16 – Seder Night

1. Introduction

Before detailing the laws of the Seder, let us briefly survey the mitzvot we fulfill on the Seder night.

Two elements constitute the foci of the Seder: The first is commemoration of our Exodus from Egypt and emancipation from slavery and reflection on the significance of Israel’s freedom. The second is to transmit our tradition to the next generation. Both of these are included in the Torah’s commandment to tell the story of the Exodus on the night of the fifteenth of Nisan.

In order to make this commemoration tangible, the Torah commands us to eat the korban Pesaĥ (Paschal sacrifice), matza, and maror on this night. The Paschal sacrifice recalls God’s miraculous slaying of the Egyptian firstborn while “passing over” the houses of the Israelites, sparing their firstborns. The matza recalls the matzot our forefathers ate when they left Egypt for freedom. And the maror recalls the hard labor and bitter enslavement our forefathers experienced at the hands of the Egyptians.

Because the Temple is now in ruins, we are unable to offer the Paschal sacrifice; we eat the afikoman in its stead. On the Torah level, the mitzva to eat maror is contingent on eating the Paschal sacrifice; when the Pesaĥ sacrifice is not offered, there is no mitzva to eat maror. However, the Sages instituted eating maror even after the destruction of the Temple.

No change has taken place regarding the mitzva to eat matza. Thus, even after the destruction of the Temple there is a Torah commandment to eat an olive’s bulk (kezayit) of matza.

The Sages also instituted the integration of four cups of wine into the recitation of the Hagada, which we drink as an expression of joy and freedom.

They also instituted that we eat matzot and drink wine while reclining, as a demonstration of freedom.

2. Preparing for the Seder

As noted, one of the two key objectives of the Seder is to transmit the tradition of the Exodus to our children. In order to keep younger children alert, we do many unusual things at the Seder: we dip vegetables in liquid twice, wash our hands twice, and give the appearance of beginning the meal before suddenly starting to recite the Hagada. In addition, the mitzvot of eating matza, drinking four cups of wine, and reclining also prompt the children to ask: “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

The Sages also instruct one to give nuts and candy to small children at the beginning of the Seder, so they see yet another change and ask: “Why is this night different?” (SA 472:16). It is good to give them small candies throughout the Seder, keeping them alert and happy.

An effort is made to buy new clothes for the children and the entire household before Pesaĥ, in order to make everybody happy. Indeed, the mitzva to be joyful applies to each of the three pilgrimage festivals (Pesaĥ, Shavu’ot, and Sukkot), and it is therefore a mitzva to buy clothes and jewelry for the women and girls, give young children candy and nuts, and serve meat and wine to men at each festival (SA 528:2-3). However, we are even more careful about buying new clothes for Pesaĥ, because wearing them for the Seder evokes a special sense of excitement for this exalted night.

It is proper to set the table and arrange the Seder plate before evening, so that kiddush can be recited as soon as possible after the Ma’ariv prayer. In this way, there is no wasting of the precious time when the children are still alert and can still participate in reciting the Hagada, eating the matza, and drinking the wine. However, kiddush should not be recited before tzeit ha-kokhavim (the appearance of three distinct stars), because kiddush must be recited at a time when matza can be eaten, i.e., the night of the fifteenth of Nisan. Moreover, the kiddush wine is the first of the four cups, and one must drink all four cups at night (ibid. 472:1; MB ad loc. 4).

When setting the table, one should put out comfortable chairs so that participants will be able to recline. Ideally, the table should be set with the finest silverware and dishes. During the course of the year, we refrain from setting the table with overly attractive utensils, in remembrance of the Temple’s destruction, but on Shabbat and holidays we do everything we can to enhance the table’s beauty (SA 560:2; MB ad loc. 5). On the Seder night, it is a mitzva to beautify the table with the absolute best utensils, as it expresses freedom and joy (SA 472:2; MB ad loc. 6).

3. The Seder Plate

Before the Seder, one must prepare the Seder plate, on which all of the special Seder foods are arranged. Setting the Seder plate is not merely to keep the foods close by and at the ready, but also because each food commemorates and emphasizes a particular idea, and we must keep all the foods in front of us to express the uniqueness of the Seder. These foods are placed on the Seder plate:

Three matzot with which we fulfill the Torah’s commandment to eat matza. We place them on the Seder plate so we can recite the Hagada in the presence of matza and maror, fulfilling the verse: “Tell your child on that day:  ‘It is because of this that God did for me when I left Egypt’” (Shemot 13:8), which the Sages interpret: “‘because of this’ means when matza and maror are before you” (Mekhilta Bo 17). Additionally, matza is called “leĥem oni” – “poor man’s bread” (Devarim 16:3), which the Sages interpret to mean “bread over which we ‘onim’ – answer or say – many things.” The matza must therefore be uncovered while we recite the Hagada. However, out of respect for the matza, which is the most important food on the table and over which we recite the “ha-motzi” blessing, we do not recite kiddush while the matza is uncovered. Therefore, we cover the matzot during kiddush and when we lift our wine glasses, but otherwise they remain exposed while we recite the Hagada. Some have a custom to separate the three matzot with cloth (based on the writings of Arizal), and others have a custom not to separate the matzot (Ĥayei Adam).

Maror is lettuce or horseradish. When the Temple stood, there was a Torah commandment to eat maror with the korban Pesaĥ, but since the destruction of the Temple, the mitzva to eat maror is rabbinic.

In Temple times, the meat of the korban Pesaĥ was also put on the Seder table, but with the Temple’s destruction, the Sages enacted that two cooked foods be placed on the table: one to commemorate Paschal sacrifice, and the other to commemorate the korban ĥagiga (pilgrimage sacrifice), offered on every pilgrimage festival (Pesaĥim 114a-b). Customarily, the Paschal sacrifice is commemorated with a zero’a, alluding to the fact that God redeemed us with an “outstretched arm” (“zero’a netuya”). We roast the zero’a, just as the Paschal sacrifice was roasted. Sephardic Jews customarily use the foreleg of a lamb or goat, whereas Ashkenazim use the wing of a fowl. The korban ĥagiga is customarily commemorated with a roasted or boiled egg. Eggs are customarily served to mourners, as their round shape consolingly reminds them of life’s cyclical nature. At the Seder, the egg similarly reminds us that the Temple will be speedily rebuilt and we will again be able to offer the Paschal and ĥagiga sacrifices. Additionally, the Aramaic word for egg, “bei’a,” can also refer to prayerful petition – alluding to our petitioning God to redeem us once again (SA 473:4). The custom in most communities is not to eat the zero’a on the Seder night (see below section 32).

We also place karpas and either vinegar or salt water on the Seder plate. Karpas is the vegetable that we eat before reciting the Hagada. It is dipped in vinegar or salt water both to make it tastier and to create the need for an additional hand-washing, which causes the children to ask more questions.

We place ĥaroset on the Seder plate as well. Ĥaroset alludes to the clay mortar our forefathers made when they were enslaved in Egypt. Before eating the maror, we dip it in the ĥaroset.

Wine is not placed on the Seder plate because it is a drink, not a food.

4. Arranging the Seder Plate

The Talmud does not mention the Seder plate, but it does say that “matza, lettuce, ĥaroset, and two cooked foods” are served to the person leading the Seder (Pesaĥim 114a). The Rishonim and SA (473:4) state that all of these foods should be placed on a plate. However, this is not obligatory. The main thing is that these foods be placed before the Seder leader. It is not necessary to place a Seder plate before each participant or even before each married participant. Rather, it is enough to place the plate before the Seder leader (MB 473:17). Nevertheless, some have a custom to place matzot before the head of every household, while the complete Seder plate is placed in front of the Seder leader only.

Since a number of foods must be placed on the plate, the question arises: what is the best way to arrange them? There are several opinions on this matter.

According to Rema, the principle is that the earlier a food appears in the Seder, the closer to the Seder leader it should be placed. This is done in order to avoid “passing over the mitzvot.” For example, if the matzot were closer to the leader than the karpas, he would have to pass over the matzot when reaching for the karpas, and this would be somewhat disrespectful to the matzot. Therefore, according to Rema, one should place the karpas and salt water closest to the leader, because these are eaten at the beginning, even before reciting the Hagada. Next come the matzot, which are eaten at the start of the meal. Then come the maror and the ĥaroset, because after eating matza we eat maror dipped in the ĥaroset. Furthest away on the plate are the zero’a and egg, which commemorate the Paschal and ĥagiga offerings.

Some say that there is no need to be particular about arranging the Seder plate in a manner that will prevent “passing over mitzvot,” because such behavior is only improper when one is presented with the simultaneous opportunity to perform two mitzvot. However, on the Seder night, each mitzva has a specific time of its own, and there is no problem in passing over a mitzva whose time for fulfillment has not yet arrived, in order to get to a food that must be eaten now.

The Seder plate arrangement based on Arizal’s teaching alludes to the ten kabbalistic sefirot.[1] This arrangement is practiced today by most Sephardic, Ĥasidic, and even some non-Ĥasidic Ashkenazim. Other Ashkenazim follow Rema, while still others follow the Vilna Gaon. Many Hagadot contain diagrams of the Seder plate arrangement, and each of these varying customs has a place in Jewish law.


[1]. Arizal’s arrangement is as follows: The three matzot are on top, corresponding to the sefirot of ĥokhma, bina, and da’at. Under the matzot on the right is the zero’a, corresponding to the sefira of ĥesed, and the egg on the left corresponding to gevura. Underneath them in the middle is the maror, which corresponds to tiferet. Below the maror on the right is the ĥaroset, corresponding to netzaĥ, and on the left is the karpas, corresponding to hod. Underneath them in the center is the maror used for the korekh sandwich, corresponding to the sefira of yesod. The plate itself corresponds to the sefira of malkhut (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 473:58).

5. Kadesh – Kiddush

The Seder begins with kiddush, which expresses the sanctity of the Jewish people and of the Pesaĥ holiday. The kiddush of Shabbat and other holidays contains the phrase “in commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt,” for the source of Israel’s sanctity began to reveal itself with the Exodus from Egypt, when it was made known that God chose Israel to be His special nation. At the Seder, on the night we left Egypt and are commanded to tell the Exodus story, the importance of kiddush is thus compounded. It is therefore fitting to begin the Seder with it.[2]

Thus, unlike other kiddushim where only one person recites kiddush and drinks the majority of a cup of wine, on the Seder night each participant is poured a cup of wine, and after kiddush everyone reclines and drinks most of the wine in his cup. This is the first of the four cups of wine.

The rabbinic enactment to recite kiddush over wine expresses an important principle in Judaism. People tend to think that sanctity manifests itself in the spiritual realm alone, through prayer and Torah study, assuming that the more one denies the body, the more sanctity he attains. Yet, the fact that the Sages instituted kiddush over wine teaches us that sanctity can infuse and find expression even through physical food. This is true not only of the staple foods necessary for human sustenance, but even of wine, which brings people joy. Israel’s sanctity can be revealed in its totality specifically through the fullness of life, which combines the truth of Torah and faith with happiness and joy. We therefore recite kiddush over wine.

On every Yom Tov, we recite the berakha of “she-heĥeyanu,” blessing God “Who has given us life, sustained us, and guided us to reach this season,” because Yom Tov is a mitzva that is celebrated anew during a specific season. The Sages inserted she-heĥeyanu at the end of kiddush; after declaring the day’s sanctity, it is only fitting to bless and thank God for having guided us to this sacred time. If one neglects to recite the she-heĥeyanu after kiddush, he must recite it whenever he remembers, as long as Pesaĥ has not ended.

Many people say a preliminary statement of intention (“hineni mukhan” or “le-shem yiĥud”) before each of the four cups of wine. One should not do so between the berakha and drinking, as this constitutes an interruption. Rather, the formula should be recited before kiddush, and in the case of the other three cups, before the berakha on the wine (MB 473:1).

If the first day of Pesaĥ coincides with Shabbat, we invoke Shabbat in the kiddush. If it begins on Saturday night, two berakhot are added: on the creation of fire (“borei me’orei ha-esh”) and on the separation of different forms of sanctity (“Ha-mavdil bein kodesh le-kodesh”) (SA 473:2).


[2]. Kiddush on Shabbat is clearly a Torah precept, as it states: “Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it.” According to Rambam and the majority of poskim, one fulfills his Torah obligation to remember Shabbat by reciting the Friday night prayers. The Sages, however, instituted that kiddush be recited over wine. According to some Rishonim, the biblical mitzva is to sanctify the Shabbat over a cup of wine.

With regard to kiddush on Yom Tov, the poskim disagree whether it is from the Torah or of rabbinic origin. Magid Mishneh on MT Laws of Shabbat 29:18 states that kiddush on Yom Tov is rabbinic, and this is also the opinion of MA 271:1 and most Aĥaronim. Conversely, many Rishonim – She’iltot, Behag, Raavya, and Maharam of Rothenburg – maintain that kiddush on Yom Tov is from the Torah, as it states: “These are the festivals of God, that you shall call holy.” See Responsa Ĥazon Ovadia §2 for a summary.

6. The Four Cups

The Sages instituted drinking four cups of wine on the Seder night in order to increase the joy of redemption and give expression to our freedom. On every Yom Tov there is a mitzva to rejoice by drinking wine, but for Pesaĥ the Sages further integrated four cups of wine into the Seder, so that our joy finds expression in each of its phases. Kiddush is recited over the first cup, and thus everyone’s cup is filled prior to kiddush. The story of the Exodus and the first part of Hallel are recited over the second cup, which is therefore filled just before the telling of the story is begun. Birkat Ha-mazon is recited over the third cup; we refill our glasses prior to its recitation and drink the wine right after. Finally, we pour the fourth cup, recite the second part of Hallel and “the Great Hallel” (see below section 35) over it, and then drink the cup. Thus, every recitation at the Seder is over wine.

If one drinks four cups of wine one after another, it is as if he drank only one cup (SA 472:8). Even if one waited between cups, if he did not recite any of the Hagada during these pauses, he has not fulfilled this obligation according to several poskim (Rashbam, Ran, Pri Ĥadash). This is because one must drink while discussing the Exodus. According to Beit Yosef, however, if one pauses between cups he fulfills his obligation be-di’avad (BHL ad loc. s.v. “she-lo”).

