What is Chametz?
We all know that the definition of Chametz is a grain of flour which comes into contact with water and stays this way for long enough until it leavens. We must now determine how it is possible to wet the Matzot in one’s home with water. Should we not be afraid that the flour contained in the Matzot will leaven? Rather, the answer to this is that once flour has been baked, we are no longer worried about it becoming Chametz, for it has already lost its ability to leaven.
The Concern Regarding Steeped Matzah
Nevertheless, some of the great Acharonim are of the opinion that one may not soak in water Matzah that has already been baked, for we are worried that there are some particles of flour in the Matzah that were not baked properly and still has the ability to leaven when coming in contact with water. This is the problem of “steeped Matzah” referred to in certain food products, for some of our Ashkenazi brethren have the custom to act stringently regarding this matter, i.e. not to wet baked Matzah with water. This custom is especially prevalent among the Chassidim for this is indeed the opinion of Hagaon Harav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Ba’al Ha’Tanya, among others. (See Mishnah Berura Chapter 458, Subsection 4).
The Majority Opinion Among the Poskim
However, most Poskim agree that one need not worry about this issue at all. Based on this, most of the Jewish nation, especially Sephardic Jewry, customarily permits soaking Matzah completely. This is indeed the ruling we follow without any concern whatsoever. (This is especially true regarding the Matzot in our times when the concern of flour which has not been baked is quite farfetched.)
Cakes and Cookies
Thus, it seems that one would be permitted to mix “Matzah meal” (flour made out of ground Matzah) with water to make different kinds of cakes and baked goods, for flour that has already been baked can no longer become Chametz.
Nonetheless, one of the great Sephardic luminaries, Hagaon Harav Chaim Benbenishti, writes in his Sefer Knesset Ha’Gedolah that it is forbidden to make cakes on Pesach using Matzah meal, for people may see these kinds of cakes and interpret that they are made from regular flour and come to the conclusion that one may bake cakes on Pesach using regular flour.
However, the great Peri Chadash (Hagaon Harav Chizkiya di Silwa, 5419-5458) rules leniently on this matter and proceeds to support his opinion. Similarly, Hagaon Harav Yitzchak Tayeb zt”l (one of the greatest scholars of Tunis) disagrees with the Knesset Ha’Gedolah in his Sefer Erech Ha’Shulchan (Chapter 461, Subsection 3), for we do not find that the Sages of the Talmud were concerned that people would come to make such a monumental mistake and we cannot make such decrees on our own after the conclusion of the Talmud. Many other Poskim, including Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l, rule accordingly.
Summary: The custom of Sephardic and most of Ashkenazi Jewry is to permit eating baked Matzah that was soaked in water. It is similarly permissible to make any kind of baked good on Pesach using flour made from ground Matzah. One need not worry about soaking this kind of flour in water or about what conclusions people may arrive at as a result of this.
Those who have customarily acted stringently with regards to steeped Matzah on Pesach should continue following their custom and they should not act leniently even by performing an “Annulment of Vows”.