The Mitzvot of Seder Nights

The Seder nights hold a unique place in our religion. They are celebrated in one way or another, even by those who otherwise show little commitment to our traditions. It is only right, though, that the experience should be a genuine and meaningful one.

The Seder is not merely a social gathering. It must allow the opportunity for all to fulfil the command to recite the story of the Exodus of our people from Egypt. Therefore the Haggadah should be read and its contents understood. At the very minimum, the three paragraphs describing the meaning of Pesach, Matzah and Marror should be read in the language understood by all present. Everyone should also fulfil the Rabbinic ordinance of saying verses of praise (the “Hallel”) which is also found in the Haggadah.

Minimum Requirements
The Torah commands us to eat Matzah on Pesach night. One is therefore required not just to “nibble” Matzah but to “eat” it. This is defined as eating a piece “the size of an olive,” ie. The equivalent volume of 29 cubic cm of water. This translates to approximately 19 grams of matzah. This should be eaten in a time span of four minutes and while reclining to the left “in the manner of free men”. (It is the practice to eat more than this minimum amount - see the chart following this article.) This is approximately 1/3 of a hand made shmurah matzah of 2/3 of a machine matzah.

Shmurah Matzah
Normal machine-made Matzot, even if produced for Pesach under reliable supervision, are almost always supervised only from the time of the milling of the flour.
“Shmurah Matzah” (meaning “guarded” Matzah) has been supervised and protected from moisture, which could make it Chametz, already from the time of harvesting the grain. It is best to use “Shmurah Matzah” at the Seder, at least when eating the minimum amount necessary to fulfil the obligation of eating Matzah on Pesach night. This is in keeping with the Biblical verse, “and you shall guard the Matzah”.

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Minimum Requirements
The eating of the Marror together with the Pascal lamb on Pesach night was a Biblical command. Today, the eating of the Marror on its own is an ordinance of the sages. The minimum amount of Marror to be eaten, can therefore be taken as a somewhat smaller quantity: approximately 19 cubic cm. If lettuce leaves are used (see below), this is the amount of leaves which would cover an area of approximately 20 cm x 25cm. By eating this amount in a time span of preferably 4 minutes (but if necessary, up to 7 minutes), one has fulfilled the obligation of “eating” Marror.

What can be used as Marror (Bitter Herbs)
The Mishna Pesachim (39a) lists five types of plants which are considered as the “bitter herbs” to be used at the Seder. The commentaries can properly identify only three of these species today:

1. Romaine Lettuce stalks or leaves (Cos variety)
2. Pure horseradish stalks or leaves
3. Endives (escarole)

If horseradish, endives and the Romaine lettuce variety are unavailable, the next preference should be given to ordinary lettuce (the “crisp head” or
“iceberg” variety).

In reality it is lettuce that is the preferred type of Marror, even if it is not bitter. The fact that it may not have been as commonly used as horseradish was for the practical reason that lettuce was difficult to find in Europe at Pesach time, and also because, when found, it was very difficult to remove the worms and insects on it. The usual custom is to eat a proportionate mixture of both of these varieties (lettuce and
horseradish) though, of course, either one alone is perfectly acceptable.
The bitter herb used must be absolutely pure. It may not be mixed or preserved with anything, such as vinegar, which can affect its natural taste. Commercially produced horseradish relish, even if produced for Pesach, contains other vegetables and vinegar. This is true even of white horseradish relish. The blessing over the Marror may not be recited over such a mixture, as one has not fulfilled the obligation of eating Marror.

If none of the above mentioned herbs is available, then any bitter vegetable may be used in order to obtain a bitter taste, but as one does not really fulfil one’s real obligation in this manner the blessing for Marror may not be recited.

Minimum Requirements
Our sages decreed that at four different stages of the Seder it is necessary to drink a cup of wine. The obligation is to “drink” the wine, not merely to sip or taste it. “Drinking” is defined as at least a half a cup of wine each time - the cup having a volume of at least 87mls. The wine should be drunk each time without interruption while leaning to the left “in the manner of free men” (though, if necessary, one may take up to 4 minutes to complete each cup).

What can be used as “wine” for the four cups
All wines, grape juice and other beverages mentioned below must, of course, bear a reliable rabbinic endorsement that they are Kosher for Pesach (not just kosher).

1. The best wine to use is a red wine (unless one has a white one of superior quality). It should preferably not be sweetened with sugar (i.e. it should be naturally sweet or “dry”) so that one tastes the natural taste of pure wine.
2. If one finds it too difficult to drink wine the next preference is to use wine diluted with grape juice, so long as the stronger alcoholic taste of the wine is still discernible.
3. If one still finds this too difficult, the next preference is wine diluted with water to as much as one part wine to 2 1/2 parts water.
4. The next preference should be pure grape juice.
5. The next preference is grape juice diluted with water - again in the proportion of 2 1/2 parts water to one part of grape juice.
6. As a last resort, such products as raisin wine or any other Kosher for Pesach alcoholic beverage may be used.