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Q&A

Why didn't the dough rise during the night of the Exodus?

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When it comes to the bread, my plain understanding of the Exodus is that the Israelites left Egypt with dough (Exodus 12:34) and later baked it into unleavened bread because it had not risen (Exodus 12:39). That's what I've always understood, from the torah and from the haggadah: the dough did not rise even though some hours passed between when they kneaded it and when they baked it.

Over the last year I've learned to bake bread (I mean without using a bread machine). I've learned that dough, after kneading, left overnight rises, and that if you deflate it and shape it, it rises again, and then when you put it in the oven it rises some more. I'm not using commercial yeast but a sourdough starter, which has its roots in wild yeast.

But that's modern, so I tried to learn about how bread was made in ancient Egypt. I found this article describing a reconstruction of the process and, sure enough, the photos there are not of large fluffy loaves that we sometimes see today. (This diminished rise appears to be due to differences in the flour, both type and fineness of milling.) But it's not flatbread either; the dough, starting with wild yeast, did rise noticeably in the process. (My early loaves looked kind of like that, before I got past some beginner mistakes.)

I'm not an expert in either torah or baking. I'm trying to reconcile what the torah tells us with what I've learned empirically. What made the difference? Why was the Israelites' bread unleavened when they started with a dough that, I infer, they would have expected to rise under normal conditions?

Did the fact that they moved the dough (hastily and under pressure) make a difference?

Was their breadmaking process different from what I understand and they would have needed to do something to cause it to be leavened, a step that they missed because they were fleeing? (In particular, they probably didn't bake this bread in an oven, given that they were on the move, but how did they bake it?)

Did they do something to prevent it from rising?

Do any of our sources comment on this?

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5 comments

"Did the fact that they moved the dough..." there is a halacha in regards to baking matzos, that as long as you are actively working with the matzos, even longer than 18 minutes, it does not become chametz. Dani‭ 18 days ago

My take on the story, which may or may not be correct, is that the Jews: (a) baked Matzah in advance on Pesach night, in order to eat Matzah as commanded and then, (b) prepared dough in the morning as they would as part of their usual routine of baking each day and that dough is the dough that did not have time to rise (as opposed to the first dough where it was planned), but not that dough was prepared and left to sit all night. manassehkatz‭ 18 days ago

@manassehkatz weren't they gone by morning? And even if not, we would expect it to take at least a few hours to leave Egypt and get to a place where they could start baking that day's bread, no? Monica Cellio‭ 18 days ago

I thought they made the dough in the morning, and it didn't have time to rise by the time they left. Is it obvious they made the dough at night? Or you're asking why didn't they? robev‭ 18 days ago

@robev the chronology suggested by the text is: Paro summoned Moshe and Aharon "in the night" and told them to get out, the Egyptians urged the Israelites to go, and the Israelites took their dough. It doesn't sound like they set out to make dough after the order to leave; they must have already had it. What am I missing? Monica Cellio‭ 18 days ago

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