Members of the Moveable Minyan, a Westside lay-led, egalitarian congregation, freed themselves from enslavement to matzah on Sunday by answering the seder's "fifth" question: What can you do with matzah aside from eating it?
Their idea: Build a matzah pyramid.
"People at the seder say matzah tastes like cardboard anyway," said Edmon Rodman, the pyramid visionary and head taskmaster. "Here's an appropriate way to see if it acts like cardboard."
Rodman, a developer of children's toys and pop-up books, put together a method to transform matzahs into building materials. (He figures the patent is probably worth about "three jars of gefilte fish.") An M-shaped steel clip ("M" for matzah) fastens two matzah pieces at the top edges so they form stackable triangular blocks that can be layered atop one another, like a house of cards.
The idea for the edible pyramid, which is likely the first of its kind, dawned on him while his mind wandered during a seder last year. A search revealed no previous attempts to build a matzah pyramid.
It's highly questionable whether or not Jews actually built the Egyptian pyramids, but Rodman sees the construction as fulfilling the mitzvah of retelling the Exodus.
"You say at the seder you're supposed to be b'nai chorin [free men]. Here you have an activity to do it," he said.
About a dozen Moveable Minyan members exerted their flour power at the parking lot of the Jewish Institute of Education on Third Street, home of the Minyan, to put Rodman's engineering plan to the test. They encountered a few structural difficulties, which Rodman attributes to "matzah irregularities." Next time they might consider using charoset as an extra sealant.
The pyramid design called for eight tiers using 100 standard pieces of matzah, with eight triangular blocks on the bottom, seven above it, then six, and so on. After about an hour of trial and error, during which the second layer of matzahs kept falling down like dominoes, the congregants readjusted the plan to create a pyramid standing 4-feet high that consisted of seven layers of 80 matzahs.
Moveable Minyan member Herb Hecht, an electrical engineer, happened to be on hand to offer advice: "You first have to maintain balance between the two uprights and the clip and, of course, to prevent outward forces from pushing the matzah in. This is the same principle that goes into the construction of European cathedrals."
The debate arose as to whether or not the pyramid violated the prohibition of ba'al tashchit, or wasting food. Someone suggested the matzah debris be donated to the homeless, to which Minyan member Pini Herman offered, "They'd use it for shelter."
Someone suggested eating the pyramid layer by layer. For Rodman, the educational and artistic value of the pyramid justifies a few discarded matzahs.
When the pyramid was finished, Rodman simply flicked the bottom layer until it all came tumbling down.
So what happened to the matzah?
"Some people ate some of the matzah, they threw broken pieces away, and people took the rest home," Rodman said.
Click the BIG ARROW to see Rodman build the pyramid