The following contains halachic guidance concerning some of the common issues that arise when conducting a Seder. In particular, it discusses preparation for the Seder, the four cups of wine, and the obligation to eat matza, marror, korech and afikoman. It is by no means comprehensive. For a more comprehensive guide, see HaSeder HaAruch by Rabbi Moshe Yaakov Weingarten (three volumes, 1431 pages).
Preparations for the Seder
A person should complete all of the necessary preparations for the Seder on Erev Pesach to enable him to start the Seder without delay.1 (If Erev Pesach falls on Shabbos, he cannot prepare for the Seder on Erev Pesach since he may not prepare for Yom Tov on Shabbos from one day of Yom Tov for the next day.)
The following preparations should be made prior to Yom Tov:
1. If horseradish is being used for marror, it should be grated.2 If one forgot to do this, then he may grate it on Yom Tov if he employs a shinui and grates in an unusual manner, such as grating it onto the table rather than onto a plate.3
2. If lettuce leaves are being used for marror, they should be checked to ensure that they are not harboring insects.4 To check romaine lettuce leaves one should separate the leaves, soak them in water, and then make a thorough leaf by leaf inspection. Any insects which are found must be removed. Alternatively, he may use romaine stalks for marror instead of the leaves.5 To do this, he should remove the leaves from the stalks and rinse them under a strong stream of water, rubbing the stalks during the rinsing. No further checking is required.
3. Prepare the karpas vegetable and the salt water into which it will be dipped.6 Any vegetable may be used for karpas, except those which may be used for marror.7 However the custom is to use celery,8 radishes,9 or cooked potatoes.10
4. Prepare the charoses.11 The ingredients for charoses typically include grated apples, almonds and other nuts,12 cinnamon, ginger and red wine. 13 The charoses should have the texture of apple sauce.14
5. The bone which will be used for the Zroa on the Seder plate should be roasted over a fire, as was done to the Korbon Pesach.15 Some people first boil the Zroa and then singe it over a flame.16 It is preferable to use the forearm of an animal or bird, which is the Zroa bone.17 The equivalent limb of a chicken is the part of the wing that is directly attached to the body.18 The Zroa must have some meat on the bone.19 It may not be eaten on the Seder night, because we do not eat roasted meat at the Seder.20 The meat of the Zroa (which has been cooked before Yom Tov) should ideally be eaten on the second day of Yom Tov, as it is not proper to dispose of the Zroa in an unfitting manner.21
7. Open the wine bottles to be used at the Seder. In particular, wine bottles that have a screw cap should be opened before Yom Tov.24 One should also open the boxes of matza that will be needed for the first days of Yom Tov.25
9. Set the Seder table with elegant dishes and arrange the chairs which will be used for leaning.28 Even though throughout the year one should minimize luxury as a zecher l’churban, on Seder night it is appropriate to use the finest dishes available.29 Some people have a custom that the husband arranges the Keara.30 There were gedolim who insisted on personally setting the table for the Seder.31
10. Prepare the Keara. There are differing customs as to the layout of the various components of the Keara. One prevalent custom is that of the Arizal.32 According to this minhag, beginning at the top of the Keara is the zroa which is placed on the upper right side of the Keara and the beitzah which is placed on the upper left side. The marror is placed in the middle of the Keara, with the charoses underneath and to the right and the karpas underneath and to the left. The lettuce is placed at the bottom of the Keara nearest to the leader of the Seder. Three matzos are placed either outside or underneath the Keara,33 next to the Zroa and beitzah.34
Some have the custom to place a covering between each of the three matzos, while others do not.38 The matzos should be covered before Kiddush.39 Often, families that join together for the Seder have the custom of providing a separate Keara for the head of each individual household.40
11. Make an eruv tavshilin, if necessary. One should take a baked item such as matza and a cooked item41 such as fish, meat or an egg.42 He should hold the items43 and recite the text found in the siddur. The eruv tavshilin should not be eaten until all of the preparations for Shabbos are completed.44 It is customary to eat the eruv tavshilin at shalosh seudos.45
The Four Cups
One is required to drink four cups of wine at the Seder;46 women have the same obligation as men.47 If a person drinks four cups of wine in a row, he is not yotzei this Mitzva.48 Rather, he must recite the Haggadah and drink each of the arba kosos at the appropriate point.49 For this reason, he may not drink the fourth cup immediately after the third cup.50 A woman should make sure that she either recites the Haggadah herself or hears the leader of the Seder recite the Haggadah, so that she will be able to drink the arba kosos at the appropriate times.51
The cup should hold the measurement of a reviis of wine.52 According to Rav Chaim Noeh, a reviis is calculated at 86 cubic centimeters of wine (גימטריא כוס) , 53which is equivalent to slightly less than 3 fl. oz. According to the Chazon Ish, it equals 150 cubic centimeters of wine (גימטריא כוס הגון) which is equivalent to slightly more than 5 fl. oz.54 Based on the ruling of the Mishna Berura, Rav Heinemann shli”ta 55 states that it is necessary to use a cup which holds 3.8 fluid ounces.56
