For many years, matzo ball soup has been joked about with such aliases as “Jewish chicken soup” or “Jewish penicillin”. There have even been college studies proving the medicinal benefits of this soup. Matzo ball soup has been part of Jewish culture for centuries whose history is unclear yet, as a culture, Jews cannot imagine Passover without it.
There are almost as many recipes for this soup as there are cooks; every person adds their own personal touch. Like most cultural recipes, each preparer will offer their opinion on whether it is acceptable to use the mix or if the soup must be made from scratch. Like the recipes, there are several spellings of “matzo” including “matza”, “matzah”, and “matzoh”.
The word “matzo” means “unleavened bread”. Today, the saltine-like crackers come to mind but, traditionally, the history of this bread is disputed. In the 13thcentury, BCE, the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt by the parting of the Red Sea, as told in Exodus 14: 15-30. It is said that they left in such a hurry that the bread did not have time to rise. Others say this type of bread was common as a traveling bread during those times and this is the reason matzo was carried with them.
Passover is the most important holiday for Jews, called the “Seven Day Feast of Unleavened Bread”, and celebrates God freeing the Jews from Egypt. The purpose of Passover, including the “Seder” on the final night, is to remember and learn from this period of Jewish history.
The Torah commands eating matzo or “poor man’s bread” the first night of Passover as a reminder of humility and poverty. The Torah further prohibits eating “chametz”, certain leavening and fermenting agents, although it does allow wine, which is central to the Passover Feast. This practice is so important to tradition that all leavened agents must be removed from the home. including pasta, rice, and grains.
One grain is allowed to prepare the matzo but then all traces of it must be removed and thoroughly cleaned. There are many steps to preparing the home for Passover as well as for preparing the foods.
When asked, many Jews will joke that matzo’s are so tasteless that they had to find new ways to prepare it. By crushing the matzo, adding eggs and oil, they created matzo balls that are similar to dumplings although they are firmer in texture.
These are dropped into chicken broth to cook and served as matzo ball soup. No one seems to know when the first soup was prepared but anyone can tell you, it was a very long time ago.
Today, matzo ball soup is firmly embedded into our culture and most Americans, including Christians, have probably sampled it at some point in their lives.
Often served with gefilte fish that is a fish without much “eye” appeal, a prominent Rabbi once said, “We are not in danger of it becoming the next Superbowl snack.”