The Sages explain the four cups as alluding to several things: the four expressions of redemption used in the Torah’s account of the Exodus; the four kingdoms that subjugated Israel after it became a nation (Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome), and from which the Almighty saved us; the four cups of calamity that God will serve to the wicked among the nations of the world; and the corresponding four cups of consolation that God will pour out to Israel (y. Pesaĥim 10:1).

As a rule, the number four represents completeness, for everything in the world has four sides, corresponding to the four points of the compass. Since the Exodus brought about a complete upheaval in the world, the Torah uses four expressions of redemption in relation to it:

Therefore, say to the Israelites: “I am the Lord. I will rescue you from beneath the burden of Egypt; I will save you from their enslavement; I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and great acts of judgment; and I will take you for Myself as a people and be your God. Thus you will know that I am the Lord your God, Who is taking you out from beneath the burden of Egypt.” (Shemot 6:6-7)

Israel’s bondage in Egypt was more than just the enslavement of those 600,000 Jews. It manifested the subjugation of the spirit to the material, because the possibility of expressing spirituality in the world depends on the people of Israel, who were enslaved by the most materialistic of kingdoms, Egypt. In order to free Israel so that they could receive the Torah and illuminate and rectify the world, it was necessary to break all barriers of oppression, from each direction. The four expressions of redemption correspond to these.

In fact, a fifth expression of redemption appears in the very next verse: “I will bring you to the land that I swore to give to Avraham, Yitzĥak, and Yaakov. I will give it to you as an inheritance; I am the Lord” (ibid. 8). Since this verse does not address the Exodus itself, the Sages did not institute a corresponding fifth cup. Nonetheless, it is customary to pour a fifth cup, known as Eliyahu’s Cup (“Kos shel Eliyahu”), which alludes to the complete redemption that begins with entry into the Promised Land (see section 35 below).

7. The Wine

The Sages stated (Pesaĥim 108b) that in order to fulfill the mitzva of the four cups properly, one must dilute the wine with water, because otherwise it will be too strong and cause intoxication. Though the alcohol in such wine gives one pleasure, the mitzva is to drink the wine in the manner of free people, that is, like wealthy people who have control of their own time and permit themselves to drink the best wine, making sure it is diluted properly so that one can enjoy it without getting drunk. Today’s wine is not as strong, and there is no need to dilute it. Even when it is necessary to dilute it, this is done at the winery. Therefore, there is no mitzva today to dilute the wine (MB 472:29).

Instead, nowadays we enhance the expression of our freedom by purchasing the finest wine that is strong enough to intoxicate, because such wine causes a sense of joy, liberation, and freedom. However, one must be careful not to use a wine so strong that it disrupts one’s ability to concentrate on the Hagada and to fulfill the mitzvot of the Seder night. One must therefore drink four cups of wine in a manner that brings joy and does not cause drowsiness or intoxication. If one fears that by drinking a full cup of regular wine he will be unable to concentrate properly while reading the Hagada, he should mix his wine with grape juice. This will allow him to drink wine that intoxicates, while properly fulfilling all the mitzvot of the Seder night. One who finds it difficult to drink wine that contains even just a small amount of alcohol may fulfill the mitzva by drinking grape juice (Mikra’ei Kodesh 2:35).

When the Sages instituted the four cups, they did not imagine that one would fulfill this mitzva with grape juice, as in their day there was no way to preserve the juice without it turning into vinegar. They wanted us to recite the Hagada and tell the Exodus story while drinking wine that enhances enjoyment. One who uses grape juice does not fulfill the mitzva in the way the Sages intended it. Even one who does not enjoy the taste of wine or who gets headaches from it must drink the four cups. In fact, the Gemara recounts that R. Yehuda b. Ilai had to wrap his head in a kerchief from Pesaĥ until Shavu’ot due to a headache caused by drinking four cups of wine (Nedarim 49b; SA 472:10; MB ad loc. 35). However, if wine will cause one to be ill and lie down he is exempt from this mitzva. Now that grape juice is available, even one who merely suffers from the effects of wine – for example, it gives him headaches – may discharge his obligation using grape juice.

Women are also commanded to drink four cups of wine, just as they are commanded to fulfill all of the mitzvot of the Seder night (SA 472:14). Le-khatĥila, they too should drink wine that maximizes enjoyment. However, if a woman fears becoming intoxicated, she may use grape juice to dilute or even completely replace the wine if she prefers.[3]

The Sages also stated that there is a mitzva to seek out fine red wine (y. Pesaĥim 10:1). However, be-di’avad, any wine is adequate, even cheap white wine (SA 472:11).


[3]. In the past, it was only possible to obtain grape juice during the grape harvest. Since last season’s wine would have already been used up and it would take another forty days to prepare wine from the new crop, the Sages permitted making kiddush on grape juice (BB 97b; SA 272:2). This is be-di’avad, especially when it comes to the Seder, where reciting the Hagada joyfully is an integral part of the institution. This argument is also advanced in Mikra’ei Kodesh 2:35, although in the notes on p. 130 the author advocates that women may fulfill the mitzva using grape juice. He argues that the reason for using intoxicating wine is to fulfill the mitzva of rejoicing on Yom Tov. Pesaĥim 109a states: “Every person must rejoice during the festival… men with what is appropriate for them – with wine, and women… in Babylonia with dyed clothing and in Eretz Yisrael with pressed linen clothing.” SA 529:2 and BHL ad loc. rule that, indeed, the joy of wine relates primarily to men.

Nevertheless, the most straightforward understanding of this mitzva requires women to drink the four cups of wine just like men, as “they too participated in that miracle” (Pesaĥim 108b). Until recent generations, this was the common practice of women. Nevertheless, intoxication is more disgraceful for women than for men (Ketubot 65a), so women concerned about intoxication may mix more grape juice into their wine.

8. The Amount of Wine and Cup Size

In order to fulfill the mitzva of the four cups, or any other mitzva that involves drinking wine (such as kiddush, havdala, Birkat Ha-mazon, and wedding ceremonies), there must be a significant amount of wine in the cup. The Sages determined that the cup must contain at least a quarter of a log (a “revi’it”) of wine. Less than this is not a significant amount of wine and does not suffice to fulfill the obligation (Pesaĥim 108b).

A revi’it is equal in volume to an egg and a half. R. Ĥayim Naeh calculated, based on writings of Rambam and other Rishonim, that this is 86 milliliters. However, more precise measurements showed that it is c. 75 ml (see Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 10:11). This amount, however, is not agreed upon by everyone. The exile gave rise to uncertainties regarding the size of olives and eggs, and some later Ashkenazic poskim (Noda Bi-Yehuda, Ĥazon Ish) rule that today’s eggs are only about half the size of eggs in the time of the Sages. Therefore, a revi’it is closer to the volume of three of today’s eggs, c. 150 ml. This stringent measure is known today as a “Ĥazon Ish shi’ur.

In practice, the lenient opinion is the standard, and this is the practice of Sephardim. However, MB 271:68 and 486:1 states regarding the practice of Ashkenazim that it is best to take the stringent opinion into account with regard to mitzvot of Torah origin like kiddush and havdala. However, when it comes to rabbinic mitzvot like the four cups at the Seder or the minimum amount that must be drunk in order to recite a berakha aĥarona (a blessing recited after eating or drinking), we use the smaller measure, in keeping with the majority opinion. Those who wish to be stringent, and who enjoy drinking wine, are commendable.

One must also take care to meet the Sages’ requirements for a kos shel berakha (a cup of wine linked to the performance of a mitzva). A broken cup must not be used, and the cup, however large, must be filled with wine in honor of the mitzva.

The cup must be clean, thoroughly rinsed inside and out, before the first cup. However, as long as it has not become dirtied, it is unnecessary to wash it again for subsequent cups, since all four cups are considered one continuum (MB 473:68). Nonetheless, some take care to wash the cup before drinking each time (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 473:1).[4]


[4]. Kaf Ha-ĥayim 472:1 states, based on Zohar, that one should rinse the cup again before Birkat Ha-mazon. Some had the custom of preparing a basin of water and immersing the cups in it between each drinking. Nowadays, this practice is not as nice, since the water in the bowl becomes dirty; we would not consider such cups clean. One who wants to be strict should rinse his glass in the sink. Most poskim maintain that one need not rinse out the cups in the middle of the Seder.

9. How Much Wine?

Optimally, one should drink all of the wine in the cup, which means at least a revi’it. If one uses a large cup that contains more than a revi’it, he should, le-khatĥila, drink all of the wine in the cup. If he does not want to, he should at least try to drink most of it. At the very least, one must drink most of a revi’it and a “melo lugmav.” In other words, there are two conditions: first, he must drink most of the wine that is required to be in the cup, i.e., most of a revi’it (38 ml or 76 ml in Ĥazon Ish shi’ur). Secondly, this amount must fill melo lugmav – enough wine to fill the drinker’s mouth with one cheek inflated. This is the amount of wine that settles one’s mind. For someone with a normal size mouth, melo lugmav a bit more than most of a revi’it. For one with a large mouth, melo lugmav is closer to a revi’it. A thirteen-year-old, whose mouth is small and whose melo lugmav is less than half a revi’it must drink most of a revi’it in order to fulfill the first condition (SA 472:9; MB ad loc. 30; BHL ad loc. s.v. “ve-yishteh”).[5]

Children who have reached the age of mitzva education are given four cups of wine (SA 472:15). The age of education is when the child understands the meaning of the things that are said while the cups are filled – kiddush, the Hagada, Birkat Ha-mazon, and Hallel (SAH 472:25) – generally around age five or six. There is no need for them to drink most of a revi’it; melo lugmav suffices (MB 472:47).

One must drink most of the wine in the cup “at once.” It is obvious that if one drinks half of the necessary amount, and then, after a long pause, drinks the second half, he did not drink the necessary amount “at once” and thus did not fulfill drinking one of the four cups. However, leading Rishonim and Aĥaronim are divided over precisely how quickly one must drink the requisite amount of wine in order for it to be considered “at once.” According to Rambam, since people are accustomed to drink continuously, albeit with short breaks to breathe or swallow, one is only considered to have drunk “at once” if he drank continuously, as one would normally drink a revi’it. In other words, the amount of time one takes to drink most of a revi’it must be no longer than the amount of time it normally takes to drink an entire revi’it. If it takes one longer to drink most of a revi’it than it normally takes people to drink a revi’it, he has not fulfilled the mitzva according to Rambam. Raavad, on the other hand, maintains that as long as it does not take longer than the time it takes to eat a half a loaf of bread (“shi’ur akhilat pras”), i.e., within several minutes, it is still considered “at once.”

To summarize, one should preferably follow the stringent ruling of Rambam and drink most of the cup continuously, taking short breaks to breathe and swallow. Be-di’avad, if one drinks most of the wine in the cup within a shi’ur akhilat pras (6-7 minutes), he fulfills his obligation and need not drink the cup again, since the law of four cups is of rabbinic origin, and the halakha therefore follows the lenient position. Nonetheless, some practice stringency.[6]


[5]. According to Ramban, cited as an alternative opinion in SA 472:9, one must drink the majority of the cup, no matter how large. However, most poskim maintain that although it is preferable to follow Ramban, one fulfills the obligation without meeting that condition (MB ad loc. 33). Although the accepted opinion is the primary one, in this context I stressed that following the Ĥazon Ish shi’ur enhances the mitzva, since more wine adds to the mitzva of rejoicing and those who want to enhance the mitzva always drank more than the minimum revi’it.

Thus, to satisfy unquestionably all opinions one should preferably use a cup that contains 150 ml and drink most of it. This satisfies the higher melo lugmav requirement as well as Ramban’s condition. However, if it is difficult for him to drink an entire 150 ml “Ĥazon Ish shi’ur cup, he ends up losing the enhancement of drinking an entire cup. Although we have stated that one may fulfill his obligation le-khatĥila by using the standard shi’ur, one who wishes to enhance the mitzva should first satisfy all opinions, including the Ĥazon Ish shi’ur, and only then undertake to drink an entire cup. If he enjoys drinking wine, the greatest enhancement is to drink a full 150 ml cup; if he is worried that he might become intoxicated, he may mix grape juice into the wine.

[6]. More broadly, “shi’ur akhilat pras” is a unit of time within which all eating is treated as a single act. There is a dispute as to whether or not this time period applies to drinking as well. According to Rambam, since one drinks faster than he eats, the measurement of time for drinking is different than that of eating, and only uninterrupted drinking is considered as one unit. According to Raavad, the measurement of time for drinking is the same as for eating, and as long as one drank within a “shi’ur akhilat pras,” it is considered a single act. See section 25 below for a more precise definition of a “pras.

Optimally, one must drink uninterruptedly, as per Rambam, and if he drank the minimum amount within the time of akhilat pras, he has not fulfilled his obligation according to Rambam, only Raavad. But since we rule leniently when there is uncertainty pertaining to rabbinic law, one would not have to drink again. This is what AHS 472:13 and Ĥazon Ovadia §12 state. Moreover, according to Knesset Ha-gedola, SAH, and Ĥatam Sofer, Rambam only stated his opinion with regard to a forbidden drink, where one incurs lashes if he drinks continuously. But regarding berakhot over consumption of food or drink, Rambam would concur that shi’ur akhilat pras is the relevant time frame, since the determining factor of berakhot is enjoyment, and he certainly derives pleasure even if he only completes his drink during a shi’ur akhilat pras. Accordingly, perhaps Rambam would concur that one who drinks a cup of wine within a shi’ur akhilat pras would fulfill his obligation. Nevertheless, some poskim say that where it is easy to fulfill one’s obligation according to all opinions, one should be stringent even with regard to a disputed rabbinic law. Therefore, MA and SAH 472:20 and MB 472:34 state that if one drank the second cup only within the time of akhilat pras, he should drink it again. If it was the third or fourth cup, though, he should not drink again, since it would look like he was adding to the four cups. Rather, in this case he should rely on the opinion of Raavad that he has fulfilled his obligation (see MB 472:21 regarding the first cup). According to those who follow SA that one may drink after the third and fourth cups, one should re-drink any of the four cups in question, as Ben Ish Ĥai (Tzav 29) states. This is why I wrote that some are stringent in this matter, despite the fact that this is a double uncertainty about a rabbinic law: according to Raavad, the obligation has certainly been fulfilled, and possibly even according to Rambam as well.

See section 25 below and the notes ad loc. for the differing opinions regarding the length of shi’ur akhilat pras. The average time is around six to seven minutes, but le-khatĥila it is four minutes, and be-di’avad it is nine minutes.

