A controversy that has been raging for more than a hundred years is whether machine baked Matzot Shmurot are acceptable to fulfill the Mitzva to eat Matza at the Seder. In this essay we will present the background to this issue in the Gemara and Rishonim and then proceed to summarize the different opinions on this issue that have emerged among the great Poskim.
Gemara and Rishonim
The Gemara does not unambiguously state that Matza must be prepared specifically for the sake of Matza as it does, for example in the case of writing a Get. The Talmud clearly states that a Get must be written for the sake of the woman being divorced ("Lishmah," see Gittin 26a). What is clear is that the Torah (Shemot 12:17) commands us to watch the Matzot (U'shmarta Et Hamatzot).
The Gemara (Pesachim 38b) states that this Pasuk teaches that Matza must be "Mishtameret L'sheim Matza," watched for the sake of Matza. Rashi (ad. locum. s.v. U'shmartem) explains that the Torah requires two tasks when it demands us to watch Matza. First, to make sure that it does not become Chametz, and second, that one intend to make the Matza for the sake of the Mitzva. (This applies only to Matza to be consumed for the sake of the Mitzva to eat Matza.)
The Rosh (Pesachim 2:26), similarly, cites views from the Gaonim (Sh'iltot Tzav and Rav Kohen Zedek) that only Matza baked by a Jew is acceptable for usage for the Mitzva of Matza. This is because only Matza baked by a Jew can be considered baked for the sake of the Mitzva of Matza ("Lishma").
On the other hand, the Rosh presents the view of Rav Hai Gaon that Matza which was baked by a non-Jew but supervised by a Jew to ascertain that no Chametz was mixed in, is acceptable. In fact, the Ritva (Pesachim 40a s.v. V'ha) cites the Ra'ah who suggests that Matza does not have to be produced exclusively for the sake of the Mitzva. Rather, it suffices that the Matza be supervised for the sake of Matza. It should be noted that the Rambam's opinion regarding this issue is not at all clear. See Hilchot Chametz U'matza 5:9, 6:5, and 8:13 and comments of the Maggid Mishna to 5:9.
The Rosh concludes this by noting that pious individuals bake the Matzot by themselves. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 460:2) cites the Rosh and notes that it is proper for everyone to be personally involved in the Mitzva of baking Matzot. This author's cousin, Rav Yosef Singer (a well-respected rabbi who had served as a Rav in pre-war Poland) has urged this author to follow this in practice, noting that this was the practice in pre-war Eastern Europe.
Shulchan Aruch, Its Commentaries, and Codes
The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 460:1) rules in accordance with the views of Rashi and the Sh'iltot that Matza must be made by a Jew for the sake of the Mitzva of Matza (see further in Biur HaGra 460:1, Magen Avraham 460: introduction, Chatam Sofer 460:1, and Mishna Berurah 460:3). Common practice is for those involved in the preparing of Matza to expressly state (see Biur Halacha 460:1 s.v. Ein) that their actions are done for the sake of the Mitzva of Matza (as one who visited a Matza bakery will vividly recall). The Mishna Berura (460:3) and Shaar Ha-tziyon (460:4) note the lenient opinions among the Rishonim who can be relied upon in exceptional circumstances, that Matza merely supervised by a Jew but not produced by a Jew can be used for the Seder.
It is also important to note that the Rosh cites three opinions regarding from what point the Matza for the Mitzva must be watched that it not become Chametz. The Rosh suggests that it suffices to watch the Matza from the point of kneading ("Lisha"), but notes the practice among Jews in Germany and France to watch beginning from the time that grinding ("T'china") begins. He cites the Rif, however, who believes that it should be watched from the time of cutting of the grain ("K'tzirah"). This is the opinion of the Rambam (Hilchot Chametz U'matza 5:9) as well. The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 453:4) rules to a certain extent in accordance with the strict view, in that it is best to watch the wheat from "K'tzira." The Shulchan Aruch writes that at minimum the wheat should be watched from "T'china" and in case of great need it may be watched from the point of "Lisha." See, however, the Mishna Berura 453:24 on why today it is absolutely essential that the grain be watched from the point of grinding due to changes in the processing of grain.