Ideally, a person should drink a reviis of wine.57 Some opinions state that if the cup holds more than a reviis he should drink the entire cup;58 others dispute this.59 If it is difficult to drink an entire reviis of wine, one should drink slightly more than half the cup.60 If a person has difficulty drinking four cups of wine, he should make sure that he has a cup that holds exactly a reviis so that he will need to drink only slightly more than half a reviis.61 For the fourth cup, he should either drink enough wine to be able to recite a brocha acharona himself or have someone be motzei him.62
It is preferable to drink the majority of the reviis at one time.63 If a person cannot do so, he should at least drink the majority of the reviis within kedei shtias reviis,64 which is approximately half a minute.65
An alcoholic wine should be used for the arba kosos.66 The wine can be diluted with grape juice.67 Rav Heinemann shli”ta is of the opinion that the resulting mixture should contain at least 4% alcohol.68 Therefore, wine which has 12% alcohol content can be diluted into ⅓ wine and ⅔ grape juice. Alternatively, the wine can be diluted with water. Wine which has 12% alcohol content can therefore be diluted into ⅓ wine and ⅔ water, or ⅓ wine and ⅓ grape juice and ⅓ water.69 If a person cannot drink wine, then he can use grape juice for the four cups.70 A person who will become incapacitated is not obliged to drink the arba kosos.71
Red wine should be used for the Seder.72 Throughout the year, it is preferable not to use wine which has been cooked for Kiddush; the same is true for the Seder.73 This is because uncooked wine tastes better than cooked wine.74 It is debatable as to whether pasteurized wine has the same status as cooked wine in this regard.75
A child who has reached the age of chinuch, about five or six years old,76 should also be given arba kosos to drink;77 however, it is not essential to do so.78 A child does not need to drink a full reviis of wine or grape juice and should rather drink meloh lugmav, the amount of wine he can hold in his cheeks.79 It is customary to give arba kosos even to younger children, although they can be given a minimal amount of grape juice.80
When drinking the first cup, a person should have in mind that he is fulfilling the obligations of both Kiddush and the first of the arba kosos.81
A man should drink the arba kosos while leaning to his left side.82 If he did not lean while drinking the first, third or fourth kos, he should not drink that kos a second time.83 If he did not lean while drinking the second kos, he should drink another kos during the meal while leaning to his left side.84
The matzos being used for the mitzva should be Shemura matzos. This is matza that has been watched since the harvesting of the wheat to ensure that nothing has occurred which might cause it to become chometz.87 Many people have the custom to use only hand-baked matzos for this mitzva; others use machine matzos.88
A person must eat one kezayis of matza at the Seder.89 The Steipler Gaon90 and Rav Dovid Feinstein91 write that ideally one should eat ⅔ of a machine matza or the equivalent volume of hand-baked matza, which would be approximately half of a Tzelem Pupa hand matza.2 However, upon experimentation, Rav Heinemann shlit”a found that half of a machine matza or ⅓ of a Tzelem Pupa hand matza contains the volume of matza necessary for a kezayis.93
A person who has difficulty chewing may crush the kezayis of matza before eating it.94 If necessary, he may also soak the matza in water to facilitate eating the kezayis.95 A person who is unable to eat or drink the prescribed amount of matza, marror or wine should consult his Rabbi. Please refer to the article, Pesach Guide For Those With Diabetes, for more information.
The kezayis of matza should be eaten within the time span of kedei Achilas peras.96 The kezayis should preferably be eaten within two minutes.97 If this cannot be done, it should at least be eaten within three98 or four minutes.99 A man should eat the matza while leaning on his left side.100 If he did not do so, he should eat another kezayis without another brocha while leaning to his left side.101
After everyone at the Seder has finished washing netilas yadayim and returned to the table, the leader of the Seder should take the three matzos in front of him and recite the brocha of Hamotzi. The top and bottom matzos, which are both whole, will serve as the lechem mishna.102 If feasible, he should then set down the bottom matza and recite the brocha of Al Achilas Matza while holding the top and broken middle matza.103 He should then give each person at the Seder a kezayis, including within the kezayis some of the top and middle matza over which the brocha has been made.104
A person should preferably chew the matza without swallowing, until he has a kezayis of matza in his mouth, and then swallow the kezayis at one time.105 In regards to this, one may rely upon the more lenient measurements of a kezayis, which calculate it as being less than ¼ of a machine matza.106 People who find it impractical to swallow an entire kezayis at one time should instead eat the kezayis in the normal manner, and include some of the top and broken middle matza over which the brocha has been made.107
The Shulchan Aruch brings an opinion that one should eat a kezayis from the top matza followed by a second kezayis from the broken middle matza.108 However, a person who fulfills the requirement of eating a kezayis by eating the size of half of a machine matza is actually eating two kezaysim when calculated according to the more lenient measurements of a kezayis.109 It is, therefore, sufficient to eat the size of half of a machine matza in order to comply with the opinion that suggests eating two kezaysim.110
Before eating, a person should have in mind that he is about to perform the mitzva of eating matza.111 When reciting or hearing the brocha of Al Achilas Matza, he should also have in mind the eating of the afikomon.112
