Image courtesy of dremiel
While not technically part of the seder plate, matzoh is too important a part of Passover to pass over here. If you believe Martin Blaser, the Frederick H. King Professor of Internal Medicine at New York University Medical Center, however, matzoh actually predates Passover and its affiliated Exodus. Blaser thinks that matzoh, which relates to the traditional disposal of yeast and bread products from the house during Passover, actually originated as a defense against plague-spreading rats. "This festival of the unleavened bread goes back thousands of years in Palestine," said Blaser. "Whoever wrote the Bible, human or otherwise, knew the ecology of plague." In his view, residents of the Middle East learned early on that grain attracted rats, and that rats carried the deadly bubonic plague. Thus, the holiday where grain is cleared out of the house coincides with the time of the year when the rats would emerge from their winter burrows, plague-infested and hungry. Blaser says his theory is corroborated by the relatively low mortality rates among Jews during a 16th century plague outbreak in Venice, Italy. Matzoh may be flavorless, but Blaser claims the tradition of eating it has saved thousands of lives.