most buy the expensive shmurah.

Why was there this absorption from the chasidim? Probably because, in the early years of the Orthodox revival, chasidism seemed somehow more dynamic, sexier as it were, in the years when there were maybe 50-100 guys in Lakewood (1950s-60s).

So there you have it - lots of people whose very frum grandparents didn't bother with shmura matza, now treat it as The One Right Way.


Lion of Zion said...

it was a great shiur
my only question is that while the hasidization of the litvish might have made sense after the war when there was an influx of hungarians, etc., today the litvish/yeshivish world has much more vitality and it should be more immune to hasidization.

thanbo said...

much of that vitality seems to be because of adopting many of the forms of Chasidism - the uniform which creates more of a sense of belonging to an in-group, the elevation of the rosh yeshiva which creates more of a sense of connection to the Divine in the contemporary Jew who yearns for Spirituality, rather than the dry simcha shel Torah of RYBS & Co., the greater sense of moral certainty when receiving Daas Torah or Shefa.

BTW, I had a nice chat with your father this morning about Camp Kunatah Then (late 1970s) and Now (closed because of the "frummies" (as the old camp rabbis would have called them)). Smelling the burning chometz brought back memories of huddling around the campfire on the 40-degree nights of July.

Litvak said...

Good post. You have put up some real winners lately.

I think many people use 'shmura' as a synonym for hand matza and don't know/realize that machine matzah can be/is shmurah too. When people hear that often enough, they can assume that hand is the only way to go.

Also people don't know that great gedolim held that machine is preferable, even at the seder for matzos mitzvoh, for one example, such was the practice of R. Yisroel Yaakov Fisher z"l, dayan of Edah Haredis in Eretz Yisroel, who passed away a few years ago (related recently by R. Moshe Elefant shlite of the O-U).

Also, you didn't discuss the variations in machine matzah - some have the machinery cleaned after every run, those are labeled 'eighteen minute matzas', or are from the first run of the day after cleaning. KAJ Washington Heights is involved with those I believe.

Re the Yeshivishe - while it varies by institution and time, many of the 'Yeshivishe' today are not Litvaks, or they are mixed background. There has been significant intra-frum intermarriage over the years, Litvak-Galitzianer, Litvak-Hungarian, Litvak-Yekke, Polish, etc.

Also, as you say, many of them are under Hassidic influence, more than in the past, esp. when they live near each other and mix more, cf discussion about this in intro to second edition of Helmreich's classic 'World of the Yeshiva'.

thanbo said...

>You have put up some real winners lately

I've been trying harder to write good things, but I still don't seem able to attract the readership. I leave whorish comments on high-traffic blogs like Hirhurim, but a) I need to latch on to some thing at least semi-relevant, b) I still don't get more than about 40-50 readers.

By "whorish comments" I mean, "You say X, I'd like to say X' which seems relevant, by the way you might want to look at my post on Z"

And people who do post links to other blogs, like R' Waxman, how do I make him aware that I've written something that I think is pretty good, without making myself out to be begging?

thanbo said...

R' Yosef Wikler makes a point every year in his Yoreh Deah shiurim (he publishes Kashrus Magazine), that his rebbe R' (Chaim?) Zimmerman preferred machine to hand matza, because of the uniformity of machine matza, while a fold in hand-matza can hide real uncooked dough, which is real chometz.

We sometimes get 18-minute matza, but don't necessarily look for it for everything. We had to use machine matza for the sedarim this year, as every sheet in the box of hand matza which we bought, was shattered.

I figure it's nice to have one box of hand matza, for the sedarim, because of intent (although I'm given to understand that they employ non-Jewish women in some of the matza bakeries). Also, it's my name, Baker, shortened from Beckerman. My grandmother told us that her family baked the matza for the town, hence the name. So hand matza is a bit of a link with my great-grandparents.

Litvak said...

"I've been trying harder to write good things, but I still don't seem able to attract the readership. I leave whorish comments on high-traffic blogs like Hirhurim, but a) I need to latch on to some thing at least semi-relevant, b) I still don't get more than about 40-50 readers."

I would say not to take it personally. I think many other blogs are in the same boat. Very few blogs get the amount of visitors that Hirhurim does. And Hirhurim has a staff of several quite qualified contributors.

Also, not everyone understands and appreciates your posts on things like nusach hatefillah. Some of your posts are above the heads/radar screen/consciousness of the masses. Hey, I guess you could try to pander to the masses with sensationalism and pedestrian fare, but then you would just be another blogger. Keep up the good work, aiming for quality and don't worry too much about statistics. By the way, does your minyan (Yavneh) promote your blog in their newsletter or other materials? They should, since you cover what the Rav speaks about at times.

I don't know how old this blog is, but it is hard to 'make it big time' if you didn't start in time to be there when blogs exploded in popularity. People have a limited amount of time and are creatures of habit. So if they regularly visit specific blogs like R. Gil's, they are likely first to go there rather than try new (to them) ones. Also, some blogs are updated almost daily. This one is not. It's hard to know when new posts are there. Do you let the world know vis a blog aggregator like That could possibly help.

Litvak said...

Re R. Wikler shlit"a's Rebbe - I believe that is R. Asher Zimmerman z"l (brother of famous mohel R. Mordechai Zimmerman z"l), who he worked with in Yeshiva Birkas Reuven. As far as I know they were not related to R. Chaim Zimmerman, who was a nephew of the Gaon R. Boruch Ber Leibowitz of Kamenitz.