10. The Mitzva of Reclining

The Sages ordained that one recline while eating matza and drinking wine at the Seder, because in every generation one must give the appearance of having just been freed from Egyptian bondage, as it is stated: He rescued us from there(Devarim 6:23). This reclining is called “hasava,” and it was instituted so that a sense of liberation would be apparent in one’s behavior (MT, Laws of Ĥametz and Matza 7:6-7).

One who is burdened with a task usually sits upright so that he will be able to rise at once when the time comes for him to carry out his work. Even though sitting upright requires some effort on the part of the back muscles and creates a state of constant tension, the need to be ready for action requires this state of alertness. However, one who has no burdens can lean back and lie on his side restfully, allowing all of his back muscles to relax. This is how we eat on the Seder night, in the manner of the liberated.

In the past, people would sit on pillows and cushions, which meant that sitting erect indeed required effort. In such circumstances, hasava – the position between sitting and lying down, where the entire body reclines on a couch or on pillows and cushions – was very comfortable and demonstrated a sense of freedom. But today, people sit on chairs and are not accustomed to reclining on couches or eating while reclining to the side. In fact, if one were to eat while reclining on a couch these days, it would be more burdensome than comfortable. Therefore, according to Raavya and Raavan, two leading Rishonim, there is no mitzva to practice hasava nowadays. However, most Rishonim maintain that since the Sages mandated reclining at the Seder, their ordinance stands firm, and there continues to be a mitzva to eat matza and drink the four cups of wine while reclining (Rambam, Rosh, Tur, SA 472:2). Today we recline by leaning against the back left of our chairs.

The requirement of hasava applies when eating a kezayit of matza, a kezayit of korekh, a kezayit of afikoman, and while drinking the four cups of wine. It is commendable to recline during the rest of the meal as well, but if one finds this uncomfortable, there is no obligation (MT, Laws of Ĥametz and Matza 7:8). One need not recline while eating the maror (MB 475:14, based on Beit Yosef). One should not recline while reciting Birkat Ha-mazon, which must be recited with awe and reverence (SA 183:9). Likewise, it is customary to refrain from hasava while reading the Hagada, so that it is recited with full concentration and seriousness (MB 473:81, based on Shlah).

11. How to Recline

Nowadays, people are not used to reclining on couches while eating, and it is therefore necessary to explain how to perform hasava in a chair on the Seder night. Instead of sitting erect with one’s back against the seat back, one slides his bottom forward to the middle of the seat so that he may lean back against the chair back, and tilts to the left. If possible, one should use an upholstered chair with armrests, or try to use a pillow to make sitting more comfortable. Regardless, anyone who uses a chair with a backrest fulfills his obligation by reclining against the back of the chair and tilting to the left, for this too is an expression of freedom. After all, an office worker, for example, must sit erect in his chair in order to carry out his work, but one who has no burdens can stretch out, lean back, and rest in liberated manner.

The reason for reclining to the left is that it is easier to eat this way; with the left hand and back reclining against the chair, the right hand, which we generally use, remains free to hold the matza or wine. Additionally, some say that one who reclines to the right runs the risk of choking on his food and suffocating. Because of this risk, it was ruled that even a left-handed person must recline to the left and use his right hand on the Seder night. Be-di’avad, a right-handed person who mistakenly reclines to his right does not fulfill his obligation, but a left-handed person who reclines to the right does (SA 472:3, MB ad loc. 10-11).

If one is sitting in the company of his rabbi or a leading Torah sage, he must ask his permission before reclining, because hasava contains an expression of disrespect and irreverence toward the rabbi, and the mitzva to honor the Torah takes precedence over the mitzva of hasava. But if one receives permission from his rabbi, then hasava no longer constitutes a display of disrespect (SA 472: 5).

12. If One Forgets To Recline

If one eats a kezayit of matza without reclining, he does not fulfill his obligation, as he has not performed the mitzva as the Sages ordained it, and he must eat another kezayit while reclining. Even if one has already recited Birkat Ha-mazon, he must wash his hands again, recite ha-motzi, and eat a second kezayit while reclining. In this case, however, one does not recite the “al akhilat matza” blessing a second time, because, according to Raavya and Raavan, he already fulfilled the mitzva of eating matza with the kezayit he ate without hasava (SA 472:7, MB ad loc. 22).

If one forgets to recline for korekh, he need not eat it a second time, since some poskim rule that korekh does not require hasava because it contains maror. Le-khatĥila, we customarily recline for korekh, but if one forgets to do so, he may rely upon those who maintain that hasava is not necessary. If one eats the afikoman without reclining and he can easily eat another kezayit of afikoman while reclining, he should do so; but if eating another kezayit will be difficult for him, he may rely on Raavya and Raavan, who maintain that hasava is not necessary nowadays.[7]

If one drinks one of the four cups without reclining, the poskim are divided over whether or not he must go back and drink it a second time. According to Shulĥan Arukh, he must indeed drink the cup again, this time reclining. According to Rema, though, this creates a problem, because by drinking again one appears to be adding to the number of cups ordained by the Sages. Therefore, if one drinks the second of the four cups without reclining, he must drink it again with hasava, because the second cup precedes the meal, and since it is permissible to drink wine during the meal, one who drinks at this point does not appear to be adding to the required four cups. But if one forgot to recline while drinking the first, third, or fourth cup, he may not go back and drink it a second time, because by doing so he would appear to be adding to the mitzva. He may rely on Raavya and Raavan who maintain that nowadays, when even important people are not accustomed to reclining, one need not perform hasava on the Seder night (SA 472:7, MB 21 ad loc.).

Shulĥan Arukh’s ruling that one must drink any of the four cups again with hasava, and Rema’s similar ruling about only the second cup, are le-khatĥila. If drinking again is difficult, one may rely on what he drank without hasava and need not drink again.[8]

Women should preferably recline while eating matza and drinking the four cups of wine, but if they forgot, they need not eat or drink again. Important women who accidentally eat matza without reclining should eat it again while reclining.[9]


[7]. The principle is that when in doubt about a Torah commandment one must be stringent, but when in doubt about a rabbinic enactment one may be lenient. Eating a kezayit of matza is a Torah obligation, and although reclining while eating is a rabbinic obligation, since it pertains to a Torah obligation we are stringent, and if one ate without reclining he must eat again and recline. Conversely, eating korekh and afikoman are rabbinic injunctions, and since according to Raavya and Raavan reclining while eating them is unnecessary, if one ate them without reclining, he would not have to eat again. However, since according to the overwhelming majority of poskim reclining is necessary when eating korekh and afikoman (and this is the halakha), and since it is an easy mitzva to redo, one should redo the mitzva.

Regarding korekh, Rokei’aĥ and Shibolei Ha-leket maintain that one need not recline while eating korekh since it contains maror. Manhig, though, says one should recline during korekh, and this is the view of most Rishonim as well as SA 475:1. However, if one ate korekh without reclining he still fulfills his obligation (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 475:36 in the name of Pri Ĥadash and SAH).

Regarding the afikoman, SA 477:1 states that one must recline while eating the afikoman. Pri Ĥadash, on the other hand, notes that Rambam and the Yerushalmi seem to imply that reclining while eating the afikoman is unnecessary. Based on this, MB 477:4 states that if one forgot to recline and eating another kezayit of afikoman would be difficult for him, he need not eat another afikoman. This is also the opinion of Kaf Ha-ĥayim 472:45 and 477:7. According to Ĥayei Adam 130:13, though, even if one was able to eat another afikoman, it is forbidden to eat the afikoman twice. MB 472:22 quotes this, which seemingly contradicts what he states in 477:4. Perhaps this can be reconciled: if one remembered immediately that he neglected to recline, he should continue eating another kezayit while reclining, but if he already finished eating, he should not go back and eat more, since this would be considered eating the afikoman twice. So states Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag 22:5.

[8]. Pesaĥim 108a expresses uncertainty about which of the four cups require reclining – the first two or the last two – and concludes that one must recline while drinking all four cups. Some Rishonim ask why the Gemara rules stringently, to recline during all cups, if the mitzva to drink the four cups is only rabbinic in origin, which should indicate a lenient ruling. Maharam Halawa, Tashbetz, and others answer that indeed the Gemara should have been lenient, but since there is no difficulty involved in reclining, it is best to recline while drinking all four cups. According to this answer, if one drank the cups without reclining, he need not drink again, since, in principle, the Gemara would have ruled leniently were this not such an easy mitzva. In contrast, Rosh says that if one drank any of the cups without reclining, he must drink again. This leads us to the conclusion that the reason we recline during all four cups is not because we are in doubt, but because the Sages in fact decreed that this should be so. This is the opinion of SA 742:7. In practice, since Raavya and Raavan maintain that there is no need to recline nowadays, and we are uncertain about whether or not one is required to drink again, one may be lenient. This is the opinion of Birkei Yosef 472:8 and Kaf Ha-ĥayim 472:42. Ĥazon Ovadia (§13), however, rules in accordance with SA that the leniency to not have to drink again only applies to someone who has difficulty doing so. In sum, Sephardim preferably follow SA that if one drank any of the cups without reclining, he has to drink again, and Ashkenazim follow Rema and only re-drink the second cup. However, if someone, whether Sephardic or Ashkenazic, wishes to be lenient, he may do so, since this is an uncertainty – and possibly a double uncertainty (sfek sfeika) regarding a rabbinic law.

[9]. Pesaĥim 108a states that a woman need not recline if she is in her husband’s presence, with the exception of an important woman (“isha ĥashuva”). SA 472:4 rules accordingly. (The rationale is that if reclining in the manner of free people does not reflect an inner sense of freedom, it has no purpose. This is similar to the logic behind a disciple not reclining in the presence of his rabbi.) There are different opinions about what defines an isha ĥashuva – that she is not subservient to her husband, that she is wealthy, that she is pedigreed, or that her husband does not mind if she reclines. Rema states that all women nowadays are considered ĥashuvot, but the custom is nevertheless that they do not recline, as per Raavya, who says that there is no longer a mitzva to recline. In practice, all women from all communities should try to recline, as Knesset Ha-gedola and Kaf Ha-ĥayim (ad loc. 28) state. Many Ashkenazic women in fact do so. But if a woman forgot to recline, she need not eat or drink again, since the mitzva of reclining is rabbinic, and there are several poskim who maintain that women are exempt, either because they are not ĥashuvot or because the view of Raavya is correct. Nonetheless, it seems that women who see themselves as important should recline while eating the Torah-mandated kezayit of matza and refrain from relying on the opinion of Raavya.

13. May One Drink after the First Cup?

Technically, one who wishes to drink after the first of the four cups may do so, but one should preferably not drink between the first and second cups so that he does not become intoxicated to the point of being unable to read the Hagada with proper concentration. However, it is permissible to drink non-alcoholic beverages such as grape juice or any other juice (SA 473:3, MB 16 ad loc.).

If, while reciting the blessing over the wine, one had in mind to drink other beverages, he need not recite a berakha over them, because the berakha over wine covers all beverages. Even if he did not intend to drink other beverages, but they were on the table and there was a chance that he might want to drink them, he need not recite a berakha before drinking them, because the blessing over wine covers these too (see SHT 473:18).[10]

A firstborn who fasted on Erev Pesaĥ, or someone so hungry that he finds it difficult to concentrate on reciting the Hagada, may eat foods such as eggs, fruits, potatoes, and kitniyot (for those who eat kitniyot on Pesaĥ) after kiddush. However, he should not eat too much, so that he saves his appetite for the matza. Furthermore, this is only permitted when there is great need. If one can restrain himself, it is best not to eat anything before the meal, because when one eats after kiddush, he runs into the problem of whether he has to recite a berakha aĥarona (and if one eats, he must recite a berakha aĥarona).[11]

This eating and drinking is only permissible before one pours the second cup and begins reciting the Hagada. However, after beginning the Hagada, it is forbidden to interrupt by eating or drinking, for reciting the Hagada is like prayer, which cannot be interrupted (BHL 473:3, based on Ramban and Ran; however, it notes that Ha-ma’or and Tosafot permit).


[10]. According to SAH 473:13 and MB 479:5, if one wants to drink “ĥamar medina” (the alcoholic non-wine beverage locally considered significant), if it requires a new berakha, the beverage is prohibited, since be-di’avad one can fulfill the mitzva by drinking ĥamar medina for all four cups. This is the proper custom. (Ĥemed Moshe forbids even other drinks if one must make a berakha on them. See Kaf Ha-ĥayim 473:40. It remains unclear whether this stringency applies to the Sephardic custom, according to which a berakha is not recited before every cup.)

[11]. One would presumably need to recite a berakha aĥarona. Since the food one eats before a meal is not considered part of the meal, he must recite a berakha after finishing the food before beginning the meal. This is the opinion of Ben Ish Ĥai (Naso 4), Kaf Ha-ĥayim 177:7, and Or Le-Tziyon 12:7. In principle, MB 176:2 also rules this way, but states that according to several poskim, if the food is of a type that is not covered by the berakha of ha-motzi, such as fruit, and the person intends to continue eating fruit during the meal, he should not make a berakha aĥarona, since the berakha that he made on the fruit will include the fruit he eats during the meal. Also, since Birkat Ha-mazon covers the fruit that he ate during the meal, it will also cover the fruit he ate before the meal. Consequently, an uncertain situation arises, since according to Rashbam the berakha on the karpas is also supposed to cover the maror. Therefore, SA states that one should specifically eat less than a kezayit of karpas so that he will not have to recite a berakha aĥarona. If one recited a berakha aĥarona over the food he ate after kiddush, that berakha would cover the karpas, and he would be required to make a new berakha on the maror. Perhaps he can have in mind to cover everything except the karpas with his berakha aĥarona, but this demands further investigation. Perhaps we may say that since he is eating after kiddush, the food is considered part of the meal and is covered by Birkat Ha-mazon. The only problem is that according to many poskim, including Ben Ish Ĥai and Kaf Ha-ĥayim cited above, Birkat Ha-mazon does not cover anything eaten before the meal. Moreover, even those who generally maintain that Birkat Ha-mazon covers food eaten before the meal, at the Seder there is a large break between the food eaten after kiddush and the meal, so it would seem that everyone would agree that in this case Birkat Ha-mazon does not cover anything eaten before the meal (Yeĥaveh Da’at 1:2). Indeed, Birkat Ha-mazon covers the wine that one drinks for the first cup, but this wine is different, because it is certainly connected to the meal, since the recitation of kiddush over this wine specifically allows one to partake in the meal. On the other hand, food that is eaten after kiddush might not be connected to the meal. In practice, one who eats after kiddush must recite a berakha aĥarona (“borei nefashot”), but should not recite a borei pri ha-adama on the maror. See R. Harari’s Mikra’ei Kodesh ch. 4, nn. 141 and 142.