The Mishna Berura (460:2) points out that in preparing Matzot not intended to be used to fulfill the Mitzva of eating Matza, one is not required to watch it for any other reason other than that it is best to be stringent that the Matzot that one consumes the entire Pesach be watched from the point of "K'tzira." The Aruch Hashulchan (453:23) similarly writes that it is undoubtedly preferable to restrict the Matza one eats on Pesach to that which has been watched from "K'tzira." This was the practice of Rav Soloveitchik (Nefesh Ha-Rav p. 189), in accordance with what many consider to be the Rambam's opinion.
Machine Shmura Matza
The introduction of machine made "Matza Shmura" in the nineteenth century aroused great controversy. Rav S.Y. Zevin presents the following history of the events regarding this issue:
A great controversy erupted among the rabbis. In every land there were those who were forbade [use of machine Matzot Shmurot] and those who permitted [machine made Matzot Shmurot]. In Galacia, Rav Shlomo Kluger of Brody ruled that it is certainly forbidden and Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson ruled that it is certainly permitted. Special publications were prepared that dealt only with this issue. The work "Moda'ah L'veit Yisrael" was composed by those espousing the strict view, and "Bitul Moda'ot" was written by those espousing the lenient view.
The basic arguments for this issue are as follows. Those who rule strictly point to the fact that minors, non-Jews, or those who are mentally incompetent are disqualified from preparing Matzot, because Matzot must be made "Lishma." Minors, non-Jews, and mentally incompetent individual are, halachically speaking, incapable of baking Matzot "Lishma" because only a mentally competent adult Jew is considered capable of making Matzot "Lishma."
The lenient opinion counters that if the individual who presses the button to begin the operation of the machine is a mentally competent adult Jew then that suffices to have the Matzot considered to be made "Lishma."
The strict opinion replies that pressing the button does not suffice to be considered as if one made the Matzot "Lishma." They argue that it is analogous to a water powered machine which performs "Sh'chita" upon an animal. The Gemara (Chulin 16a) explains that only the first (immediate) action ("Koach Rishon") is considered to be a valid "Sh'chita." Only the first action of the machine is considered to be an action that is performed by a person ("Sh'chita" must be performed by a person, see Mishna on Chullin 31a). Any subsequent "Sh'chitot" are considered to be invalid because the "Sh'chita" is considered to be performed by the machine." The person's actions are considered too indirect or remote to have the subsequent "Sh'chitot" be considered his actions. The "Sh'chita" is only indirectly caused by the person, (Grama), and thus is invalid.
Similarly, only the very immediate action of the Matza machine relates to the person who pressed the button. Afterwards, all the Matza is made by the "Koach" (force) of the machine and is analogous to Matza made by a non-Jew which is not considered to be made "Lishma."
The lenient argument is that by Matza the halacha does not require that the preparing action be performed by human action ("Koach Adam"). Rather, as long as the process of making the Matzot is begun "Lishma," the rest of the process is deemed acceptable, even though the process is not considered to be done by human action. The Chazon Ish (O.C. 6:10) explains that as long as the process is begun explicitly "Lishma," the remainder of the process is viewed as "Stama Lishma" and human action is not a requirement ("Stama Lishma" means, roughly, "automatic pilot Lishma," see Zevachim 2b).
Interestingly, there exists the same controversy as to whether wool which is spun by machine, but the process is begun "Lishma," is acceptable for "Tzitzit." Many Poskim rule leniently on this issue (aforementioned Chazon Ish, Achiezer 3:69, and Har Zvi O.C. 6). Indeed, Rav Soloveitchik stated in a public Shiur at Yeshiva University that machine made Matza Shmura is acceptable for use at the Seder.
Since the issue of the use of machine Matza Shmura is mired in controversy it seems that machine Shmura Matza should be used only in case of great need (as Rav Ovadia Yosef rules, Teshuvot Yechave Daat I:14). It is, however, undoubtedly acceptable for those who wish to follow the Vilna Gaon's celebrated ruling that whenever one eats Matza throughout Pesach he fulfills a Mitzva (although he is not required to do so, see Pesachim 120a). Similarly, machine Matzot Shmurot are certainly acceptable for those who wish to restrict their eating of Matza on Pesach to only that which was watched from the point of "K'tzira."