Nowadays, in the absence of the Korbon Pesach, it is no longer a Torah requirement to eat marror at the Seder; however, there is a rabbinic obligation to do so.113 This obligation applies equally to men and women.114 Children who have reached the age of chinuch should also be given marror to eat.115
A person may use romaine lettuce for the marror,116 although it must be checked before Pesach to ensure that it does not harbor insects.117 He may use either the leaves or the lettuce stalks for marror. 118 The lettuce does not need to be bitter,119 although there is an opinion that the lettuce must have some element of bitter taste.120 Some people have the custom not to use lettuce for marror.121
Raw horseradish may also be used for marror.122 It is customary that people who use lettuce for marror put some horseradish on the lettuce, although it is not necessary to do so.123 There is no need to use a lot of horseradish for this.124
The marror should be dipped into charoses, and the excess charoses shaken off.125 A person must eat a kezayis of marror.126 The amount of lettuce which will displace 25 cm³ of water would constitute a kezayis, according to Rav Chaim Noeh.127 This is equivalent to slightly less than 1 fl. oz. According to the Chazon Ish128 and Rav Dovid Feinstein,129 one should take 1.1 fl. oz. of lettuce for marror. Rav Heinemann shli”ta is of the opinion that a person should take 1 fl. oz. of lettuce.130 One large lettuce leaf or two large stalks displaces approximately 1 fl. oz. of water.131
The kezayis of marror should be eaten within the time span of kedei achilas pe'ras.132 The kezayis should preferably be eaten within two minutes.133 If this cannot be done, it should at least be eaten within three134 or four minutes.135 One does not lean when eating the marror.136
The leader of the Seder should take the remaining bottom matza and use it to give each person at the Seder a portion of korech.137 It is customary to prepare korech with two pieces of matza sandwiching some marror.138 The marror should be dipped into charoses, and the excess charoses shaken off. 139 Some have the custom not to dip the marror into charoses for korech.140
A person should eat one kezayis of matza and one kezayis of marror for korech,141 and measure the kezayis of marror as described above.142 For the kezayis of matza, it is sufficient to take half of the volume of matza described above.143 Therefore, following the larger measurement described above, one should eat ⅓ of a machine matza or ¼ of a Tzelem Pupa hand matza. Following the measurements of Rav Heinemann shlit”a, it is sufficient to take ¼ of a machine matza or 1/6 of a Tzelem Pupa hand matza.144
Before eating the korech, one should recite the paragraph ’וכו ללהכ שדקמל רכז.145 Some suggest saying this paragraph after one has started to eat korech.146 A man should consume the korech while leaning to his left side;147 if he did not do so, he does not need to eat another portion.148 From the time a person recites the brocha over the matza until he eats the korech portion, it is preferable not to discuss matters unrelated to the eating of the matza, marror, korech and the Seder meal. 149
The leader of the Seder should give each person at the Seder a kezayis of matza,150 including within the kezayis some of the remaining half of the middle matza. 151 Ideally, he should take the same volume of matza as was used for the initial eating of matza at the Seder. 152
A man should eat the afikoman while leaning to his left side.153 If he did not lean, and has not started Birchas Hamazon, he should eat the afikoman a second time, providing that it is not too difficult for him to do so.154 If he has started Birchas Hamazon, he should not wash and eat the afikoman again.155
Chazal debate whether the afikoman may be eaten all night long or whether it must be eaten by chatzos, halachic midnight. In order to fulfill both opinions, one must be careful to eat the afikoman before chatzos.156 After eating the afikoman, one may not consume other food. 157 Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l states that according to both opinions in Chazal, a person may not eat other food for the duration of the night.158 He also may not drink wine or fruit juice, with the exception of the remaining two cups of the arba kosos;159 he may drink water160 or tea.161
It has been argued that, according to the opinion that the afikoman must be eaten by chatzos, the prohibition against consuming additional food also ends at chatzos.162 If so, when chatzos is approaching and a person has not yet finished his meal, he may eat a kezayis of matza and verbally state the following: If the correct opinion is that one may eat the afikoman until chatzos then this matza should be regarded as the afikoman; however, if one has all night to eat the afikoman then it should not be regarded as such. He may now eat the matza, wait until chatzos, and then continue his meal. After the meal, he should eat another kezayis of matza and state the following: If the correct opinion is that one has all night to eat the afikoman then this matza should be regarded as the afikoman; but, if the afikoman must be eaten before chatzos then it should not be regarded as such.163 However, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l rejects this position and states that the afikoman must simply be eaten before chatzos.164
When Moshiach comes, and the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, we will offer once again the Korbon Pesach in accordance with the Torah obligation to eat the Korbon Pesach with matza and marror.165 Bimehera Yiboneh Hamikdash.
The following abbreviations have been used: M.B. – Mishna Berura, S.A. – Shulchan Aruch, S.H. – Shaar HaTziyun, B.H. – Biur Halacha. All citations to Shulchan Aruch refer to section Orach Chayim.
1. S.A. 472:1.