14. Raĥatz – Washing Hands before Eating Karpas

After kiddush we eat the karpas, a vegetable. The Sages ordained eating karpas to create a change that will cause the children to ask why it is that tonight, unlike all other nights, we are eating a vegetable before the meal (Rashi and Rashbam on Pesaĥim 114a). Another reason given for this is that free people generally begin their meals with a vegetable appetizer, and so we do the same at the beginning of the Seder (Maharil).

The Sages ordained dipping the vegetable in a liquid, because this necessitates washing the hands before eating it, which is also a departure from the usual order of things. Ordinarily, the hands are washed only once at the beginning of the meal before eating bread. Thereafter, a variety of other foods are eaten. However, even if we dip these other foods in liquids, it is not necessary to wash our hands a second time, because hand-washing for bread covers the whole meal. At the Seder, though, we wash once before eating the karpas and a second time after reciting the Hagada, before eating the matza. The children therefore ask: “Why is this night different that, unlike all other nights, on this night we wash our hands twice?” (Tur and Beit Yosef 473:6). In addition, dipping the vegetable in liquid gives expression to our freedom, because this is the best way to eat it: not only does it serve as an appetizer, we even pamper ourselves by dipping it in salt water or vinegar, which enhances flavor and stimulates the appetite.

A full explanation of this law lies beyond the scope of this book, but suffice it to say that liquids conduct impurity (“tum’a”) more effectively than solid foods. The Sages therefore ordained the washing of hands before eating a food that has been dipped in liquid. According to most Rishonim, this hand washing has the same status as hand washing before eating bread: both were instituted to avoid tum’a. Even though nowadays we do not observe the laws of ritual purity and impurity, the institution remains in force. Thus, just as one must recite the berakha of “al netilat yadayim” over the hand washing before bread, so must one recite this blessing before eating a food dipped in liquid. This is the opinion of Rambam and Rosh. However, according to R. Meir of Rothenburg (Maharam), Itur, and Tosafot (Pesaĥim 115a), there is a difference between these two types of hand washing: netilat yadayim before bread was instituted for purposes of sanctity and cleanliness, and thus even today hands should be washed for cleanliness before a meal. Consequently, this hand washing requires a berakha. However, netilat yadayim before eating a food dipped in liquid is only due to tum’a, and since these laws are not practiced nowadays, there is no need to wash hands before eating a food dipped in liquid.[12]

In practice, we wash our hands before eating karpas, but do not recite a blessing, in order to fulfill all opinions: on the one hand, we wash our hands in accordance with the poskim who require it, but on the other hand, we do not recite a berakha because there are those who maintain that nowadays there is no need to wash hands before eating food dipped in liquid (SA 473:6).

If one mistakenly recites a blessing over this hand washing, he is not guilty of a berakha le-vatala (a blessing in vain), since he has acted in accordance with the majority of poskim, including Levush and Gra, who require a berakha when washing hands for a food dipped in liquid. However, the le-khatĥila ruling is not to recite a berakha, because we rule leniently in cases of uncertainty about berakhot.[13]

Furthermore, if one mistakenly recites a berakha over the first hand washing, this does not exempt him from the second hand washing, and he must recite a blessing over it as well. This is because people are not meticulous about keeping their hands clean between the two washings. In addition, the time spent reciting the Hagada constitutes an interruption between the two hand washings, and therefore the Sages ordained washing hands twice at the Seder (see Kaf Ha-ĥayim 473:107; BHL 475:1; Mikra’ei Kodesh ch. 7 n. 8).


[12]. The laws of year-round foods dipped in liquid are discussed in SA 158:4, which rules that one must wash his hands without a berakha before eating them. However, MA cites Leĥem Ĥamudot that many do not wash their hands before eating foods dipped in liquid, and that they may rely on the minority of Rishonim who maintain that this law does not apply nowadays. SAH 158:3 states that we do not reprimand people who act this way, though it is better to wash one’s hands. MB 158:20 states that many Aĥaronim are stringent in this matter, though in practice many people are lenient, including many Torah scholars. They presumably base this lenient practice on the principle that when there is an uncertainty regarding a rabbinic law, we are lenient, since washing hands before eating is a rabbinic injunction (Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 2:5). If so, however, why do we deviate from the standard practice on Pesaĥ night and wash our hands before eating karpas? See Taz 473:6, which uses this question to prove that we should be careful to wash our hands all year round. Netziv states in his Hagada, Imrei Shefer, that this is not a valid question, since during the Seder we do many things that used to be done during Temple times, including this hand washing.

[13]. If he recited a berakha accidentally, he should eat an egg’s bulk (kebeitza) of the vegetable, since one is only required to wash with a berakha on a piece of food this size (SA 158:2, Kaf Ha-ĥayim 158:20, and the opinion of Rashbatz quoted there).

15. Karpas

As noted, the Sages ordained eating a vegetable dipped in liquid between kiddush and the recitation of the Hagada in order to change routine; all year long, we eat vegetables during the meal, after washing hands over bread, but at the Seder we eat a bit of vegetable before reciting the Hagada and before washing hands for the meal. Two things are unusual about this: first, we eat a vegetable before the meal, and second, we wash our hands twice instead of once (Rashi and Rashbam on Pesaĥim 114a; Tur §473). In addition, because we eat a vegetable before reciting the Hagada, our Seder meal is imbued with added importance, because the finest banquets generally begin with appetizers and hors d’oeuvres, followed by a pause for a different part of the program, after which the main meal begins (based on Baĥ).

The word “karpas” appears neither in the Mishna nor in the Talmud; we are only told that a vegetable is eaten before the Hagada is recited (Pesaĥim 114-115). But a few Rishonim (Maharil, Raavan) write that karpas should be used, because its Hebrew name alludes to the 600,000 men put to hard labor in Egypt (the Hebrew letters of the word karpas can be rearranged to spell “samekh parekh”; the letter samekh has a numerical value of sixty or 600,000, and parekh means hard labor). Though not mandatory, the Aĥaronim say that it is good to use karpas (SA 473:6, MB 19 and Kaf Ha-ĥayim 49 ad loc.). However, there are differing opinions about what karpas is. Some say it is celery, and this is the widespread custom among Sephardim. Others say it is parsley, which is the custom of some Ashkenazim. Most Ashkenazim, however, use neither celery nor parsley, because there is uncertainty about what blessing to recite over them in the Ashkenazic custom. They instead use boiled potatoes. Each family should continue its own tradition.[14]

We dip the karpas in salt water or vinegar and recite the berakha of “borei pri ha-adama” (Who creates the food of the soil) with the intention that it also apply to the maror that will be eaten later in the meal. It is not necessary to recline while eating karpas because some poskim say it alludes to the suffering of enslavement in Egypt, and therefore need not be eaten as a demonstration of freedom.

One must eat less than a kezayit of karpas. Though some Rishonim (Rambam) say that more than a kezayit of karpas should be eaten, it is best to avoid this. Eating more than a kezayit invites uncertainty about making a berakha aĥarona, since according to Ri, a berakha aĥarona is necessary, but according to Rashbam, one should not recite a berakha aĥarona, because the blessing over the karpas covers the maror we eat during the meal. Therefore, as said, it is best not to eat a kezayit of karpas. If one eats more than a kezayit of karpas, he should not recite a berakha aĥarona, because we rule leniently whenever there is uncertainty about reciting a berakha (Maharil; SA 473:6).[15]


[14]. See Mikra’ei Kodesh pp. 184-187 and Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 2:5:3 regarding the opinions about and customs of eating karpas. In general, the advantage of eating celery or parsley, in addition to the fact that they are actually karpas, is that they are eaten raw and stimulate the appetite. Moreover, they are usually eaten in small amounts, which makes it easier to eat less than a kezayit, as will be explained below. On the other hand, in Ashkenazic communities they were not generally eaten raw, and consequently one who eats them raw should recite the berakha of “she-hakol.” But the berakha on karpas must be “ha-adama.” Therefore, the custom in Ashkenazic communities is to eat cooked potatoes for karpas, on which the berakha is undoubtedly “ha-adama.” In Middle Eastern and North African communities, where celery and parsley were eaten raw, one recites “ha-adama” over them.

It is worth adding that one should not use any food for karpas that is normally eaten outside the context of a meal – bananas and pineapples, for example – since it is not clear that they are being used as appetizers; rather, they look like separate foods that are eaten by themselves, do not seem different, and do not provoke questions. Vegetables, however, are usually eaten in the middle of the meal, so eating them before the meal is a change.

[15]. This dispute hinges on whether one must recite a berakha on the maror. According to Rashbam, a berakha is necessary, since the berakha of “ha-motzi” over the matza covers everything that will be eaten during the meal, meaning anything that is eaten with matza to provide satisfaction. But maror is not eaten for this purpose, so it is not covered by the berakha of ha-motzi. Therefore, one must have in mind when making the berakha on the karpas to cover the maror as well. By doing this, he exempts himself from making a separate berakha on the maror. However, according to Ri, one need not make a berakha on maror at all, since it is considered a food that is eaten in the context of the meal and hence is covered by the berakha on the matza. Accordingly, if one eats more than a kezayit of karpas, he must recite a berakha aĥarona. He should not wait until Birkat Ha-mazon, since it only covers food that was eaten during the meal, not before it. So if one eats a kezayit of karpas and does not recite a berakha aĥarona right away, he misses his opportunity to make the berakha.

Nevertheless, be-di’avad, if one ate more than a kezayit of karpas, he should not recite a berakha aĥarona. This is because we are lenient in laws of berakhot in cases of uncertainty. On the one hand, perhaps Rashbam is correct that the berakha on the karpas covers the maror, and since Birkat Ha-mazon covers the maror, it also covers the karpas, which is connected to the maror. (See BHL 473:6, which cites Gra that one must make a berakha and concludes that the matter must be explored further. Nevertheless, practically speaking, one should not recite a berakha about which there is doubt.) On the other hand, if one ate a kezayit and recited a berakha aĥarona afterward, he should not recite a berakha on the maror, since perhaps Ri is correct that the berakha on the matza covers the maror.

If it is true that one must eat less than a kezayit of karpas, why is one required to wash his hands? We know (SA 158:3; Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 2:6) that one only needs to wash hands for a piece of bread larger than a kezayit kal va-ĥomer that one need not wash for a food dipped in liquid. Indeed, according to Rambam (MT Laws of Ĥametz and Matza 8:2) and many other Rishonim, one should specifically eat a kezayit of karpas (in a responsum he instructed his correspondent to recite a berakha aĥarona afterward). This was in fact the practice of the Vilna Gaon and several other Aĥaronim (although it is unknown whether they recited a berakha aĥarona afterward). BHL 473:6 leaves this issue unresolved. Perhaps according to Netziv (cited above in n. 12), who says that we wash our hands before karpas to remember what used to be done in the Temple, we can suggest that in the times of the Temple people would eat pieces larger than a kezayit, and they knew whether or not to recite a berakha aĥarona. Nowadays, however, since we do not know whether to recite a berakha aĥarona, we eat less than a kezayit to avoid uncertainty, and although technically we need not wash our hands to eat less than a kezayit, we do so anyway to commemorate what was done in the Temple. See also Kaf Ha-ĥayim 158:20, which states that there are some who learned from the status of karpas that the law of washing for vegetables is different than the law of washing for bread: for bread one only washes for a kezayit, but for vegetables one washes even for less than a kezayit.

16. Yaĥatz – Breaking the Middle Matza

Three matzot are arranged on the Seder plate. After eating karpas, before reciting the Hagada, the Seder leader (and whoever else has three matzot in front of him), breaks the middle matza in half. One piece is saved for the afikoman, and the other is left between the two whole matzot (SA 463:6).

The reason for this is that the matza alludes to our poverty and enslavement in Egypt, and is hence called “leĥem oni” – “poor man’s bread” (Devarim 16:3). Paupers often eat partial loaves of bread because they are unable to buy whole loaves. So, in order to give expression to the poverty, we break the matza in half. We do this before beginning the Hagada since the Hagada should be recited in the presence of the matza. This is because the term “leĥem oni” also means “bread over which we ‘onim’ – answer or say – many things,” and this means that the Hagada must be recited while the matza, in the form it will be eaten, is before us. This is why it must be broken in half before we begin the Hagada.

Nevertheless, on the Seder night, just like on every Shabbat and Yom Tov, there is a mitzva to recite ha-motzi over two whole loaves of bread/matza (“leĥem mishneh”). Therefore, we set the table with three matzot: the middle one is broken in half to give expression to leĥem oni, while the top and bottom matzot remain whole and serve as leĥem mishneh. (Later, when reciting “ha-motzi,” one should hold all three matzot so that there is leĥem mishneh, and before reciting the berakha of “al akhilat matza,” we put down the bottom matza and recite the blessing over the top and middle matzot, in order to highlight the broken matza to a greater degree.)[16]

The larger piece of the broken matza is designated as the afikoman, and the custom is to wrap it in a napkin, in recollection of the verse, “The people took their dough before it was leavened; their kneading leftover dough was wrapped in their robes” (Shemot 12:34). Some people have a custom to place the afikoman on their shoulder for a moment, in remembrance of the Exodus, when people carried matzot on their shoulders (MB 473:59).

Afterward, we hide the afikoman and save it until the end of the Seder, when it is eaten in commemoration of the Paschal sacrifice (see sections 33 and 34 below).

In many homes, the children customarily “steal” the afikoman and keep it until the end of the meal, when they give it back in return for a gift. This helps them stay awake for the entire Seder. In my family, we give gifts to all children who remain awake until after the afikoman is eaten.


[16]. According to Rambam, one sets the table with only two matzot and breaks the bottom one. There is no need for two whole matzot, because at the Seder one is supposed to eat leĥem oni, and so one matza is broken This is the custom of the Yemenite community, who follow Rambam.

