Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Broken Matzah

Whether one is in North America, Europe or Asia, the Passover seder is almost always familiar due to the universal text of the Haggadah. Through the course of time, however, different communities have developed customs that are unique and beautiful. In preparation for Passover, Jewish Treats presents a few interesting variations of one such custom.

The fourth step of the seder is the breaking of the middle matzah, which is known as yachatz. Among Jews of Syrian descent, the middle matzah is specifically broken into the shape of the Hebrew letters daled and vav. The origin of this custom is related to kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). The letter daled represents the number four, while vav is the number six. Together they represent the Ten Sephirot, the mystical powers that bind the structure of the world together. 

Among North African Jews, there is a similar custom of breaking the middle matzah into the shape of the letter hey. Hey not only represents God’s name, but it is also the first letter of the Aramaic passage in the Haggadah that begins Hah Lach’ma Ahn’yah. (“This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat...”) The matzah broken into the shape of the hey is passed around to be held over one’s head as each seder participant recites the Hah Lach’ma Ahn’yah paragraph.

The custom of having each seder participant personally recite Hah Lach’ma Ahn’yah is also found among Persian Jews. Instead of the broken matzah, however, the Persian Jews pass around the three matzot of the seder table wrapped in a white cloth. 

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