The following contains halachic guidance concerning some of the common issues that arise when conducting a Pesach Seder. In particular, it discusses preparation for the Seder, the four cups of wine, and the obligation to eat matzah, Marror, Korech and Afikoman. This 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.(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:
- If meat will be eaten at the Seder, it may not be roasted. Meat cooked with a quarter inch or more of water at the bottom of a pot is not considered to be roasted and may be eaten at the Seder.
- If horseradish is being used for Marror, it should be grated. 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.
- If lettuce leaves are being used for Marror, they should be checked to ensure that they are not harboring insects. To check romaine lettuce leaves, one method is to separate the leaves, soak them in water, and then make a thorough leaf-by-leaf inspection. Any insects which are found must be removed. See page 169 for detailed checking instructions. Alternatively, he may use romaine stalks for Marror instead of the leaves. To do this, he should remove the leaves from the stalks and rinse them under a strong stream of water, while rubbing the stalks during the rinsing. No further checking is required.
- Prepare the Karpas vegetable and the salt water into which it will be dipped. Any vegetable may be used for Karpas, except those which may be used for Marror. However, the custom is to use celery, radishes, or cooked potatoes.
- Prepare the Charoses. The ingredients for Charoses typically include grated apples, almonds and other nuts, cinnamon, ginger, and red wine. The Charoses should have the texture of apple sauce.
- The bone which will be used for the Zroa on the Seder plate should be roasted over a fire, as was done to the Korban Pesach. Some people first boil the Zroa and then singe it over a flame. It is preferable to use the forearm of an animal or bird, which is the Zroa bone. The equivalent limb of a chicken is the part of the wing that is directly attached to the body. The Zroa must have some meat on the bone. It may not be eaten on Seder night because we do not eat roasted meat at the Seder. 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.
- Boil and then roast the egg to be used on the Seder plate. A person whose custom is to eat eggs at the Seder meal should also prepare these eggs.
- 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. One should also open the boxes of matzah that will be needed for the first days of Yom Tov.
- Children should rest so that they will be awake during the Seder. If possible, adults should also rest.
- Set the Seder table with elegant dishes and arrange the chairs which will be used for leaning. 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. Some people have a custom that the husband arranges the Ke’arah. There were gedolim who insisted on personally setting the table for the Seder.
- Prepare the Ke’arah. There are differing customs as to the layout of the various components of the Ke’arah. One prevalent custom is that of the Arizal. According to this minhag, beginning at the top of the Ke’arah is the Zroa, which is placed on the upper right side of the Ke’arah, and the Beitzah which is placed on the upper left side. The Marror is placed in the middle of the Ke’arah, with the Charoses underneath and to the right, and the karpas underneath and to the left. The Chazeres is placed closest to the leader of the Seder, at the bottom of the Ke’arah. Three matzos are placed either outside or underneath the Ke’arah, next to the Zroa and Beitzah.
- Another custom is that of the Rema. According to this minhag, the Karpas and salt water are placed nearest the leader of the Seder with the matzah above them, the Marror and Charoses above the matzah, and the Beitzah and Zroa above them furthest from the leader of the Seder.There are other customs regarding the arrangement of the items on the Ke’arah. The Gra and Maharal each have differing customs. A person should follow his own particular minhag.Some have the custom to place a covering between each of the three matzos, while others do not. The matzos should be covered before Kiddush. Often, families that join together for the Seder have the custom of providing a separate Ke’arah for the head of each individual household.
- Make an eruv tavshilin, if necessary. One should take a baked item such as matzah and a cooked item such as fish, meat or an egg. He should hold the items and recite the text found in the siddur. The Eruv Tavshilin should not be eaten until all of the preparations for Shabbos are completed. It is customary to eat the Eruv Tavshilin at Shalosh Seudos.
One is required to drink four cups of wine at the Seder;women have the same obligation as men. If a person drinks four cups of wine in a row, he is not yotzei this mitzvah. Rather, he must recite the Haggadah and drink each of the Arba Kosos at the appropriate point. For this reason, he may not drink the fourth cup immediately after the third cup. 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.
The cup should hold the measurement of a revi’is of wine.אירטמיגב סוכ), which is equivalent to slightly less than 3 fl. oz. According to the Chazon Ish, it equals 150 cubic centimeters of wine (ןוגה סוכ אירטמיג) which is equivalent to slightly more than 5 fl. oz. Based on the ruling of the Mishnah Berurah, Rav Heinemann, shlit”a, states that it is necessary to use a cup which holds 3.8 fluid ounces.According to Rav Chaim Noeh, a revi’is is calculated at 86 cubic centimeters of wine (
Ideally, a person should drink a revi’is of wine.Some opinions state that if the cup holds more than a revi’is he should drink the entire cup; others dispute this. If it is difficult to drink an entire revi’is of wine, one should drink slightly more than half the cup. If a person has difficulty drinking four cups of wine, he should make sure that he has a cup that holds exactly a revi’is so that he will need to drink only slightly more than half a revi’is. For the fourth cup, he should either drink enough wine to be able to recite a Brocha Acharonah himself or have someone be motzei him.
