Your bread is flat, hard, thin and, probably, burned. (Please see the picture at right.) It's called matzah (also spelled matzoh, matzo, matza, etc.), and you think you're eating it because when your ancestors fled Egypt over 3,300 years ago, they didn't have time to let their bread rise. But is that really the reason?
Passover: The Real Meaning Of Matzah
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedmMessiah.com
Your bread is flat, hard, thin and, probably, burned. It's called matzah (also spelled matzoh, matzo, matza, etc.), and you think you're eating it because when your ancestors fled Egypt over 3,300 years ago, they didn't have time to let their bread rise. But is that really the reason?
1. Raised bread was discovered in Egypt at about the beginning of the dynastic period, sometime around 3100 BCE.
2. However, raised bread was very rare and was almost solely eaten by Egyptian aristocracy until much, much later.
3. Why? Because the type of wheat needed to make raised bread was rare and new, and it took hundreds of years to learn who to successfully develop it and raise it. All other types of grain, including earlier forms of wheat, either could not rise at all under any circumstances or could rise if they could be threshed (the process of loosening the edible part of a cereal grain like wheat from the hard and inedible chaff that surrounds it) without being toasted first. But no other grain could be threshed without toasting, meaning only this new type of wheat could actually rise.
4. Raised bread eventually became known outside of Egypt as Egyptian bread. But, again, this did not happen for a very long period of time. For example, the ancient Greeks had been trading with Egypt from about 600 BCE, but raised bread did not become commonly known in Greece until 300 years after that. The peoples of Northern Europe did not commonly have raised bread until late in the Middle Ages.
5. Egyptian peasants ate un-raised bread through almost all of antiquity because raised bread was either restricted to the nobility and/or was much too expensive for them to purchase.
6. Egyptian slaves (except, perhaps, slaves who served in the homes of nobility) did not have raised bread at the time of the Exodus or for many years afterward.
7. In other words, raised bread was special, unique food of the upper classes and was not known by the name or description of the common breads 99.9 % of humanity that ate bread ate.
8. Until about 1600 CE or so, all Jews ate matzah that looked like thick, soft Arabic flatbread. The cracker-like hard thin matzah most Jews eat today is a modern innovation.
9. The original raised bread was either made with ale or beer as the yeast source or used sourdough starter – a small chunk of unbaked dough from the previous day's baking left to sour overnight. Both methods were used well into the modern era until modern commercial yeast was developed and marketed. But real sourdough bread is still made and sold. (There's a bakery in San Fransisco, for example, that I'm told has been using starter that comes from its original starter for well over 100 years.)
10. Ale or beer is hard to mix into dough that is already made, but sourdough starter is not. This should mean that the ancient Hebrews either used sourdough starter had to bake the bread before adding it in.
11. Deuteronomy 16:3-4 says:
"3 You will not eat leavened bread with [the Passover sacrifice]; [instead,] for seven days you will eat unleavened bread with it, the bread of the poor [or, the bread of affliction], because in haste did you come out of the land of Egypt, [you will do this] so that you will remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life. 4 And there will be no leaven seen with you anywhere [for those] seven days…"
12. In reality, exclusively eating matzah on Passover forbade eating "modern" bread, bread which was still uncommon even at the very end of the time before the Common Era and which was not really authentic bread for most of humanity, even the Israelites. It also apparently served as a warning of sorts to teach people that the upper classes were, at least for these seven days, no different from everyone else.
13. Pat ha-bah ba-kisnin, bread that comes with pockets or holes, a halakhic category of bread the sages of the Mishna ruled circa 200 CE were mezonot, a food that did not require reciting the entire grace after meals recited by Jewish law over bread, and did not require ritual hand washing before eating, may even have originally been the new raised bread that was now much more commonly available and at a much cheaper price and the pita-style soft flatbreads that grew from it. These new breads were not as useful for eating full meals, because bread was used as a scooping utensil to shovel other foods into your mouth and to sop up liquids. The new breads would have quickly become mushy and would have been difficult to use as a tool for eating many foods. The old-style breads would have been more useful in those roles.
14. No one should use any of this information as an excuse to try to eat any type of bread other than matzah for Passover. Even if everything I wrote is correct, the law is what it is, not necessarily what it possibly should have been.