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This Matzo Isn’t a Mitzvah

Gluten-free matzo seems to offer deliverance for people with celiac disease and similar ailments. But this unleavened bread isn’t kosher for Seders.

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Gluten-free matzo-style squares are not for sacramental purposes. (Tablet Magazine)
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Off the Table

After a kosher-certifying agency deemed quinoa, the South American grain-like seed, Passover-compliant, it’s become a darling of the Passover table. But now rabbis are having doubts.

Eating matzo on Passover is a mitzvah. But it’s not easy for everyone: People who suffer from celiac disease or other ailments that render them unable to eat gluten—found in wheat and other grains, and their derivatives—can’t eat matzo.

Enter Yehuda Gluten Free Matzo, made with tapioca starch, potato starch, potato flour, pressed palm oil, natural vinegar, egg yolks, honey, and salt. It’s a significant development for the gluten-free set, since it carries the seal of the Gluten-Free Certification Organization, the leading program of its kind. It’s kosher for Passover, too. But that doesn’t mean it qualifies as a mitzvah: The Yehuda matzo is clearly marked “Not for Sacramental Purposes,” both on the box and the website. Why?

According to the Orthodox Union, an authority on certifying kosher food: “Regretfully, because one can only perform the mitzvah of eating matzot at the Seder with a matzo that is made from one of the five varieties of grain (barley, wheat, rye, oats, and spelt), eating matzot using any of the other flours that are gluten-free would still not enable one to fulfill the mitzvah.” Gluten is found in wheat, rye, and barley.

Susan Cohen, the filmmaker behind the 2010 documentary Generation Gluten-Free, says GFCO certification is “major for a matzo brand.” She tried Yehuda matzo after seeing it at Whole Foods, and she approves. “It has a solid crack and a nice feel, and it tastes good with things on it.” She’s right; the toasted onion-flavored variety of gluten-free matzo-style squares aren’t half bad, and the salty flavoring (120 mg of sodium in each piece of matzo) makes them taste more like a flatbread than matzo.

But Rabbi Menachem Genack, rabbinic administrator and CEO of the O.U., says that the gluten-free products made with tapioca aren’t really matzo at all, since the unleavened bread emblematic of Passover has to be made from one of the five grains. “You couldn’t make hamotzi on it,” he explained. There are two alternatives that can fulfill the matzo mitzvah in the eyes of the O.U.: Spelt matzo, which has a lower gluten content, can be substituted for regular matzo, as can oat matzo.

Cohen says that neither of those options is ideal. Even though it has lower gluten content than wheat, spelt is still a no-no for people with celiac disease, because it’s related to wheat. And while oats, by themselves, can be fine for celiacs, in practice, oats are easily cross-contaminated with wheat during the manufacturing process. “Hypothetically, if the matzo maker was buying certified gluten-free oats and had either a gluten-free manufacturing facility or tested the final product—if from start to finish, you had a gluten-free environment—then it would be fine,” she said. “[But] I don’t know if the people who are making the oat matzo are using certified oats.”

Genack allowed that different people have different sensitivities—and while unleavened bread made from anything other than the five grains wouldn’t qualify as a mitzvah, celiacs and others with gluten-sensitivities need not make themselves sick by eating halachically ordained matzo. “If someone can’t eat the matzo and it’s harmful to them, they’re not obligated to,” he concluded. “It really depends on what the condition is and how serious it is.”

Cohen is hardly deterred. “I have a very positive attitude as a celiac,” she explained. “I’ve learned that participation is always more important than whether I can eat something, so for me, participating and being at the Seder is what’s important.”

This year, Cohen will stick with the Yehuda matzo, and let another person at her Seder make the mitzvah with ordinary matzo. “Someone else will break the matzo,” she explained. “No big deal.”

Matzo and mitzvahs aside, recent years have seen an increasing range of gluten-free products for Passover, serving people with gluten-intolerance and allergies, as well as the one out of every 133 Americans afflicted with celiac disease—a genetic autoimmune disorder that causes antibodies to attack the intestine when gluten enters the system, a condition that some suggest affects Jews disproportionately.

