Twenty-two years ago, a little girl approached Rabbi
Kestenbaum and she wept. "I will be bas mitzvah in a
few years and I won't be able to fulfill the mitzvah of
The little girl, who suffered from celiac disease, was the
catalyst for the production of gluten-free oat matzos used by
thousands of people worldwide.
People afflicted with celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten,
a protein substance contained especially in wheat flour. This
disease affects approximately one in 130 people.
Rabbi Ephraim Kestenbaum, who currently resides in London, is
a chemist by profession. He decided to research the
possibilities of producing gluten-free matzos. He said, "I
set about trying to find ways to do this seemingly impossible
At the same time in Manchester, Dayan Osher Westheim was also
conducting research to produce gluten-free matzos. The two
men joined forces and the idea was on its way to becoming
Rabbi Kestenbaum chose to try working with oats, whose gluten
level can vary significantly from crop to crop. After
personally testing samples from many farms, he found one with
a very low gluten level. The Rabbi supervised the harvesting
and sent the grain to Dayan Osher Westheim, where it was
ground by hand. The people there still remember the terrible
dust it generated.
The flour was then taken to a local matzo bakery where, with
Rabbi Kestenbaum's assistance, it was painstakingly baked
Since gluten is the elastic that holds dough together, baking
without it is very complicated, and many things need to be
constantly monitored to ensure a workable dough.
"I thought I was baking matzos for one little girl; I had no
idea how prevalent celiac disease was. But word spread like
wildfire, and soon I was flooded with requests."
Over the next few years, Rabbi Kestenbaum continued testing
field after field in search of a lower gluten level in oats.
Finally, on a farm near Edinburgh, Scotland, in a small
section just ten square feet out of many acres of fields, he
found a type of oat that — unbelievably —
contained no gluten! This phenomenon is extremely rare and
Rabbi Kestenbaum used all the oats from that small field to
reseed another part of the farm.
It is from this field that all the matzos are now produced.
The oats are constantly monitored to ensure that there has
been no contamination from other, gluten-containing
Twenty years ago Rabbi Kestenbaum was strengthened by the
support of HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt"l, with whom he enjoyed a
close relationship for many years.
"There are certain halachic requirements that apply," says
Rabbi Kestenbaum. "First of all, there must be at least five
or six days without rain — no simple matter in Scotland
— before we can harvest. Second, the grain must be cut
in the afternoon, when it is not moist from dew. Another
requirement is that it be cut prior to reaching full
Two years ago, the plan was to harvest the oats on a Monday,
just before the oats would ripen. On Friday morning at 5 a.m.
Rabbi Kestenbaum spoke to the farmer who told him: "The skies
are totally overcast; it's not raining yet, but it will
surely start soon."
"Reserve a room for me in the farmhouse, I am coming on the
"But you can only cut in the afternoon. It is not worth
coming. Why don't you come tomorrow?"
"I can't do that, it is our Sabbath tomorrow."
The farmer then placed a call to the Manchester Beis Din.
"All around the farm it was pouring," Rabbi Kestenbaum
recalls. "The sky overhead was black. We worked as quickly as
possible in the race against time, and as soon as the last of
the grain was in the silo, the rain came down. I have
experienced siyata deShmaya like this many times," he
At this stage in the process the grain — now called
groats — is packed into 440-pound (200-kilogram) bags
to be sent south to process. The mashgiach of the
Manchester beis din, who is there at every stage,
seals the sacks, and Rabbi Kestenbaum signs them.
Oats contain a very bitter enzyme that makes them most
unpalatable. Ordinarily, steam is injected into the groats to
remove the bitterness. This, of course, is not an option for
the matzos, as it would render them chometz. So an
alternative method had to be devised. For the first few years
the matzos did indeed have a very unpleasant taste, but not
any more. Through much trial and error Rabbi Kestenbaum came
up with an ingenious method involving much pounding and
shaking of the groats.
The processed oats are then sent to Suffolk to be milled.
Although Rabbi Kestenbaum has been working with this company
for over twenty years, he says this year the results were
In Israel (where the matzos are baked) Rabbi Kestenbaum
wanted to remill the oats, but most of the mills could not
work with coarse flour. He found one mill in Afula that used
a suggestion of his and produced satisfactory results.
The biggest market for the matzos is America, followed
closely by Eretz Yisroel. But the matzos are shipped to all
corners of the world, including Poland and Russia. Only
machine matzos are widely available, baked in
The story of gluten-free matzos has been written about in
various frum publications in Eretz Yisroel, but when
Rabbi Kestenbaum was asked for an interview by an anti-
religious paper, he had misgivings. Nevertheless, the
interview was scheduled, and as the Rabbi was explaining the
processes involved, he relayed the information that eating
matzo is a commandment from G-d.
The reporter was skeptical. "You are an intelligent person.
Do you really believe that it is a Divine commandment?"
Never one to turn down a chance to bring Jews closer to their
Creator, Rabbi Kestenbaum said he had no doubts
"Rabbi," said the irreligious reporter solemnly, "I have
never eaten matzos in my life, but this year I think I
Following the publication of the very respectfully written
article, Rabbi Kestenbaum's daughter in Eretz Yisroel
received over two hundred calls, with each caller saying how
the article prompted him to eat matzo for the first time
What a Kiddush Hashem had resulted — all because
of a crying little girl and a man who would not give up!
These matzos are distributed all over the world. Rabbi
Kestenbaum does not do this for a profit. He tries to break
even, but some years does not manage even that. For
information contact Rabbi Kestenbaum in England: (44-020)
8455 9476, or Fax: (44-020) 8455 3212; or Mrs. Perednik in
Israel: 02 930 9652