17. Magid – Beginning the Hagada

After breaking the middle matza, we uncover the matzot, and the Seder leader lifts the entire Seder plate, or at least the matzot, for all of the participants to see. While doing so, he recites the paragraph “Ha Laĥma Anya” and explains the meaning of the words to the participants. Upon completing Ha Laĥma Anya, the Seder leader places the Seder plate or matzot back on the table (SA 473:6).

At this point, the Seder plate is removed, making it appear as if the Seder is over. This is done so that the children become surprised and ask why the matzot and Seder plate are being taken away before we have even begun eating. Consequently, they ask “Ma nishtana? (SA 473:6).

After removing the Seder plate, and even before reciting “Ma nishtana, we pour the second cup. This also surprises the children, because we do not usually pour two cups of wine before a meal. Another reason we do this is that we want the whole Hagada, including the questions that precede it, to be said over a cup of wine.

It is best not to pour wine into the cups of the young children at this point, because they will have a hard time making it through the long Hagada without spilling the cup, and wine spilled on the table can cause aggravation and demonstrates disrespect for Yom Tov, which should be honored with a clean tablecloth and a beautifully set table. Therefore, it is best to pour wine for the children near the end of the Hagada, shortly before drinking the second cup.

After the second cup has been poured, the children ask “Ma nishtana? Following this, the Seder plate is returned so that the Hagada can be recited in the presence of matza and maror, and we begin answering the children with the story of the Exodus. We have already seen (ch. 15) that the purpose of the Seder night is to fulfill the mitzva of narrating the Exodus, and that the essence of this mitzva is to tell this story to the children. We also saw that there is a Torah commandment to tell the story of the Exodus even when no children are present (above 15:1) and that there is a mitzva to begin the story with a question (ibid. 3-4). We also learned that the story must be tailored to the ability and understanding of each child (ibid. 5), and that when telling the story, one must begin with indignity and end with praise (ibid. 7). We also saw that the purpose of the Seder is that the children learn, by means of the Exodus story, about the mission of the Jewish people in this world: to adhere to God, uphold His mitzvot, live in the land that He swore to give to our ancestors and to us, to enumerate His praises among the nations, and to earn divine blessing and goodness (ibid. 6).

The Sages introduced a fixed text for the Hagada so people would relate the story of the Exodus with precision and without omitting any important elements. Additionally, it is commendable to continue telling the story after the Seder ends. However, during the recitation of the Hagada one must take care not to make things too tiresome and long-winded for the children and other participants. Reciting the text is sufficient to fulfill the mitzva in the optimal manner.

18. Laws of Reciting the Hagada

One who merely contemplates the Hagada does not fulfill the obligation to tell the Exodus story, as it is stated, Tell your child(Shemot 13:8), i.e., express the story verbally. However, it is not necessary for all participants to recite the Hagada; the main thing is that the Seder leader or someone else recites it aloud, and the others hear it. Indeed, it was customary for the oldest participant to read and explain the Hagada while everyone else listened. This is, in fact, the way stories are usually told (see Pesaĥim 116b).

Nowadays, in order to include everyone in the recitation of the Hagada, it is customary for the Seder leader to read it aloud while everyone else quietly reads along with him. Others have participants take turns reading paragraphs from the Hagada, but it is important to note that only a reader who has reached halakhic adulthood (i.e., is a bar or bat mitzva) can fulfill this obligation on another’s behalf.

When several sets of parents and children have the Seder together, it is not necessary for each father to tell the story to his child separately; it is sufficient for the Seder leader or another participant to read the Hagada out loud, because as long as the father makes sure that his child hears the story of the Exodus, he has fulfilled the mitzva to tell your child.” One who wishes to enhance the mitzva can further explain the Exodus to his child.

In order to fulfill the mitzva of telling the Exodus story, one must at the very least explain or hear an explanation of the Paschal sacrifice, matza, and maror. This makes clear that we were slaves in Egypt and that God redeemed us. Therefore, if parents see that their children are tired and are unable to complete the Hagada, they must tell them about the korban Pesaĥ, matza, and maror, and explain their meaning. The same principle applies to a participant who is unable to complete the Hagada due to illness or military duty (see above 15:9).

19. Customs Regarding the Recitation of the Hagada

As stated, the custom is to refrain from reclining while reciting the Hagada, because it must be recited with seriousness and reverence (MB 473:71, based on Shlah). However, this seriousness incorporates joy and elation at the fact that God chose us from among all the nations and gave us the Torah (see Kaf Ha-ĥayim 473:152).

We have already seen that the matza must be kept uncovered while we recite the Hagada, in keeping with the words of the Sages: “’leĥem oni’ – bread over which we ‘onim’ – answer or say – many things” (Pesaĥim 115b). Giving concrete expression to the Exodus story is the foundation of the mitzva to eat matza on the Seder night.

However, when we raise the wine glasses to recite the paragraphs of “Ve-hi sheamdah” (“And this [promise] has stood”) and “Lefikhakh anaĥnu ĥayavim” (“Therefore it is our duty”), as well as when reciting the long berakha on redemption (“Birkat Ha-ge’ula”) just before drinking the second cup, the matza should be covered. The matza is more significant than the wine, and therefore, whenever we hold up the cup of wine and show it preference, the matza must be covered (SA 473:7, MB ad loc. 73). It is for the same reason that we cover the bread when reciting kiddush every Shabbat and Yom Tov.

When reciting the paragraph “Matza zo sheanu okhlim” (“This matza that we eat”), the Seder leader holds up the matza for all of the participants to see, in order to endear the mitzva to them. And when “Maror zeh…” (“This maror…”) is said, the maror is held up. However, when “Pesaĥ zeh…” is said, the zero’a is not held up, because it is not the actual meat of the korban Pesaĥ, but merely a commemoration of it. Thus, one who holds it up is like one who offers sacrifices outside the Temple precincts (Pesaĥim 116b; SA 473:7).

It is customary to spill out a bit of wine from the cup when enumerating “dam, vaesh, ve-timrot ashan” (“blood, fire, and pillars of smoke” – Yoel 3:3), while reciting “detzaĥ, adash, and be’aĥav” (R. Yehuda’s mnemonic device for remembering the Ten Plagues), and while enumerating the Ten Plagues. This comes to sixteen times. Some have a custom to drip the wine with the index finger, and others have a custom to pour out a little bit into a broken vessel (Rema 473:7; SHT 81 and Kaf Ha-ĥayim 163-4 ad loc.). Rav Kook rules that one should not spill out Shemitta wine (produced from grapes grown on the Torah’s Sabbatical year; some poskim say that there is a mitzva to drink Shemitta wine, and therefore one should not refrain from using it for the four cups).

20. The Mitzva to Recite Hallel on the Seder Night

When the Temple stood, people would recite Hallel while offering the korban Pesaĥ, and again while eating it (Pesaĥim 95a). The main reason for reciting Hallel on the first night of Pesaĥ is to sing God’s praises; every Jew must see himself, on Pesaĥ night, as though he left Egypt personally, and it is only natural to sing praises to God for redeeming us. In fact, this recitation of Hallel is unique: on all other holidays we recite Hallel as an expression of praise and thanksgiving to God, but on the night of Pesaĥ we proclaim it as a song (ibid. 95b).

The Sages ordained reciting half of Hallel before the meal and half of it after the meal, so that it encompasses the eating of the korban Pesaĥ. Although we no longer have the privilege of eating the korban Pesaĥ nowadays, we eat matza instead (Maharal, Gevurot Hashem, end of ch. 62). In addition, the first half of Hallel contains Psalm 114, “When Israel left Egypt” (“Be-tzeit Yisrael Mi-Mitzrayim”), which is a continuation of the Hagada’s story. This is why, at its conclusion, we recite the blessing over the redemption from Egypt (“Birkat Ha-ge’ula”). The second half of Hallel, recited after the meal, is a more general song of thanks for all redemptions, past and future (Levush).

Another reason for dividing Hallel is that this enables us to drink all four cups over song. We drink the first cup over kiddush, the second over the first half of Hallel, the third over Birkat Ha-mazon, and the fourth over the second half of Hallel (Manhig §90).[17]

The Rishonim are divided over whether or not a berakha should be recited over Hallel on Pesaĥ night. Some say two berakhot should be recited, one over each half of Hallel. Others say one berakha should be recited. There are differing opinions over the wording of the berakha as well: some say it should be “likro et ha-Hallel” (“to recite Hallel”) and others say “ligmor et ha-Hallel” (“to complete the Hallel”). Another group of authorities maintains that no blessing at all should be pronounced over Hallel on the Seder night, either because it is divided into two parts (Rosh), because a berakha was already pronounced over the Hallel that was recited in the synagogue during the Ma’ariv prayer (Rashba), or because this Hallel is like a song and therefore requires no berakha (R. Hai Gaon). Some maintain that Birkat Ha-ge’ula covers Hallel as well. In practice, the custom is to refrain from making a berakha over the Hallel we recite at the Seder.

During the rest of the year, we stand while reciting Hallel, because it is like attesting to God’s greatness, and testimony must be given while standing. But the Sages did not wish to burden us on the Seder night, because all of our actions on this night must demonstrate freedom (Beit Yosef OĤ  422:7). Nevertheless, as we have learned, the Hagada should not be read while reclining, but with an air of solemnity (Shlah).

Hallel is customarily read aloud and with sweet singing (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 480:3).


[17]. The practice of saying half of Hallel before the meal is cited in a mishna in Pesaĥim 116b. Ibid. 117a explains the mitzva of saying Hallel to commemorate miracles. See the introduction to Hagada Torah Sheleima ch. 27, which summarizes both sides of the dispute about whether or not one should recite a berakha over this Hallel. See also Kaf Ha-ĥayim 473:160-161 and Ha-Seder He-arukh.

21. The Laws of the Second and Fourth Cups

The only significant practical difference between communal customs regarding the laws of the Seder pertains to the berakha over the second and fourth cups.

Many Rishonim maintain that “borei pri ha-gefen” must be recited over each of the four cups, even though our attention is not diverted from one cup to the next, because each cup is a mitzva in its own right. This is the opinion of R. Natronai Gaon, R. Amram Gaon, Rif, Rambam, Maharitz (a leading Yemeni authority), and Rema, and it is the practice of Ashkenazim and of Yemeni Jews who follow Rambam.

However, Rosh maintains that “ha-gefen” must only be recited before the first and third cups. The berakha over the first cup covers the second cup because there is nothing between them to divert our attention. We recite a berakha over the third cup because it follows Birkat Ha-mazon and a berakha is always recited over wine we drink after Birkat Ha-mazon, even if “ha-gefen” was recited earlier in the meal, because Birkat Ha-mazon serves as a berakha aĥarona for the wine one drinks during the meal. The berakha over the third cup covers the fourth cup as well. R. Yona and Rashba also maintain that “ha-gefen” is recited over the first and third cups only. SA rules accordingly, and this is the Sephardic custom.

There are also differing opinions among Rishonim regarding the berakha aĥarona over the wine. In practice, however, there is a consensus not to recite a berakha aĥarona after each cup of wine. Rather, Birkat Ha-mazon covers the first two cups, and the berakha aĥarona (“al ha-gefen”) recited after the fourth cup covers both the third and fourth cups.[18]


[18]. It is worth adding here that many families customarily prolong the recitation of the Hagada beyond seventy-two minutes, which is the time it takes to digest and is generally considered the amount of time that constitutes an interruption, after which one may not recite a berakha aĥarona. It would seem, then, that an extended recitation of the Hagada would mean that Birkat Ha-mazon does not cover the first cup of wine, in which case one will not have recited a berakha aĥarona over the first cup of wine. Moreover, according to MA 184:9, if one waited for this amount of time between the first and second cups, he must recite a new berakha, which contradicts the ruling of SA that one need not recite a new berakha over the second cup (since the berakha on the first cup covers it). Additionally, how does this issue fit with Rashbam’s ruling that the berakha recited on the karpas also covers the maror? How can this work if more than seventy-two minutes have elapsed? This question is also raised in SA 473:6, which takes the view of Rashbam into consideration. Furthermore, the first cup is also kiddush, which must be part of a meal. When there is such a long break, perhaps kiddush must be recited again, so that it is part of the meal. Because of all of these problems, some poskim maintain that one should be careful to recite the Hagada in less than seventy-two minutes (see Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 3:9). Notwithstanding these concerns, many people still prolong the recitation of the Hagada for more than seventy-two minutes (see Mikra’ei Kodesh 2:30, Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag 20:5, and Responsa Ĥazon Ovadia §11, which justify this practice based on various rationales, such as explaining that the berakha aĥarona on the fourth cup also covers the first cup). In my humble opinion, the entire issue of a significant interruption (“hefsek”) in a meal only applies when one engages in unrelated activities (even if he does not take his mind off the meal). In this case, though, he is not dealing with unrelated issues; rather, he is involved in the Seder and the Hagada. Therefore, since the second cup is poured right at the beginning of the recitation of the Hagada, and since the entire recitation of the Hagada is connected to the second cup, the time between the first and second cups is not considered a hefsek. Consequently, there is no hefsek between kiddush and the meal; the recitation of the Hagada is considered part of the Seder, since telling the story of the Exodus is an integral part of the mitzva of eating matza. Similarly, telling the Exodus story is also inherently connected to the mitzva of eating maror, so the recitation of the Hagada does not constitute a hefsek between the eating of karpas and the eating of maror (and the berakha on karpas covers the maror as well).

22. The Mitzva to Eat Matza

There is a Torah commandment to eat matza on the night of the fifteenth of Nisan, as it states: “In the evening, you shall eat matzot” (Shemot 12:18). This matza must have been guarded (shmura), as it states: “And you shall observe (u-shemartem) the matzot” (ibid. 17), and some poskim say it must be made by hand, with the specific intention of fulfilling this mitzva (see above 12:4). One who eats stolen matza does not fulfill his obligation (SA 454:4). Therefore, it is good to pay for the matza before Pesaĥ, or at least obtain the explicit consent of the storeowner to grant the buyer ownership of the matza even if it has not yet been paid for, because if the storeowner does not agree to give the matza on credit, one cannot fulfill his obligation with it (MB 454:15).[19] As soon as one eats a kezayit of shmura matza he has fulfilled the Torah commandment, because all eating-related commandments in the Torah require the consumption of at least a kezayit.

