By: Rabbi Menashe Sasson
Reporting from Jerusalem, Israel
This article discusses what one needs for his Seder plate; the requirement to eat masa; Kiddush for the Seder; the four cups of wine; starting the Seder early; and, lastly, the minimum requirements for having a Halachically-valid Seder.
The Seder Plate
Maror [מרור], literally, means “bitterness” and is symbolic of the “bitterness” or harshness of slavery in Egypt. Romaine lettuce may be used; however, shredded horseradish is also acceptable. Although lettuce is usually not considered “bitter” by contemporary standards, during ancient times, lettuce was bitter.
Hazeret [חזרת], which also is bitter, literally means “horseradish.” Alternatively, romaine lettuce or endive may also be used.
Karpas [כרפס], literally, means “celery.” Karpas is dipped into a substance and then eaten at the beginning of the Seder. Sephardim often dip celery in vinegar or haroset (Yeminite custom). Ashkenazim typically dip a cooked potato in salt water.
Haroset [חרוסת], is a sweet mixture or paste. It symbolizes the mortar that Jews used in Egypt when building brick structures.
An Iraqi (Sephardic) custom is to use silan [סילאן], which literally means “date honey.” Often crushed walnuts are added to make it taste even better. When the Torah refers to “honey,” as in “a land flowing with milk and honey,” it is referring not to honey from bees, but rather, to date honey.
A Moroccan (Sephardic) custom is to make haroset by mixing crushed dates with wine, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
An Ashkenazi custom is to make haroset by mixing cooked apples, crushed almonds, wine, and cinnamon.
Beitzah [ביצה], literally, means “egg” and symbolizes the korban chagigah (festival sacrifice) that was offered in the Beit HaMikdash and then eaten during the meal on Seder night.
Z’roa [זרוע], literally, means “arm.” The z’roa is symbolic of the Korban Pesah, and is not eaten. A roasted lamb shank bone, or chicken wing or neck, may be used for the z’roa.
Many people use a specially-made Seder plate that has the names of the different items written on the plate, often in both Hebrew and English. One is certainly allowed to use such a plate; however, it is not required. Any plate of sufficient size will suffice. It is, however, appropriate to use a plate which is of high quality and which has an attractive appearance.
Eating masa [מצה], literally “unleavened bread” is the misva of Pesah. Many people have the custom of eating “shmurah” masa [מצה שמירה] at the Seder. “Shmurah” masa [מצה שמירה] is masa that has been supervised throughout the entire process of production, beginning with the harvesting of the grain.
There is some controversy over whether one is required to eat shmurah maza [מצה שמירה] during the Seder, as opposed to machine-made masa. Many respected and reputable authorities rule that one is permitted to use machine-made masa for the Seder. One who purchases masa should ensure his masa has been certified by a reputable halachic authority as being kosher for Pesah [כשר לפסח].
One may also make his own masa at home and it is commendable to do so.
Soft masa is also acceptable, and is also quite enjoyable!
There are a multitude of opinions on the subject of how much masa one must eat in order to fulfill the obligation to eat masa at the Seder. Reputable opinions hold that eating as little as one-half (½) to two-thirds (⅔) of a machine-made masa is sufficient.
Masa maybe crushed if a person has difficulty chewing.
Furthermore, it is not necessary, or even desirable, to use a template or similar device that has shapes drawn on it which purport to indicate the “proper” quantity of masa that a person must eat.
Notwithstanding that eating masa is the misva of Pesah, no one should be forced to eat masa, or to eat more masa than one is comfortable eating. The Seder should be an enjoyable experience; no one should be forced, or shamed, into eating something that he or she is not comfortable eating.
One is only required to eat masa at the Seder and during the Shabbat which occurs during Pesah; one is not required to eat masa on the other days of Pesah.
When Pesah coincides with Shabbat, Kiddush begins with “Friday. The heavens and the earth and all their hosts. . .
[. . . . יום הששי. ויכלו השמים והארץ וכל צבאם].
When Pesah begins on a day other than Shabbat, including Mosa’e Shabbat [מוצאי שבת], Kiddush begins with the blessing over wine [בורא פרי הגפן].
When Pesah begins Mosa’e Shabbat [מוצאי שבת], add (only on the first night outside of Eretz Yisra’el) the blessing over fire [בורא מאור האש] and the blessing of separation (also known as “Havdalah”) [המבדיל].
Then conclude, during all years (only on the first night outside of Eretz Yisra’el), with the blessing for having reached this occasion [שהחינו].
This sequence of blessings is printed in all Haggadot.
The Four Cups
A person should have four cups of red wine (or red grape juice) during the Seder. The minimum required volume for each cup is a “revi’it” [רביעית], which literally means a “quarter,” that is, “one-fourth.” The reference to a “quarter” is a reference to one-fourth of a Talmudic measurement of liquid know as a “log” [לג]. A “log” [לג], in turn, is one-twelfth of a “hin” [הין], which is approximately 320 milliliters. Thus, “revi’it” [רביעית] is one-fourth of 320 milliliters, that is, 80 milliliters.
Talmudic measurements were imprecise compared to contemporary methods of measurement. Accordingly, reputable opinions have held that a “revi’it” [רביעית] is probably equal to about 75-100 milliliters. The smallest standard size commercially-available kiddush cups typically hold 100 milliliters of liquid.
However, one need not consume an entire “revi’it” [רביעית] of each cup of wine (or grape juice). Instead, a two-prong test is used to determine the quantity that one must consume. A person must satisfy both prongs of the test. The first prong is that “most,” that is, something more than fifty-percent, of the contents of the cup must be consumed. The second prong is that a person must consume a quantity known as a “melo lugmav” [מלא לוגמיו], which literally means “full of sips” and which is understood to mean a “cheek-full” of the beverage.
Individuals who are unable to consume alcohol due to health considerations, including recovering alcoholics, may drink grape juice instead of wine.
Only one person, preferably the person leading the Seder, is required to drink the minimum amount described. If the person leading the Seder is not able to drink, then another participant may drink for him.
Starting the Seder Before Nightfall
The seder may be commenced before nightfall, provided that the first piece of masa is not eaten prior to nightfall.
The definition of “nightfall” is contested in Halakah and varies, depending on where one is located geographically. Check myzmanim.com or another reliable source for times in your location.
The Shortest Seder
In order to fulfill the mitzvah of performing a Pesah Seder, one must mention three things: 1. Pesah, 2, Masa, 3. Maror.
The person leading the Seder should endeavor to read as much of the Haggadah as possible, taking into consideration the needs of the others who are participating in the Seder.
If children are present, they, like everyone else, should be encouraged to participate to the extent that they are willing to do so. Regardless of levels of participation and knowledge, the Seder should be an enjoyable experience for all.
Hag Sameah [חג שמח]!
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Menashe Sasson is a Sephardic rabbi and American attorney who resides in Jerusalem, Israel.