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Sunday, June 30, 2013

NYT: Battle For Best Matzoh Brings Satmar Rebbe To Arizona

Yuma, AZ - The ongoing battle for religious one-upmanship between warring factions of New York’s Satmar has plunked a contingency of ultra-Orthodox rabbis in the arid town of Yuma, Arizona, where, for seven weeks, they have painstakingly overseen the harvesting of wheat which they hope will allow them to lay claim to New York’s best matzoh.

A NEW YORK TIMES article profiling the harvest reveals an operation that intricately weaves together strict ultra-Orthodox religious guidelines, modern technology and the science of farming, and if all goes well, the cooperation of Mother Nature.

On a farm owned by a Christian farmer Mr. Tim Dunn, , just five miles from the Mexican border, the Satmar Rebbe, Reb Aaron Teitelbaum, traveled to Yuma, last Monday to give his blessings to the newly harvested wheat, specifically planted in the extremely arid western climate which rarely sees rain in the springtime.

Two rabbis spent seven weeks camped out in trailers abutting the wheat fields, overseeing the forty acres of wheat growing in the southwest corner of Arizona, known for its low humidity and listed by Guinness World Records as the sunniest place on the planet, in order to be able to give assurance that the wheat had not come into contact with moisture of any form, including rain, once it had matured.

Despite scorching temperatures, workers were not allowed to carry water in the wheat fields and the unpaved roads could not be washed down in order to ensure that the wheat stayed completely dry.

The decision by Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum on Yuma began five years ago after an exhaustive scientific search of national weather patterns revealed Yuma to be one of the most arid spots in the U.S. during the wheat harvesting season, and with his brother Rabbi Zalman still using wheat harvested on the East Coast, it seemed a natural fit that the dry southern Arizona climate would allow him a “leg up” in claiming that his matzoh adheres to a more rigorous religious standard.

Despite the temperatures estimated to be at 108 degrees, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum the Satmar Rebbe was on site at the wheat fields on Monday, June 24th, giving his blessing to the wheat as the harvest began.  

The grain will be transported by train to Elizabeth, New Jersey after being cleaned and packed into sealed containers and once it arrives in New Jersey the grain will be sent to matza bakeries in both Brooklyn and Kiryas Joel, with baking set to begin five months before Pesach.

Rabbi Eli Hershkowitz, manager of the Rutledge Street Satmar Central Matzoh Bakery, estimates that Brooklyn bakeries will produce 80,000 to 100,000 pounds of matza using the Yuma wheat.

Professor Samuel Heilman, a sociology professor at Queens college whose research focuses on Orthodox Judasim described the decision to use wheat grown in the dry heat of the west, instead of the rainy East Coast climate as a form of one-upmanship between the two rival Satmar factions.

“One is always looking to be more authoritative than the other and one of the ways they’re making this happen is over matza,” explained Professor Heilman.  “Our matza is more kosher than yours, we’re more scrupulous and careful over matza baking than you are.”

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