Beyond the Torah obligation, the Sages ordained three more kezeytim of matza to be eaten at the Seder, making a total of four. After reciting the berakhot of “ha-motzi” and “al akhilat matza, we eat, le-khatĥila, two kezeytim: one from the top matza, for “ha-motzi, and one from the broken middle matza for “al akhilat matza. Later, we eat another kezayit with maror, for korekh, and at the end of the meal we eat one more kezayit as the afikoman (some say it is preferable to eat two kezeytim for the afikoman).

Before getting into the specifics of the size of a kezayit, let us clarify the practical halakha: there is a consensus that a kezayit is about a third of a piece of machine-made matza, and about the same-sized piece of a handmade matza. Thus, right after reciting “ha-motzi” and “al akhilat matza, two-thirds of a machine matza must be eaten. Another third should be eaten for korekh and one more for the afikoman (for those who are stringent about eating two kezeytim for the afikoman, one half of a matza suffices for this purpose).

The kezayit of matza must be eaten continuously. If one pauses while eating, and as a result takes longer than a shi’ur akhilat pras to eat a kezayit, he does not fulfill the mitzva. We shall soon discuss exactly how much time a shi’ur akhilat pras is, but for now, it is enough to say that whoever eats a kezayit of matza continuously fulfills the mitzva without question and need not look at the clock, because the only way it is possible to take longer than akhilat pras is if one stops eating for a few minutes.


[19]. Some stringently insist that the head of the household purchases the matza specifically for his guests and adult children, so that they eat matza that belongs to them. See Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 2:8:3. Nevertheless, one who eats matza owned by the head of the household fulfills his obligation, even if he performed no act of acquisition, since one can fulfill his obligation with borrowed matza (MB 454:15).

23. Calculating the Size of a Kezayit for Torah Commandments

The long exile gave rise to uncertainty regarding the size of a kezayit. According to Rambam, a kezayit is slightly less than a third of the volume of an egg; according to Tosafot, it is about the volume of half an egg. In practice, due to this uncertainty, the custom is to follow the stricter ruling of Tosafot. The equivalent of half an egg was calculated as being a third of a piece of machine matza and as a similar-sized piece of hard handmade matza, whose thickness is similar to that of a machine matza.

This is the consensus of all Sephardic and most Ashkenazic authorities. However, one of the most prominent Ashkenazic Aĥaronim, R. Yeĥezkel Landau (also known as “Noda Bi-Yehuda”), reached the conclusion, based on his own calculations, that our eggs are half the volume of the eggs that existed at the time of the Sages. It follows that a kezayit is not half the size of one of our eggs, but is the size of a whole contemporary egg. R. Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz (“Ĥazon Ish”) concurred with Noda Bi-Yehuda’s calculations. Thus, in order to fulfill the Torah commandment using the “Ĥazon Ish shi’ur,” one must eat an egg’s bulk of matza. Although the halakha usually follows the standard shi’ur and does not take Ĥazon Ish’s shi’ur into consideration, when it comes to the Torah commandment of eating matza, it is proper le-khatĥila to satisfy all opinions. Ideally, then, one should eat a Ĥazon Ish kezayit of matza, or approximately two-thirds of a matza.

This, however, is not really much of a stringency, since anyway our custom is to eat two kezeytim initially – one for “ha-motzi” and another for “al akhilat matza” (SA 475:1). Since these two kezeytim contain a single Ĥazon Ish kezayit, we fulfill the Torah commandment according to all opinions.

One who finds it difficult to eat two-thirds of a piece of machine matza can eat one third, because according to the standard calculation, a third of a matza contains a kezayit. One even recites the “al akhilat matza” blessing before eating this amount, for the standard measure is so well founded that it is not considered the sort of uncertainty that causes the berakha to be canceled.[20]


[20]. The size of a kezayit is a very long topic, and is explained in Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 10:5-6 and in the notes there. I will summarize it here.

SA 486:1 rules that regarding the requirement to eat matza, we follow Tosafot that a kezayit is the size of half an egg’s bulk. SAH (486:1) states that for Torah commandments, one must be stringent and follow Tosafot, but for rabbinic mitzvot, such as eiruvin, one may follow the lenient opinion of Rambam, who maintains that a kezayit is slightly less than a third of an egg’s bulk. MB 486:1 states that when it comes to reciting a berakha aĥarona, which is only required if one eats a kezayit, one must follow Tosafot, since we are lenient whenever there is uncertainty in the laws of berakhot. Thus, one is only required to recite a berakha aĥarona if he eats at least half an egg’s bulk, not less. Le-khatĥila one should not invite an ambiguous situation, and should eat either less than one third of an egg’s bulk, in which case he would be exempt from a berakha aĥarona according to everyone, or more than half an egg’s bulk, in which case he would be required to recite a berakha aĥarona according to everyone. Regarding matza, one must be stringent and follow the opinion of Tosafot. Similarly, one must follow the opinion of Tosafot vis-à-vis maror, since we recite a berakha on it. On the other hand, when it comes to the requirement to eat a kezayit of korekh and the requirement to eat a kezayit of afikoman, one may be lenient and follow Rambam.

BHL on 271 explains the opinion of Noda Bi-Yehuda. MB (486:1) quotes Sha’arei Teshuva that regarding Torah commandments, including mitzvot like kiddush with a biblical basis, one should be stringent and follow Noda Bi-Yehuda. On the other hand, vis-à-vis rabbinic mitzvot like the four cups of wine, one need not follow Noda Bi-Yehuda. MB (ibid.) also states that regarding berakha aĥarona one need not follow Noda Bi-Yehuda; rather, he should recite a berakha aĥarona after eating the amount of half an egg, as per Tosafot. Sephardim do not show any concern for Noda Bi-Yehuda’s measurements, since the tradition regarding halakhic measurements was passed down, uninterrupted, in the regions near Eretz Yisrael, and every time the sizes were recalculated, the same results were found.

It should also be noted that there are two opinions within the view of Noda Bi-Yehuda that the kezayit of Tosafot is the size of a modern-day egg: according to MB this means an egg with its shell, and according to Ĥazon Ish this means an egg without its shell; the difference between these two opinions is about ten percent.

MB 486:3 states that one must realize that all of these measurements are based on volume, and only when there are large air pockets is one required to compress the food. The food’s natural texture does not need to be compressed. Therefore, the weight of a kezayit often varies, depending on the density of the food.

After measuring, it emerges that a kezayit according to Tosafot, which is the size of half a modern-day egg, is at most a third of a machine-made matza. If we multiply this shi’ur based on MB’s stringent explanation of Noda Bi-Yehuda, namely, that a kezayit is the size of a whole egg with its shell, a kezayit is approximately two-thirds of a machine-made matza. According to Ĥazon Ish’s understanding of Noda Bi-Yehuda, roughly half of a machine-made matza is sufficient, or, according to some, slightly more than half. In any case, one who eats two-thirds of a machine-made matza fulfills his obligation according to even the most stringent opinions (the weight of a machine-made matza is approximately 33 grams). See Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 2:8:4, which explains the calculations practically.

After reciting the berakha, one must eat two kezeytim (SA 475:1 citing Rosh and Mordechai). One kezayit is taken from the top, whole matza for the berakha of “ha-motzi,” and one kezayit is taken from the middle, broken matza for the berakha of “al akhilat matza.” BHL questions this ruling, since it does not seem that any other Rishonim require eating two kezayit-sized pieces. Nevertheless, the custom is to follow SA. However, one certainly does not need to be stringent in measuring the two pieces; therefore, if he ate a kezayit according to the measurement of Noda Bi-Yehuda, he has already fulfilled the obligation to eat two kezayit-sized pieces according to the accepted measurement (that of Tosafot) and has eaten more than three kezayit sizes according to the measurement of Rambam.

One who has difficulty eating two-thirds of a machine-made matza may eat one third and may recite the berakha of “al akhilat matza,” since, as we already mentioned, technically the halakha follows the accepted measurement (Tosafot), and even regarding berakha aĥarona one need not follow Ĥazon Ish (with the exception of his students and followers). Regarding the practice to eat two kezeytim, we have already mentioned that not all Rishonim agree that this is a requirement; moreover, one third of a machine-made matza likely contains two kezayit sizes according to Rambam. Therefore, one who eats one third altogether should eat a small piece from the whole matza and a small piece from the broken matza.

24. The Sephardic Custom Regarding a Kezayit

Sephardic Jews customarily do not give any consideration to the Noda Bi-Yehuda/Ĥazon Ish position, because their own tradition about these measurements was handed down in an orderly manner from generation to generation, without change. Even with regard to Torah commandments, they are not concerned about the Ĥazon Ish shi’ur. It follows that the volume of a kezayit does not exceed one third of a piece of machine matza (based on the position of Tosafot that a kezayit is about half an egg).

The above applies when one measures according to volume; however, most Sephardim actually have a custom to base the shi’ur on weight, as it is difficult to calculate the volume of each food independently to determine whether one must recite a berakha aĥarona after eating it. After all, foods come in all sorts of shapes and sizes: long and thin, round and square, etc. Some foods contain hollow spaces that are not factored into the volume. Thus, in order to make it easier to calculate shi’urim, the practice of measuring by water weight was adopted. It was thus determined that a kezayit, or half an egg, is equal to 29 grams (a more recent adjustment puts it at 25 grams). In order to eat this amount of matza, one must eat nearly a whole piece of machine matza. In other words, if we calculate a kezayit of matza by weight, it comes out almost three times more than if measured by volume.

This means that one must eat four machine matzot on the Seder night: two after the initial berakhot, one for korekh, and one more for the afikoman (and for those who are stringent – two more for the afikoman).

Yet is it clear that in principle all measurements are by volume, not weight, as several leading Sephardic poskim – R. Ben-Zion Abba Shaul and R. Shalom Messas – have ruled. Since the stringency of measuring matza by weight raises justifiable difficulties and consternation among many participants, we may instruct all Jews, Sephardic and Ashkenazic alike, that a kezayit is a third of a machine matza.[21]


[21]. The vast majority of Rishonim maintain that shi’urim are calculated by volume. This is the ruling of Yeĥaveh Da’at 4:55 regarding the minimum shi’ur for the tithing of ĥalla. See the addendum “Shi’ur Kezayit” at the back of R. Harari’s Mikra’ei Kodesh part 4 and 6:3. See also Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 10:6, 7 and the expanded notes ad loc. Nevertheless, Sephardic Aĥaronim customarily calculate a kezayit by weight, as Ĥida writes in Maĥzik Berakha 168:6; see also Kaf Ha-ĥayim (168:45-46 and 486:1, 3) which cites more sources. This is also the ruling of R. Ovadia Yosef and R. Mordechai Eliyahu. Some poskim raise the possibility that shi’urim should be calculated by weight even in principle, since perhaps volume must be calculated after the food has been compressed, and a kezayit of fully compressed food will have the same weight as water. However, it is clear that the real justification for measuring by weight is that it is easier. Therefore, even a Sephardic Jew who normally measures by weight may rely on a volume-based measurement for matza. Indeed, R. Ben-Zion Abba Shaul and R. Shalom Messas maintain that one should calculate by volume le-khatĥila.

Additionally, since our custom is to eat two kezayit-sized pieces initially, one must eat two-thirds of a machine-made matza. Even according to the weight-based measurement, two-thirds of a machine-made matza constitutes a kezayit according to Rambam.

It should also be noted that according to the latest calculations of Rambam’s opinion, it emerges that the weight of half an egg is c. 25 grams, not 27, 28, or 29 grams as calculated by those who follow R. Ĥayim Naeh. See Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 10:6, 11. Nevertheless, the key point is that we calculate by volume, and by eating one third of a machine­-made matza, one removes all doubt. See Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 2:8:4. Sephardim who eat thick, soft matza may also calculate by volume, since this is the primary halakhic method. However, it is easier to eat a weight-based (25 gm) kezayit of this matza. After the initial berakhot, when we eat two kezeytim, one may use Rambam’s kezayit, which is less than a third of an egg, and c. 30 gm of matza would suffice in this instance.

25. How Much Is a Shi’ur Akhilat Pras?

We have now seen that in order to fulfill the mitzva of eating matza, as well as any other Torah commandment governing eating, one must eat at least a kezayit. One condition must now be added: it is only considered a single act of eating if it is completed within the amount of time it takes to eat half a loaf of bread, or a shi’ur akhilat pras. If one eats half a kezayit, waits ten minutes, and then eats another half a kezayit, it is as if he has only eaten half a kezayit, and hence he has not fulfilled the mitzva (SA 475:6).

In the past, people would bake loaves of bread that would feed one person for a day – half a loaf (a pras) at each of the two main meals.

Once again, our long exile has caused disagreement among poskim over the precise size of a pras: according to Rambam, it is the volume of three eggs, and according to Rashi, four eggs. Several leading Aĥaronim tried to measure how long it takes to eat a pras, and many opinions have been offered: nine minutes (Ĥatam Sofer), seven and a half minutes (Arukh La-ner), seven minutes, six minutes, five minutes, and four minutes (R. Ĥayim Naeh and Kaf Ha-ĥayim).

However, all these opinions relate only to a be-di’avad situation, because le-khatĥila one should eat the matza continuously, and whoever does so certainly fulfills his obligation. In addition, there is no need to look at the clock while eating the matza, because any ordinary person who eats casually but without interruption will certainly finish eating in time. Even a slow eater, if he does not stop to do other things, will assuredly finish eating a kezayit within a shi’ur akhilat pras, because a pras is eight or nine times the size of a kezayit, and it is inconceivable that one who eats a kezayit without stopping will not finish in the time it takes to eat eight or nine times that amount.[22]


[22]. As we have seen, according to Rashi, a pras is the size of four eggs, and according to Tosafot, a kezayit is half an egg. Thus, a pras is eight kezeytim. According to Rambam, a pras is the size of three eggs, and each egg is a bit more than three kezeytim. Thus, a pras is just over nine kezeytim. (If we combine Rashi’s pras with Rambam’s kezayit, a pras would come out to be twelve kezeytim. If we combine Rambam’s pras with the kezayit of Tosafot, a pras would be six kezeytim.)