The Manischewitz website has a ”health corner” that lists the company’s gluten-free kosher-for-Passover products—which include grape juice, apple butter, chocolate and vanilla cake mixes, and spiral-shaped noodles. Streit’s—long the go-to for Passover products, with their pink-wrapped boxes of matzo symbolizing the arrival of Passover in many grocery stores—now offers gluten-free kosher coconut macaroons. Though they don’t have the GFCO certification, they are made with sulfite-free coconut, invert sugar, sugar, potato starch, and egg whites, and contain eggs and nuts. Also available in the Whole Foods Passover section are Lilly’s Bake Shoppe gluten-free, lactose-free kosher-for-Passover chocolate-dipped chocolate macaroons, which are almost chocolaty enough to make you forget about all the stuff that’s not in them. Almost.

Thankfully, the traditional Passover meal is usually friendly ground for celiacs. “You’re still doing a meal heavy on protein, fruits, and vegetables,” Cohen explained. And, given the prohibition on bread products during Passover, meat isn’t prepared with flour the way it might otherwise be. At Cohen’s family’s Seder, where four attendees have gluten restrictions, they’ll serve protein, salad, and potatoes, which are “a gluten-intolerant person’s best friend”—potato starch is gluten-free. (Rice is another gluten-free gem, which is helpful for Sephardic Jews, who typically don’t refrain from eating kitniyot, which include rice, beans, and lentils, during Passover.)

Cohen says the holiday isn’t such a challenge for her anymore, thanks in part to the Yehuda matzo, which she calls a game changer. Besides, everyone who observes Passover pays a great deal of attention to everything they eat during the holiday, reading ingredients and checking for certifications; for celiacs, that’s business as usual. “You’re used to being in situations where you are paying attention to what you’re eating,” she said, “and making it work.”

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Chaya says:

If you’re going to get sick eating matzah, you’re not going to do it. So skip this mitzvah and celebrate pikuach nefesh. There is no need to be an idiot about it.

And if this gluten-free matzah is as close as you can get, so be it. It isn’t treif, and it isn’t chametz.

Brad Schwartz says:

In other news, people who are deaf cannot fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. And various people with medical issues can’t fast on Yom Kippur. I think you just have to accept that you can’t fulfill every mitzvah if you have a physical/medical limitation that stands in the way. God will understand.

Steve Rosenzweig says:

With the price of gluten free matzah at $6-$10 a box, I’ll pass. The rest of our Passover items are much more reasonably priced.

Ruth Gutmann says:

Why is this fanaticism suddenly rearing its ugly head?

There are Oat Matzos from a rabbi at Eagle Lodge, NW London. These oats are said to have been grown under his strict supervision.(Imagine him strolling the oat fields in Scotland!) The problem is however, that some people afflicted with celiac cannot tolerate oats! They taste like cardboard and cost approx. $33.00 a box.
Chag Same-ach!

Respectfully, I must note that it is poor journalism for the Tablet to quote Cohen saying “Hypothetically, if the matzo maker was buying certified gluten-free oats…“ and “…I don’t know if the people who are making the oat matzo are using certified oats.” Cohen clearly does not know much about the world of gluten-free matzo or gluten-free halachic observance. Why could the Tablet not do their own research? 3 minutes on google would tell you that both Lakewood Matzoh Bakery and Kestenbaum’s Gluten-Free Oat Matzos makes shmura matzo with CERTIFIED gluten-free oats. Certified gluten-free oats are safe for the majority of celiacs because they are free of cross-contamination from wheat or barley or rye (a minority of celiacs cannot digest oats of any sort, regardless of their being shown through testing to be gluten-free). I am a nutritionist specializing in gluten-free diets, and gluten-free kosher diets in particular… and I find it frustrating to see people who are neither nutritionists nor rabbis hypothesizing negatively about a product (gluten-free oat matzo) that has in fact made it possible for many people to fulfill an important mitzvah. Word of caution: Some people feel that today’s “oats” are not, in fact, the same grain referred to halachically and therefore do not fulfill the mitzvah of matzo or the mitzvah of challah – So check with your local halachic authority.

