Preserving Legacy, Embracing Change: A Conversation With Manischewitz’s Rabbi Aron Hayum

Helen Shere April 16, 2024

add or remove this to/from your favorites

Sponsored by Manischewitz

In the world of kosher food, few names carry the weight of tradition and nostalgia quite like Manischewitz. For decades, the brand has been more than just a purveyor of delicious treats – it’s been a cornerstone of family gatherings, a trusted companion during travel, and a source of familiarity and comfort during challenging times.

The beloved brand embarked on a rebranding journey in 2024, unveiling a fresh new look to their familiar packaged foods. To learn the story behind Manischewitz’s transformation and to understand how the brand balances innovation with honoring its rich heritage, Kosher.com had the pleasure of sitting down with Rabbi Aron Hayum, Kosher.com test kitchen mashgiach and long-time Manischewitz employee.

Thank you for taking the time to meet, R’ Hayum. Can you tell our readers more about yourself and your role at Manischewitz?

I’ve been a full-time member of the Manischewitz company since 2007, and since then have moved into management in kashrus and purchasing. In addition, I’ve become the company’s unofficial historian over the years.

What’s the most meaningful part of working at Manischewitz?

To me, the most meaningful part of working at Manischewitz is that we all understand that what we do goes far beyond the grocery store, kitchen, or dinner table. For so many of our consumers, Manischewitz is their only connection to Yiddishkeit. One of my favorite pieces of Manischewitz memorabilia is a letter we received from a woman in Cincinnati who found a Manischewitz meal planner from 1958 in her mother’s home. This was one of her only connections to Judaism, and she was moved enough to share it with us. I am inspired by the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives through my work.

Additionally, I am proud of the innovations we have developed here at Manischewitz. We recently released a new boxed mac and cheese product, which took a lot of work to get out to the market. 

Can you give us a brief history of the Manischewitz company?

Of course! Manischewitz was founded in 1888 by Rabbi Dov Behr Manischewitz, a talmid of Rav Yisroel Salanter. The company was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio, when R’ Manischewitz saw that there was a need for matzah that was kosher for Pesach. Starting as a matzah bakery, the company slowly grew to include additional types of food for Pesach and year-round.

Not many people know this, but after R’ Manischewitz had established a stable business, he founded a yeshiva in Yerushalayim (called – what else? Yeshivas Manischewitz). The yeshiva educated several well-known rabbonim, and they had a unique approach to fundraising. They would take photographs of students in the yeshiva, alongside a photo of the smicha they had received, and send those photos to donors to inspire donations. 

As you know, the Manischewitz company predates the OU or any kashrus organization in the United States. How was kashrus handled at R’ Manischewitz’s matzah bakeries before the company came under OU supervision?

When the company was founded in 1888 and only produced matzah, R’ Manischewitz began by asking for a letter of approbation from every Rav that came through Cincinnati and saw his factory. Over time, a board of rabbis was established for the company that set kashrus policy and provided supervision. It was notable that this board of rabbis included rabbonim from across the country and across a variety of backgrounds and minhagim.

In 1928, Manischewitz appointed Rabbi Hochstein from Eretz Yisrael to be the company’s first chief mashgiach. The board of rabbis would give the company direction, and Rav Hochstein would supervise operations and ensure quality.

Years passed, the rabbis on the board began to retire, and Manischewitz leadership recognized that the younger generation was more aligned with organizational kashrus supervision. In the 1980s, Manischewitz began working with the OU and began selling products bearing OU certification. It was a fairly simple transition, as the rabbis on the board stayed on until retirement while the OU conducted independent kashrus analyses. 

Manischewitz is credited with creating the first square matzahs. How did that come to be?

Producing square matzah was a matter of efficiency. The original machine matzah was round, but if you’ve ever made a round pastry, you know that the shape leaves dough behind that needs to be re-rolled and cut. Because matzah must be made within 18 minutes of mixing the dough, you’re either on an incredible time crunch to re-roll your scrap dough, or you have a tremendous amount of waste. Square matzah avoids that extra work and extra waste. 

Additionally, square matzah is easier to pack into boxes, and safer to ship without breaking than round matzah. 

It sounds like Manischewitz has always been on the leading edge of innovation for Pesach products! How else has the company led the way in Pesach food production?

Manischewitz has a rich history of responding to customer needs. Soon after establishing his matzah factories, Rabbi Manischewitz realized there were other areas of opportunity, like wine, which was not readily available for kosher consumers, and he stepped in to fill that gap. 

Over the years, the company has kept up with food and cooking trends. For example, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, cake mixes from companies like Betty Crocker became popular with home cooks. Manischewitz saw that families appreciated the ease of cake mixes and began producing kosher for Pesach cake mixes in the 1950s as well.

Speaking of Pesach, Manischewitz’s recent rebrand came out just in time for the holiday. Can you tell our readers about the story behind the new packaging?

Yes! This rebrand was led by our Chief Marketing Officer, Shani Seidman, and was pulled off in less than a year. The rebrand affects our global audience, not just the USA. 

One thing that Manischewitz has always done well is walk the fine line between the “old” world and the “new” world. For example, most of Manischewitz’s original packaging was written in English on one side and Yiddish on the other, to be able to reach both the traditional consumer and a younger, more modern crowd. 

Our goal is to use our new, modern packaging to reach our younger generations and invite them into the story of Jewish food. We want them to see themselves in our products and to recognize that Manischewitz is part of the story of their family and the story of quality food. At the same time, we want to continue to convey the comfort and quality of our brand for older generations. We’re the same Manischewitz you’ve always known, but with a new face for the next 130 years.

What’s next for Manischewitz in the next 5, 10, 130 years?

Manischewitz will continue to keep its finger on the pulse of what’s trendy in the general food market while keeping true to its core connection to quality and kashrus. We have seen how, during the COVID-19 pandemic, people moved back into their kitchens and away from packaged convenience foods. In response, Manischewitz has developed more “DIY” products, like par-baked goods that are finished in the consumer’s home oven, to cater to that trend.

We anticipate continuing to maintain a balance between old and new, and we’re looking to expand outside the kosher aisle in years to come.

You can find all of Manischewitz’s latest products on Amazon and at most grocery stores in the U.S.

A very special thank you to Rabbi Aron Hayum for taking the time to speak with us for this interview.