Although some individuals measured and discovered that they could not eat a kezayit of matza within a shi’ur akhilat pras, they only reached this conclusion because they used conflicting measurements. On the one hand, they measured a kezayit according to the most stringent opinion possible – a Ĥazon Ish shi’ur calculated by weight – and on the other hand, they calculated a shi’ur akhilat pras based on the smallest possible measure – Rambam’s shi’ur of three eggs, calculated by volume. These two measurements are contradictory: a Ĥazon Ish kezayit by weight is c. 50 grams, while the three eggs’ volume of matza is c. 54 grams. Since matza is difficult to chew, and a shi’ur akhilat pras is calculated based on the time it takes to eat bread that is easy to chew and swallow, these individuals discovered that they could not finish that “kezayit” in time. According to this, the Sephardic custom to eat two weight-based kezayit-sized pieces, or c. 58 grams of matza, in the time it takes to eat three eggs, or c. 54 grams, is certainly impossible under normal circumstances. Rather, one must calculate the size of a kezayit and the shi’ur akhilat pras using the same standard: if one is stringent regarding the size of a kezayit (and measures it by weight), he must allow himself more time to eat it by calculating the size of an egg based on weight as well, meaning that a shi’ur akhilat pras would be fifteen minutes or more.

Therefore, anyone who eats casually, provided that he does not pause or excessively procrastinate in his eating, will certainly be able to finish the kezayit within a shi’ur akhilat pras; thus, there is no need to glance at one’s watch while eating.

Nevertheless, if one paused while eating and did not finish one third of a matza within four minutes, he should act stringently and eat another piece in that time. Logic dictates that since the determination of shi’ur akhilat pras is based on the average person, and since there are so many measurements offered, we should calculate it based on the median of the opinions of the Aĥaronim (6-7 minutes). However, since the mitzva of eating matza is from the Torah, one should follow the strictest opinions. See Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 10:7, 8.

Additionally, according to Minĥat Ĥinukh and Responsa Torat Ĥessed OĤ  32, the shi’ur akhilat pras is determined separately for every food, based on the ease or difficulty of eating it. Accordingly, the shi’ur akhilat pras for matza would be longer than usual, since matza is difficult to chew and swallow. Nevertheless, most poskim who determined a shi’ur akhilat pras understood that it is a fixed standard based on the eating of regular bread.

26. How the Matza Is Eaten

Hands are now washed with a berakha, and the Seder leader holds up the three matzot and recites the berakha of “Who brings forth bread from the earth” (“ha-motzi leĥem min ha-aretz”). The top and bottom matzot, which are whole, constitute leĥem mishneh. After this berakha, he puts down the bottom matza so that he is left with the whole top matza and the broken middle matza (which represents “leĥem oni” – the “bread of poverty”) and recites the berakha “Who sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us concerning eating matza” (“asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzivanu al akhilat matza”). Then he takes a kezayit from the upper, whole matza, and a kezayit from the middle matza, and eats them together.

If there are many participants, it makes sense to add more matzot to the bottom matza, so that portions can be given to everybody. Once the Seder leader has finished distributing from the middle, broken matza, he no longer needs to give two kezeytim to the remaining participants, only one. Only when one distributes portions from the middle matza is it necessary to give a kezayit from the broken matza and a kezayit from the whole matza, but when the broken matza is finished, one gives only a kezayit to each person. However, as we have seen, in order to satisfy the opinion that today’s eggs are smaller than those of the Sages’ time, it is better to give each participant the equivalent of two-thirds of a machine-made matza. It makes no difference whether this is given from one matza or from parts of two matzot.

The Seder leader should taste a little bit of the matza before distributing portions, in order to avoid an interruption between the berakha and the eating. After distributing matza to everybody, he reclines and eats two kezeytim with the intention of fulfilling the mitzva.

According to Sephardic custom, the Seder leader dips the matza in salt before distributing it to the participants, just as he does throughout the year. The custom of Ashkenazic Jews, on the other hand, is not to dip the matza in salt, because without salt it appears much more like leĥem oni (SA 475:1).

Some people have a custom of giving each participant three matzot, so that everyone can have a kezayit from a whole matza and a kezayit of a broken matza, and neither the leader nor the participants have to wait to receive matza after the berakha. But the widespread custom is that the Seder leader distributes matza to everybody, and the fact that everyone eats together and that the Seder leader recited the berakhot on everyone’s behalf enhances the mitzva. Others have a custom to put out three matzot before the head of each household, who distributes portions to his family members. Even though each of these practices is fine, it is best for the head of each household to distribute matza to his family members.

The matza is eaten while reclining. One should have in mind to fulfill the Torah commandment, remembering that it is eaten in commemoration of the matzot our forefathers ate when they left Egypt for freedom.

27. The Mitzva to Eat Maror

The Torah commandment to eat maror on the night of the fifteenth of Nisan is contingent upon the eating of the Paschal sacrifice, as it states: “They shall eat it with matzot and merorim [plural of maror]” (Bamidbar 9:11). Since we are unable to offer the Paschal sacrifice today, the mitzva to eat maror is now rabbinic (Pesaĥim 120a). We dip the maror in ĥaroset in order to counteract its bitterness, and then we shake off all the ĥaroset that sticks to it, because ĥaroset should not be eaten with the maror (SA 475:1, MB 13 and Kaf Ha-ĥayim 23 ad loc.). After this we recite the berakha “Who sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us concerning eating maror” (“asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzivanu al akhilat maror”), and eat a kezayit of maror.

The Sages enumerate five types of maror: ĥazeret, tamĥa, ĥarĥavina, ulshin, and maror. Today we are only familiar with two of these: ĥazeret, which is lettuce, and tamĥa, which is horseradish. The Sages stated that the choicest type of maror is lettuce, and its Hebrew name (“ĥasa”) even alludes to the fact that God has mercy (“ĥas”) upon us. They also tell us that the Egyptian enslavement was like maror: just as maror begins soft and ends hard – the stalk starts off soft and later hardens – so too the enslavement began “softly” and became harder and bitterer with time (Pesaĥim 39a).

Several Aĥaronim questioned whether we fulfill the obligation of maror with today’s lettuce, which is not bitter at all. Indeed, according to Ĥazon Ish, one may fulfill one’s obligation only with lettuce that has become somewhat bitter. In practice, though, the poskim concur that one may fulfill one’s obligation with lettuce even if it is not bitter, because this was the nature of the bondage: initially the Egyptians enslaved us with gentle words and paid us for our labor, while gradually intensifying the work until it was bitter as gall. The Yerushalmi (Pesaĥim 2:5) likewise tells us that lettuce starts out sweet and then becomes bitter. Thus, it is the custom of all Jews to optimize this mitzva by using lettuce for maror, because maror need not be bitter when it is eaten; rather, it must be of a species that eventually becomes bitter. Some people add a bit of horseradish to their lettuce so that they taste some bitterness.[23]

Since lettuce often contains bugs, it should be cleaned and checked thoroughly on Erev Pesaĥ. Nowadays there are ways to grow bug-free lettuce, and it is best to use such lettuce in order to avoid potentially violating the prohibition against eating bugs.

One must eat a kezayit (half an egg’s volume) of maror, and one may estimate this size by sight. As we have learned, some customarily calculate a kezayit by weight, which is about 29 grams. However, with lettuce there is very little difference between a weight- and volume-based kezayit.


[23]. See Ĥazon Ish OĤ  124, commenting on Pesaĥim 39a. Ridbaz states that lettuce might not be maror at all. Nevertheless, most poskim, including Maharam Halawa and Tashbetz, believe that lettuce is the best type of maror, because the Gemara finds allusions in its name and because it alludes to the enslavement by its very nature – starting off soft and sweet. This is the ruling in SA 473:5, Pri Ĥadash 472:5, and SAH 472:30. Additionally, according to Raavya and Hagahot Maimoniyot (quoted by Tur and SA), whatever is mentioned first in the Mishna is the preferable choice for maror, and lettuce (which the Mishna calls “ĥazeret” even though “ĥazeret” in modern Hebrew is horseradish) is in fact mentioned first. Responsa Ĥazon Ovadia §35 expands on this topic.

We should also add that another opinion appears in a beraita in Pesaĥim 39a: any bitter vegetable that exudes latex and has a blanched complexion (i.e., it is whitish-green) is maror. The Rishonim debated this: according to Ri’az, Maharam Halawa, and others, any vegetable that has these characteristics is indeed maror. According to Smak, on the other hand, these characteristics are just features common to the five types of vegetables mentioned in the Mishna, but no vegetable outside what is listed in the Mishna is acceptable for maror. Rif and Rambam do not mention these characteristics, either because they maintain that only the five vegetables listed in the Mishna are acceptable, and these characteristics consequently are meaningless, or because they maintain that we are not experts in identifying these characteristics, so we have no ability to determine what other vegetables are fit for maror. Practically, one who does not have lettuce or horseradish should use another vegetable that has these characteristics, but should not recite a berakha over it, in case we are not adept at identifying these characteristics or it is not one of the five acceptable species. This is the ruling in MB 473:46 and BHL ad loc.

28. Korekh

After eating the maror, we make a sandwich from a kezayit of maror in a kezayit of matza and dip it in ĥaroset. Some people also shake off any ĥaroset that sticks to the maror, as with the eating of maror (MB 475:19). Others do not remove the ĥaroset from the maror in the case of korekh (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 457:32). We then say “zekher le-Mikdash ke-Hillel” (“in commemoration of the Temple, according to Hillel”), and eat the korekh while reclining (SA 475:1). As we learned, a kezayit is about a third of a machine matza.

According to Hillel the Elder, in Temple times the mitzva was fulfilled by eating matza and maror together, as it is stated: “They shall eat it with matzot and merorim” (Bamidbar 9:11). According to the other Sages, people would eat the matza and maror separately. Since no final decision was reached regarding this matter, we follow both practices.

However, even Hillel would concur that today it is impossible to fulfill one’s obligation by eating matza with maror. This is because without the Paschal sacrifice the mitzva to eat matza remains Torah-based, while eating maror is of rabbinic origin. If they are eaten together, the maror, which is rabbinic, will detract from the matza, which is from the Torah. Therefore, one must first eat a kezayit of matza. After this, one eats a kezayit of maror without matza, because the matza obligation has already been fulfilled, and if one eats matza with maror at this point, the taste of the matza, which is no longer a mitzva, will overshadow the taste of the maror, which is a rabbinic mitzva. After fulfilling both mitzvot separately, we put matza and maror together like a sandwich and eat them in commemoration of Hillel’s practice (Pesaĥim 115a and Tosafot s.v. ella; MB 475:16). And some say that while it is clear that today, according to Hillel, the matza must be eaten separately, nonetheless, in order to fulfill the rabbinic mitzva to eat maror, it must be eaten with matza. According to this opinion, when we eat the korekh, we are fulfilling the mitzva to eat maror (Pri Ĥadash).

In any event, according to all opinions one should be careful not to talk until he has finished eating korekh. Indeed, it is customary to refrain from talking between the blessing over the matza and that of the maror, until we have finished eating the korekh. It is only permissible to talk about matters related to fulfilling the mitzva.[24]


[24]. See Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag 16:4 and Ha-Seder He-arukh ch. 92, which summarize that according to Hillel, if one ate each ingredient separately, he does not fulfill his obligation according to Rashbam and Ramban, while according to Tosafot and Ha-ma’or, he fulfills his obligation be-di’avad. As for the Sages’ position, if one ate them together he does not fulfill his obligation according to Rashbam (citing R. Yoĥanan) and Ha-ma’or, but according to Ramban and Rashbam (citing R. Ashi), he fulfills his obligation le-khatĥila.

29. Those Who Have Difficulty Eating Matza

As we have learned, a kezayit of matza is about a third of a machine matza, and on the Seder night we must eat four or five pieces of this size. After the berakhot of “ha-motzi” and “al akhilat matza,” we eat two kezeytim: one for “ha-motzi” and one for “akhilat matza, and in order to fulfill the stringent opinion (Ĥazon Ish), which maintains that a kezayit is twice the accepted size. We eat another kezayit for korekh, and one more for the afikoman, though some practice the stringency of eating two kezeytim for the afikoman: one in memory of the Paschal sacrifice itself, and one in commemoration of the matza that would be eaten with it.

If one finds it difficult to eat a matza and a third (or two-thirds), he should do his best to eat the initial two-thirds of a matza as matzat mitzva, in order to fulfill the mitzva in accordance with all of the different opinions. After this, it is sufficient to eat a fifth of a matza for korekh and another fifth for the afikoman. If even this is difficult, one can eat a third of a matza – a kezayit according to the standard measure – to fulfill the mitzva of eating matza, and recite a berakha over it. In other words, during the entire Seder, he would eat one third of a matza followed by an additional two-fifths.[25]

If one has difficulty chewing the matza – for example, one who has no teeth – he may crumble it up and eat the crumbs (BHL 461:4). If even this is too difficult, he may soak the matza in water before eating it. However, if one boils the matza or soaks it until it dissolves, he does not fulfill the mitzva with it, because it no longer has the taste of matza (SA 461:4, MB 19, 20).

It is forbidden, however, to soak the matza in wine, soup, or any other beverage that has a taste, because some believe that this weakens the taste of the matza. Some maintain that even dipping the matza in such liquids is improper. Nevertheless, a sick or elderly person who cannot eat the matza even if it were soaked in water may soak it in another liquid if it would help, recite a berakha over it, and eat it. But if a normal healthy person eats matza that has been soaked in a liquid, he must eat another kezayit of matza (MB 461:18, SHT 32 and Kaf Ha-ĥayim 47-48 ad loc.).[26]


[25]. I explained the basics of this issue in n. 20 above. We learned there that according to Rambam, a kezayit is slightly less than one third of an egg, while according to Tosafot it is c. half an egg. Since we are stringent and follow Tosafot vis-à-vis Torah commandments, one should eat one third of a matza for every kezayit. However, regarding korekh and afikoman, which are rabbinic mitzvot, if one has difficulty following Tosafot, he may follow Rambam and eat approximately one fifth of a matza, which is about one third of an egg. Even those who wish to eat two kezayit-sized pieces for afikoman may suffice with a fifth of a matza, which contains two kezeytim according to many Ge’onim and Rishonim (see Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 10:6) who maintain that a kezayit is the size of an average contemporary olive. Regarding the stringency of eating two kezeytim for the afikoman, one need not adopt the larger measurement of a kezayit.

[26]. See R. Harari’s Mikra’ei Kodesh 7:40 n. 103 regarding the ruling that one should recite a berakha even if he can only eat matza soaked in water; this is the conclusion even according to the strictest opinions.