For gluten-free Pesach recipes, feel free to check out my blog. Although it’s not up

Sorry, just wanted to finish my comment from above – Though my website’s not up to date there are a lot of Pesach recipes and product reviews for gluten-free folks.

http://glutenfreebay.blogspot.com/search/label/passover

Please re-consider your sensationalist and misleading headline. This article is about matzo that isn’t really matzo (Yehudah’s matzo-like crackers)… there IS actual gluten-free matzo available that most rabbis I’ve spoken to agree fulfills the mitzvah and I’d hate to see you unintentionally discouraging people from pursuing it.

Jason M says:

Very well said, Chaya and Brad.

Errant Nonsense – another example of Rabbis punching their union card and ensuring their job security. First of all, the “5 grains” are not biblical – with a couple of exceptions, none of them grew in Israel during biblical times, e.g., oats. They are medieval substitutes for the original five grains. Secondly, the whole “certified kosher” and “kosher for passover” is an employment plan for old Jewish men who make their living with these certifications and who would not recognize my Reform practice or my (female) Rabbi anyhow. And “hamotzi” simply says “brings forth bread from the earth” – how would non-wheat bread not qualify.

Thank you, Tablet, for changing the main headline – This is a start. Still, you should be talking about how *some* gluten-free matzo isn’t kosher for seders, not making inaccurate overgeneralizations. I appreciate your responsiveness.

kenedal says:

It this petty inessential nitpicking which turns so many of us off kashrut. Surely the overwhelming intention of dietary laws should be health and nutrition?.But these are relegated by an absurd focus on the marginal and unimportant.And a rabbinical delight in pronouncing asoer! (forbidden)

Scott Wolf says:

Ummmm….Gluten Free Oat matzah is available, and it is expensive, but it’s out there…..More research, less speculation please. And “low gluten” to a celiac is like saying a little bit pregnant. Happy Pesach!

Laura Kooris says:

I, too, am a gluten sensitive Jew. And I believe that somewhere in the Laws there is a provision that overrides the strict interpretation about whether someone breaks kosher tradition with another product or habit if there is a concern for their health or safety. For instance, young children, pregnant women, older adults, and terminally/seriously ill people don’t fast on Yom Kippur and it is accepted because of the extenuating circumstances regarding their health. I feel the Yehuda GF matzoh falls into the same category during Passover for those of us with celiac or diagnosed gluten sensitivity. And while we will have a couple of people at our house during Passover who are not GF individuals, I will not allow gluten in our house because we have to avoid cross-contamination or the chance of it occurring. So given these concerns, I leave it between me, my guests, and G-d to determine whether or not we are performing the Mitzvah. Heaven forfend that the strict Rabbis have celiac disease and don’t know it (that’s quite possible, too!).

Hannah K. says:

Thanks for the information in this article! I especially appreciate knowing that if one cannot eat the matzah it is allowable not to eat it. I’ll happily let someone else at my seder say the brachah for the matzah. However, I have to say, I’m still pretty bummed there aren’t some pesach alternatives for people like me who are allergic to potato. Nearly everything certified gluten-free has potato and corn starch, which I’m also unable to eat. Maybe someday…

Way to make people who can’t eat gluten feel even worse about still trying to meaningfully participate in our holiday. I have to echo the comments above about lower gluten grain Spelt. Even one crumb of gluten is extremely dangerous to those with Celiac disease. A fair amount of gluten can cause a host of symptoms even for those with “only” gluten intolerance. I’d rather have those $33/box Oat Matzot. They’re tasty and kosher for Passover. But they’re extremely pricey and must be ordered from England far in advance. The author of this article far underestimates just how far removed from eating habits other people take for granted. A night out with friends. An unplanned snack while shopping. But also, the most celebrated Jewish holiday. It would be great to see a follow-up that includes the perspectives of people who can’t eat gluten and how the conditions affect the ability to participate in communal Jewish activities.

