The ancient adage that “too many cooks spoil the broth” does not appeal to the thirty-five rabbis who come annually to 92 Attorney street to bake their own matzoths.
It is an old European custom that requires the orthodox Jew to bake his own matzoths. The only spot in this country where the rabbis may indulge in this time honored privilege is in the cellar owned by M. Weingarten and J. Deutch, said the rabbis. The bakery, some seventy odd years old, is rented by the owners for this special purpose.
Six weeks before Passover preparations begin. The walls of brick are white-washed, the broken stone floors scrubbed, the old-fashioned coal ovens rejuvenated, and the scene is laid for the Passover season. The matzoths for the “hoi poloi” are kneaded and baked by women. But the rabbis disdain to eat such common fare. Yearly, about thirty-five to fifty of them, usually the same ones, come on the last day before Passover, and bake their own supply. These matzoths are called Schmiroh matzoths.
THE DIFFERENCE IN MATZOTHS
Now the difference between Shmiroh and regular matzoths (for the benefit of those who are uninitiated into this mystery) is that the former is watched by rabbis from the picking of the wheat to its grinding into flour. The other matzoths are not so honored. After the flour has been packed into bags, it is stored in the cellar until time for baking. Yesterday a reporter watched the proceedings.
After walking down the stairs to the cellar, the outline of barrels grow visible in the dim light. These are filled with water which a rabbi ladles out and pours into a basin of flour. Near him stands another rabbi, a white apron tied around him, beard white with flour, kneading dough.
Every few minutes still another rabbi, garbed in a black satin coat and a strahnel, deshes in, fetches a piece of dough and dashes back into the next room. There the work is actually performed. All the rabbis–having come from mikvah and donned their Shabbos clothes–work the dough by hand. Before they begin kneading a batch a prayer called Halel is said over it. This sanctifies the work.
THIRTY-FIVE YEARS’ SERVICE
There is much noise. A mashgiach sits in a corner, a meerschaum pipe in his mouth, watching with eagle eyes that all is kosher. After the dough is rolled out it is flattened in a hand machine called a “reddle.” At this wheel works Reb Yankel, who has performed the sacred service for thirty-five years, and proudly displays a mangled hand as witness. The matzoths are then shovelled into the oven, baked crisp, and each rabbi takes home the fruits of his labor.
M. Weingarten, one of the owners of the establishment, declared: “This baking cost us more trouble than money every year. My father’s father began the business, and sort of handed it down to us. The rabbis turn out about sixteen hundred matzoths in the three or four hours that they bake, but they run things to suit themselves. We can’t tell them anything. If one of the matzoths is broken or chipped, the rabbis won’t use it. They claim it is no longer kosher. We have to sell all the broken ones by the pound to the poor. It’s a business!”