It is preferable to drink the majority of the revi’is at one time.If a person cannot do so, he should at least drink the majority of the revi’is within kedei shtias revi’is, which is approximately half a minute.
Rav Heinemann, shlit”a, is of the opinion that the resulting mixture should contain at least 4% alcohol.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 be diluted into ⅓ wine and ⅔ water; alternatively, it can be diluted into ⅓ wine, ⅓ grape juice, and ⅓ water. If a person cannot drink wine, then he can use grape juice for the four cups. Some people may have difficulty tolerating both wine and grape juice. A person who will become incapacitated is not obligated to drink the Arba Kosos.
Red wine should be used for the Seder. Throughout the year, it is preferable not to use cooked wine for Kiddush; the same is true for the Seder. This is because uncooked wine tastes better than cooked wine. It is debatable as to whether pasteurized wine has the same status as cooked wine in this regard.
A child who has reached the age of chinuch, about five or six years old,should also be given Arba Kosos to drink; however, it is not essential to do so. A child does not need to drink a full revi’is of wine or grape juice and should instead drink meloh lugmav, the amount of wine he can hold in his cheeks. It is customary to give Arba Kosos even to younger children, although they can be given a minimal amount of grape juice.
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.
A man should drink the Arba Kosos while leaning to his left side.If he did not lean while drinking the first, third or fourth kos he should not drink that kos a second time. If he did not lean while drinking the second kos, he should drink another kos during the meal while leaning to his left side.
Both men and women are commanded by the Torah to eat matzah at the Seder.A child who has reached the age of chinuch should also be given matzah to eat at the Seder.
The matzos being used for the mitzvah should be Shemurah matzos. This is matzah that has been watched since the harvesting of the wheat to ensure that nothing has occurred which might cause it to become chometz.Many people have the custom to use only hand-baked matzos for this mitzvah; others use machine matzos.
A person must eat one kezayis of matzah at the Seder. The Steipler Gaon and Rav Dovid Feinstein, shlit”a, write that ideally one should eat ⅔ of a machine matzah or the equivalent volume of hand-baked matzah. Upon experimentation in 5780/2020, Rav Heinemann, shlit”a, found that half of a machine matzah or half of a Tzelem Pupa hand matzah contains the volume of matzah necessary for a kezayis. Other brands of matzah may produce different results.
In Shevat 5780, Rav Heinemann, shlit”a, conducted extensive testing to calculate the volume of Tzelem Pupa hand matzah equivalent to a kezayis. He waterproofed matzos and performed water displacement testing to determine their volume.Furthermore, Rav Heinemann reviewed results of 3-D scan measurements carried out on behalf of STAR-K for this project. The matzos tested were packaged ten to a pound.
The measurement of 5780/2020 found that the segment of hand matzah containing the volume of a kezayis was larger than the fraction given in previous years. Possibly, this is due to hand matzos being thinner than in the past. Hence the conclusion, that one lechatchila needs to eat half of a Tzelem Pupa hand matzah. Fundamentally, the size of the kezayis remains the same. Rather, the amount of hand matzah equivalent to that kezayis has been adjusted. The measurement for the machine matzos remains unchanged.
A person who has difficulty chewing may crush the kezayis of matzah before eating it.If necessary, he may also soak the matzah in water to facilitate eating the kezayis. When appropriate, a person with a medical condition which could be negatively impacted by consumption of this amount of matzah may eat a smaller portion of matzah. One should consult his Rav as to whether he falls in this category. Measurements suitable for such individuals are listed on page 222.
The kezayis of matzah should be eaten within the time span of kedei achilas pras.The kezayis should preferably be eaten within two minutes. If this cannot be done, it should at least be eaten within three or four minutes. A man should eat the matzah while leaning to his left side. If he did not do so, he should eat another kezayis without another brocha while leaning to his left side.
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 Mishnah.If feasible, he should then set down the bottom matzah and recite the brocha of Al Achilas Matzah while holding the top and broken middle matzos. He should then give each person at the Seder a kezayis, including within the kezayis some of the top and middle matzos over which the brocha has been made.
A person should preferably chew the matzah without swallowing, until he has a kezayis of matzah in his mouth, and then swallow the kezayis at one time.Regarding this, one may rely upon the more lenient measurements of a kezayis, which calculate it as being less than ¼ of a machine matzah.
People who find it impractical to swallow an entire kezayis at one time should instead eat the kezayis in the normal manner, which includes some of the top and broken middle matzos over which the brocha has been made.
