A reprint of a special Passover featureWith Passover just weeks away, Jewish households around the world are purchasing or making their matzot (unleavened bread) for the festival.
One of Judaism's oldest customs, the baking of matza goes back to the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Ever since, Jews often went to great trouble to bake their cracker-like bread. Jewish communities in Europe and the Arab world faced "blood libels" for making their matza. Ancient synagogues in France built matza bakeries under their synagogues. Jews in Nazi concentration camps risked being shot to bake their Passover "bread." In the former Soviet Union, Jews baked their matza in secret, lest they be discovered and sent to the Gulag. During major wars, armies made sure to provide matza to their Jewish soldiers.
|A matza factory in Haifa. The signs on the left read "For the purpose of the commandment of matza" -- a reminder to the workers to keep their intentions on the commandment. The signs on the right, in Hebrew and French,|
read "No smoking" and "No Spitting" (from the "Cigarbox Collection" provided by Othniel Seiden, circa 1925)
|"No smoking or spitting"|
|'Keep in mind the matza commandment"|
|Children baking matza in kindergarten in the Holy Land. The teacher is in the center, and it appears there |
is a tiny oven in front of her. (Harvard/Central Zionist Archives, circa 1920)
Matza baking in the "New World" 150 years ago
|Caption: "General view of preparations and baking matzot, the unleavened bread for the Passover" (Frank Leslie's|
Illustrated Newspaper, New York, April 18, 1858, Library of Congress) Note the rabbi watching.
The Library of Congress Archives has preserved several 150-year old engravings of Jewish customs in New York from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. [See Purim celebration]
The story we bring today is unusual because of the writer's attempt to describe the New York Jewish community and the Passover holiday. The first element, rich in Faginesque imageries, would be considered anti-Semitic by today's standards. The second element, a description of the holiday customs, is woefully full of mistakes. Excerpts below:
The Israelitish race preserve to this day their peculiar characteristics as strongly marked, and their national prejudices is as full force as in the days of Darius, King of Persia. They exist among us, a distinct race, preserving an identity of their own... but whilst constantly intermingling in trade and business with the Gentiles, keeping themselves as separate from the uncircumcised dogs in all social and religious intercourse....They could not keep themselves more apart if they were walled out from the Christian world....
Any one taking a morning walk through Chatham street will meet enough men whose low stature, shining black eyes, crisp laky hair, stooping shoulders, and eager movements proclaim them of the Hebrew race, to convince him that Jews are prevalent in our city in large numbers. Exactly how many thousands of the Hebraic people have their present sojourning in New York we have no means of ascertaining, but the number is very considerable, and is on the rapid increase.
Weighing and kneading of the flour with the rabbi
The eating of the unleavened bread for the seven days of the Passover is obligatory on all of the Jewish faith, and it is observed with the most punctilious exactitude by all, old and young, and no matter how poor or rich. During the seven days this unleavened bread is the only sort permitted to be used, no meat is allowed, and no drop of wine or spirits or fermented liquors. Fish and some kinds of vegetables are eaten sparingly....
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