Fran Levine says:

Seems reasonable to me that this would be kosher based on traditions of health and compassion which are the major underpinnings of kashruth.

I’m so excited. I just found a Gluten Free Passover cookbook on iTunes from glutenfreematzo.com – the recipes look awesome.  http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/gluten-free-passover-cookbook/id510576449?mt=11

Boo.  Show me where in the Torah it mentions  the matzo has to be made of barley, wheat, rye, oats, or spelt.  OH, right, it doesn’t!.   Just a silly made up rule to oppress people with celiac disease.  Epic fail.

Rivka D says:

Gluten free Oat Matza is available, yes it is certified gluten free and many people with celiac across the country use it. It ships to Baltimore from England, then is shipped to consumers. Unfortunately, It is amazingly expensive – but it does fulfill the mitzva of eating matza. This is NOT a “paid advertisement” of any type, just an effort by someone who is gluten free to give useful information to others. Shipper’s address is oatmatza@gmail.com

Leah . says:

Actually, there is acceptable gluten-free oat Shmurah matzo made:

http://www.lakewoodmatzoh.com/matzoh-gluten-free

But only the one at the bottom of that page is acceptable for the mitzvah unless your shul allows for machine-cut matzot for the seder (mine doesn’t), then the first one would also, but not the middle one on that page.

My Chabad Lubuvitch (chassidic) rabbi said the bottom one is acceptable and has allowed me to use it at his seder table.

Also, a reminder to those of us who are stocking up on gluten-free foods this Pesach—check labels! Matzoh meal is so common an ingredient. Personally, I’m looking forward to finding getfile fish without matzoh meal in it!

sperlings5 says:

I look at the rabbi’s words on the Yehuda matzah and then I look (with great dismay) at the Pepsi marked “Kosher for Pesach”–where is the justice in this? So, whether gluten intolerant or celiac, we can’t perform the mitzvah, but folks who just can’t live without their Pepsi for a week are ok.

levinjf says:

I too am gluten intolerant, but being 73, I was not raised to think the world or halachah revolves around me, so it never occurred to me to whine about what the Orthodox rabbis do or do not permit. If you don’t believe in the authority of the pope, you are a Protestant, and if you don’t believe in Rabbinic Judaism, be a Karaite! And stop whining and demanding that the rabbis change everything for you. It’s a free country–put bread, oranges, or a pork chop on your Seder plate–no one really cares what you personally do or eat.

I also lack a sense of smell, and am forbidden from reciting the second blessing of havdalah. It hasn’t occurred to me to demand that I be allowed to, maybe, lick something instead. For G-d’s sake, stop WHINING, people. This is why older folks think you are a bunch of narcissists!
And by the way, oat matzah does taste terrible, but it helps to remind us the real purpose of the seder–to experience the sufferings of our ancestors in Egypt, not to enjoy a gourmet feast.

Judy says:

Just found this website a year out of date..however the ‘coeliac tune’ on the gluten free matzo packs is the same! What the?? If I am a coeliac and running a seder for me and my partner, who is not a coeliac then I am serving and including my gluten free matzo as the ‘real thing’ cos this is as close as I can get and the ceremony of Seder is about inclusion!
I am sure the Lord above is not worried about whether I use gluten free matzo or the regular one! I’m also sure my parents who are in heaven would look down to see my celebration of the Passover seder as good!

Andy B says:

Lakewood Matzoh Bakery makes shmurah oat matzo that is certified gluten-free. (Hand-made and machine-made, both shmurah). Keep them in mind for next year.

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This Matzo Isn’t a Mitzvah

Gluten-free matzo seems to offer deliverance for people with celiac disease and similar ailments. But this unleavened bread isn’t kosher for Seders.

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