The Shulchan Aruch brings an opinion that one should eat a kezayis from the top matzah followed by a second kezayis from the broken middle matzah.However, a person who fulfills the requirement of eating a kezayis by eating the size of half of a machine matzah is actually eating two kezaysim, when calculated according to the more lenient measurements of a kezayis. It is, therefore, sufficient to eat the size of half of a machine matzah in order to comply with the opinion that suggests eating two kezaysim.
Before eating, a person should have in mind that he is about to perform the mitzvah of eating matzah.When reciting or hearing the brocha of Al Achilas Matzah, he should also have in mind the eating of the Afikoman.
Nowadays, in the absence of the Korban Pesach, it is no longer a Torah requirement to eat Marror at the Seder; however, there is a rabbinic obligation to do so.This obligation applies equally to men and women.
Children who have reached the age of chinuch should also be given Marror to eat, just like an adult.
A person may use romaine lettuce for the Marror,although it must be checked before Pesach to ensure that it does not harbor insects. He may use either the leaves or the lettuce stalks for Marror. The lettuce does not need to be bitter, although there is an opinion that the lettuce must have some element of bitter taste. Some people have the custom not to use lettuce for Marror.
Raw horseradish may also be used for Marror.It is customary that people who use lettuce for Marror put some horseradish on the lettuce, although it is not necessary to do so. There is no need to use a lot of horseradish for this.
The Marror should be dipped into Charoses, and the excess Charoses shaken off.A person must eat a kezayis of Marror. The amount of lettuce which will displace 25 cm³ of water would constitute a kezayis, according to Rav Chaim Noeh. This is equivalent to slightly less than 1 fl. oz. According to the Chazon Ish and Rav Dovid Feinstein, shlit”a, one should take 1.1 fl. oz. of lettuce for Marror. Rav Heinemann, shlit”a, is of the opinion that a person should take 1 fl. oz. of lettuce. One large lettuce leaf or two large stalks displaces approximately 1 fl. oz. of water.
The kezayis of Marror should be eaten within the time span of kedei achilas pras.The kezayis should preferably be eaten within two minutes. If this cannot be done, it should at least be eaten within three or four minutes. One does not lean when eating the Marror.
The leader of the Seder should take the remaining bottom matzah and use it to give each person at the Seder a portion of Korech.It is customary to prepare Korech with two pieces of matzah sandwiching some Marror. The marror could be dipped into Charoses, and the excess Charoses shaken off. Some have the custom not to dip the Marror into Charoses for Korech.
A person should eat one kezayis of matzah and one kezayis of Marror for Korech,and measure the kezayis of Marror as described above. For the kezayis of matzah, it is sufficient to take half of the volume of matzah. Therefore, following the larger measurement as described above, one should eat ⅓ of a machine matzah or ¼ of a Tzelem Pupa hand matzah. Following the measurements of Rav Heinemann, shlit”a, it is sufficient to take ¼ of a machine matzah or ¼ of a Tzelem Pupa hand matzah.
Before eating Korech, one should recite the paragraph, ‘וכו ללהכ שדקמל רכז. Some suggest saying this paragraph after one has started to eat Korech. A man should consume Korech while leaning to his left side; if he did not do so, he does not need to eat another portion. From the time a person recites the brocha over the matzah until he eats the Korech portion, it is preferable not to discuss matters unrelated to the eating of the matzah, Marror, Korech and the Seder meal.
The leader of the Seder should give each person at the Seder a kezayis of matzah,including within the kezayis some of the remaining half of the middle matzah. Ideally, he should take the same volume of matzah as was used for the initial eating of matzah at the Seder.
A man should eat the Afikoman while leaning to his left side.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. If he has started Birchas Hamazon, he should not wash and eat the Afikoman again.
Chazal debate as to whether the Afikoman may be eaten all night long or by chatzos, halachic midnight. In order to fulfill both opinions, one must be careful to eat the Afikoman before chatzos.After eating the Afikoman, one may not consume other food.
Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, states that according to both opinions of Chazal, a person may not eat other food for the duration of the night.He also may not drink wine or fruit juice, with the exception of the remaining two cups of the Arba Kosos; he may drink water or tea.
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.If so, when chatzos is approaching and a person has not yet finished his meal, he may eat a kezayis of matzah and verbally state the following: “If the correct opinion is that one may eat the Afikoman until chatzos, then this matzah 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 eat the matzah, wait until chatzos, and then continue his meal. After the meal, he should eat another kezayis of matzah and state the following: “If the correct opinion is that one has all night to eat the Afikoman, then this matzah should be regarded as the Afikoman; but, if the Afikoman must be eaten before chatzos, then it should not be regarded as such.” However, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, rejects this position and states that the Afikoman must simply be eaten before chatzos. May we be zoche to Moshiach speedly in our days.
The following abbreviations have been used: M.B. – Mishnah Berura, S.A. – Shulchan Aruch, S.H. – Shaar HaTziyun, B.H. – Biur Halachah. All citations to Shulchan Aruch refer to section Orach Chayim.