30. Those Exempt from Matza and Maror

One who is incapable of eating a kezayit of matza (one third of a matza) should at least try to eat a portion of matza equivalent to a modern-day olive, because some poskim maintain that this is the true size of a kezayit. However, one may not recite the berakha of “al akhilat matza” over this amount of matza, because most poskim maintain that it is insufficient for fulfilling the mitzva to eat matza. If one cannot eat even the volume of a modern-day olive, it is still good to eat as much matza as possible, even a small amount.[27]

Regarding one who knows that eating matza will cause him to become ill or intensify an existing illness but will certainly not threaten his life, the poskim disagree over whether he is obligated to eat matza: according to R. Shlomo of Vilna, such a person is exempt from eating matza on Pesaĥ (Binyan Shlomo §47), whereas according to Maharam Schick, a sick person is only exempt from eating matza where there is mortal danger (OĤ  §260). The custom is to rule in accordance with the lenient opinion. (Regarding maror and the four cups of wine, which are rabbinic mitzvot, there is a consensus that one who will be consigned to bed if he eats them is exempt, as explained in section 7.)

According to this, most people who suffer from celiac disease must eat a kezayit of matza on the Seder night, because a kezayit of matza will not cause them to become sick. Even if it will cause one to suffer somewhat, this is not considered sickness. However, people who suffer from severe celiac disease, and who know that they are liable to have a strong reaction to matza, are exempt from the mitzva of eating matza. Nowadays one can find matzot made from oatmeal and spelt flour, which are better than wheat matza for people with celiac disease.[28]


[27]. It is implied by many Ge’onim and Rishonim that a kezayit is the size of today’s common olive, of c. 7.5 cubic centimeters. It is further attested that R. Ĥayim Volozhiner and the author of Avnei Nezer ruled according to this opinion. See Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 10:5-6 and in the expanded notes, and in the addendum to Mikra’ei Kodesh 5. Nevertheless, the standard ruling is to be stringent and follow the opinion of Tosafot that a kezayit is half an egg, as explained in n. 20. Even if one cannot eat the requisite amount of matza according to any opinion, he should at least taste some matza, as per Maĥzik Berakha §475 and AHS 477:3. MB 473:43 states the same idea regarding maror.

[28]. For the definition of one who is exempt due to illness, see R. Frank’s Mikra’ei Kodesh 2:32, which cites two opinions. Ĥazon Ovadia 1:33 and Tzitz Eliezer 14:27 are lenient. This is also what R. Harari writes in Mikra’ei Kodesh ch. 7 n. 110, in the name of Rav Mordechai Eliyahu.

31. The Time for Eating the Matza, Maror, and Afikoman

The matza and maror must be eaten by midnight (the midpoint of the night, regardless of the time on the clock), but if one was unable to eat them before midnight, he should eat them after midnight without a berakha. Le-khatĥila, even the afikoman should be eaten before midnight.

The basis for this law lies in a dispute between two Sages of the Mishna, R. Elazar b. Azarya and R. Akiva. According to R. Elazar b. Azarya, the Paschal sacrifice could be eaten  only until midnight, and no later, because it was at midnight that the firstborns of Egypt were struck down, and the Egyptians began frantically trying to send the Israelites out of Egypt. According to R. Akiva, the matza may be eaten all night, until dawn, because it was at this time that the Israelites hurried to leave Egypt (Pesaĥim 120b).

From a spiritual perspective, we must explain that the offering and eating of the Paschal sacrifice revealed the unique quality of Israel, and this therefore constituted a preparation for the redemption. Accordingly, the meat of the korban Pesaĥ is eaten each year until the time of the redemption’s onset. The question is: which phase of redemption determines the time to stop eating the Paschal sacrifice? According to R. Elazar b. Azarya, the redemption started at midnight, when the firstborns of Egypt were struck down, for it was then that Egyptians’ power was broken and they could no longer enslave us. Therefore, the Paschal sacrifice is eaten until midnight. However, according to R. Akiva, the complete redemption did not arrive until morning, when we went forth to freedom. Therefore, the entire night is a preparation for redemption, and it follows that one may eat the meat of the korban Pesaĥ all night.

Let us now return to the halakha. The time for eating the Paschal sacrifice also determines the time for eating matza and maror, because matza and maror were eaten together with the Paschal sacrifice, as it is stated, “They shall eat it with matzot and merorim” (Bamidbar 9:11). It follows that the time for eating matza is the same as the time for eating the Paschal sacrifice. The afikoman, which is eaten in commemoration of the korban Pesaĥ, must also be eaten at a time that is appropriate for eating the Paschal sacrifice.

Leading Rishonim disagree about which opinion to follow in practice. According to Rambam and Itur, the halakha follows R. Akiva, because, as a rule, we follow R. Akiva whenever he takes issue with one of his contemporaries. Thus, the korban Pesaĥ may be eaten throughout the entire night, and by extension so can matza, maror, and the afikoman. On the other hand, Rabbeinu Ĥananel and Rosh maintain that because the Mishna, in several places, states without dissent that the time for eating the korban Pesaĥ is until midnight, we may conclude that R. Yehuda Ha-Nasi, who compiled the Mishna, rules that on this issue the halakha follows R. Elazar b. Azarya.

Since this issue is subject to dispute, a kezayit of matza must be eaten before midnight, because according to those who maintain that the Paschal sacrifice may be eaten until midnight, eating it after midnight fails to fulfill the Torah commandment. Since the destruction of the Temple, maror has been a rabbinic enactment, and although we generally follow the lenient opinion with regard to rabbinic laws, maror must nevertheless be eaten before midnight since we recite a berakha over it. If circumstances prevented one from eating the matza and maror before midnight, he should eat them after midnight, in order to fulfill the mitzva according to R. Akiva’s opinion. However, he should not recite the berakhot of “al akhilat matza” and “al akhilat maror,” so as to avoid reciting a berakha in vain (“le-vatala”) according to the opinion of R. Elazar b. Azarya (MB 477:6; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 10 ad loc.).

Regarding the afikoman, SA rules (477:1) that one must, le-khatĥila, eat it before midnight, in order to fulfill the mitzva according to all poskim. Similarly, Hallel should also be completed before midnight le-khatĥila, because it is connected to the telling of the Exodus story, which must be told at a time appropriate for eating matza.

There were Torah scholars who, le-khatĥila, ate the afikoman after midnight, reasoning that the afikoman is a rabbinic enactment and we may thus rely upon the lenient opinion that it may be eaten after midnight. However, with regard to the initial kezayit of matza, which is a Torah commandment, and the maror, over which we recite a berakha, one may not adopt the lenient position and eat them before midnight.[29]


[29]. A detailed explanation: On three occasions, the Mishna quotes the opinion of R. Elazar b. Azarya anonymously and without dissent – Berakhot 2a, Pesaĥim 120b, and Zevaĥim 56b – and R. Akiva’s opinion anonymously and without dissent only once, in Megilla 20b. Rosh (Pesaĥim 10:38) wonders how that single mishna in Megilla could outweigh the three mishnayot that follow the opinion of R. Elazar b. Azarya. Consequently, Rosh says that although R. Akiva maintains that on the Torah level, the mitzva of eating the korban Pesaĥ applies all night, he concurs that, on the rabbinic level, one must finish eating it before midnight. Therefore, Rosh states that one must eat the afikoman before midnight, and this is the ruling of SA 477:1. However, it is said that Ĥatam Sofer, Netziv, and other great scholars did not insist on finishing the afikoman before midnight. Since this is a dispute about a matter of rabbinic law, one may be lenient. Even SA might mean that one finishes the afikoman before midnight le-khatĥila, but it is not an absolute requirement. Responsa Avnei Nezer §381 recommends that one who is in the middle of his meal and sees that midnight is approaching should eat a kezayit of matza while reclining and make the following stipulation: If the halakha follows the opinion of R. Elazar b. Azarya, this kezayit should be the afikoman, but if the halakha follows R. Akiva, the kezayit that will be eaten after the meal (at its normal place in the meal) should be the afikoman. This stipulation is based on a novel interpretation: the requirement that the taste of the matza remains in one’s mouth only applies during the time of the mitzva, which according to R. Elazar b. Azarya ends at midnight. Thus, according to R. Elazar b. Azarya, one would be able to continue eating after midnight, when the time for the mitzva of afikoman ends.

However, one certainly must ensure that he eats a kezayit of matza before midnight, since eating a kezayit of matza is a Torah commandment, and hence one must be stringent. One must even be stringent vis-à-vis the mitzva of maror, since he cannot recite the berakha on it after midnight, as explained in MB 477:6 and BHL ad loc. Responsa Mishkenot Yaakov §139 and other Aĥaronim attempt to prove that the halakha follows Rambam. Nonetheless, the law still remains unclear, so one should not recite the berakhot on matza or maror after midnight and must likewise take care to fulfill the Torah obligation of matza before midnight. MB further states that if one begins late and does not have time to complete the recitation of the Hagada before midnight, he should eat the matza and maror, with berakhot, right after kiddush, and then recite the Hagada. Kaf Ha-ĥayim 477:10 echoes this idea, but rules that one may not recite the Birkat Ha-ge’ula (just before the second cup) after midnight, since we are lenient in a case of uncertainty regarding berakhot. See Ĥazon Ovadia vol. 2 p. 166, which agrees with MB and rules that one may recite Birkat Ha-ge’ula after midnight. Regarding the concluding berakha of Hallel, MB 477:7 and SHT 6 ad loc. cite Ĥok Yaakov that one may recite it after midnight. R. Harari’s Mikra’ei Kodesh, ch. 6 n. 70 demonstrates that be-di’avad one may recite Birkat Ha-ge’ula and the concluding berakha of Hallel after midnight.

32. Meal Customs: Roasted Foods, Eggs

During the time of the Mishna, some communities had a custom to refrain from eating roast meat on Pesaĥ night, since it would look like they were eating the meat of the Paschal sacrifice – which must be roasted – outside the precincts of Jerusalem. Elsewhere, people did eat roast meat on Pesaĥ but did not roast a whole lamb, which would really look like offering the korban Pesaĥ outside the Temple. The Sages stated that each custom is valid: where the custom is to refrain from roasted meat, one should not eat it, and where the custom is to eat it, one may (Pesaĥim 53a). In practice, Yemeni Jews customarily eat roasted meat on Pesaĥ night, but all Ashkenazim and most Sephardim customarily prohibit roasted meat on Pesaĥ night (Ben Ish Ĥai, Year One, Tzav 30; Ĥazon Ovadia p. 175). We shall now specify the details of this prohibition:

The prohibition against roasted meat applies to all types of meat, even from species that could not be used as the korban Pesaĥ, such as beef and fowl. However, one may roast foods that do not require ritual slaughtering, such as fish and eggs (SA 476:2). Though the meat of the Paschal sacrifice was roasted over the fire and not in a pot, pot roast is nevertheless forbidden, because it looks like meat roasted over fire. It is likewise forbidden to eat meat that was first cooked and then roasted, because it looks roasted. However, meat that was first roasted may be cooked and eaten on the Seder night, because it looks cooked (MB 476:1; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 4 ad loc.).[30]

Some have a custom to eat eggs during the Seder meal in order to recall the destruction of the Temple, as eggs are a sign of mourning, and because the first day of Pesaĥ always falls on the same day of the week as Tisha Be-Av (Rema 476:2). The Vilna Gaon explains that eggs commemorate the pilgrimage sacrifice (korban ĥagiga) that was eaten on the Seder night before the korban Pesaĥ. Therefore, the custom is to eat the egg from the Seder plate during the meal, as it is placed there to commemorate the korban ĥagiga (MB 476:11; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 25-26 ad loc.). Some people refrain from eating the egg from the Seder plate in order to keep the plate intact; they eat it on the following day (Ma’amar Mordechai 473:1). However, the widespread custom is to eat the egg from the Seder plate at the Seder.

As on any other Yom Tov, a distinguished feast should be prepared for the Seder night, with fine utensils and festive delicacies. One may drink wine during the meal; this is not considered adding to the four cups. However, one must be careful not to eat and drink too much, because the afikoman must be eaten with an appetite at the end of the meal (see below, section 33), and because one must be able to continue reciting the Hallel and the concluding songs without becoming too tired.


[30]. Grilled and smoked meats are considered roasted and are prohibited. R. Harari states in Mikra’ei Kodesh p. 488 that there are opinions that consider baked meat to be roasted. According to most poskim, frying is not like roasting. See AHS 486:4.

33. Tzafun – the Afikoman

After the Seder meal, we eat a kezayit (about a third of a machine matza) of the broken matza that was set aside at the beginning of the Seder. This matza is called the afikoman. After eating the afikoman, we do not eat anything else until we go to sleep, so that the taste of the matza lingers in our mouths (SA 477:1, 478:1). If the afikoman set aside at the beginning is not big enough to give each participant a kezayit, the Seder leader gives each participant a small piece of the afikoman together with additional shmura matza to constitute a kezayit. If there is not enough afikoman to give even a small piece to each participant, the leader may give out shmura matza to be eaten as the afikoman. Likewise, if the afikoman was lost, one may use a different piece of shmura matza instead (Rema 477:2).

One may drink water after eating the afikoman. After all, eating after the afikoman is prohibited only so its taste stays in our mouths, and water has no taste (SA 478:1, MB 2 ad loc.).

The word “afikoman” originally meant “dessert.” On the night of the fifteenth of Nisan, the last thing one eats must be the meat of the Paschal sacrifice, so that its taste lingers with us, as the Mishna states: “after the Paschal sacrifice, we do not conclude with dessert (afikoman)” (Pesaĥim 119b).

Since we can no longer offer the korban Pesaĥ, the Sages ordained eating matza at the end of the Seder to commemorate the korban Pesaĥ. So that the taste of this matza remains in our mouths, nothing may be eaten after it. Since this matza is the final course of the Seder, it is in essence dessert. Therefore we call it “afikoman.

SA 477:1 explains that the afikoman commemorates the korban Pesaĥ, and just as the Paschal sacrifice was eaten “while satisfied” (“al ha-sova”), so too the afikoman must be eaten while satisfied. “Al ha-sova” means that one is already satiated but still wants to eat more. However, if one is so full that his appetite is gone, he does not fulfill the mitzva in the ideal manner, since he would prefer not to eat any more. If one is so stuffed that food is repugnant to him, but he nonetheless forces himself to eat the afikoman, this is called akhila gasa (gross overconsumption), which is not considered eating at all. One who does so does not fulfill the mitzva of eating the afikoman (MB 476:6, Kaf Ha-ĥayim 17 ad loc.).

The afikoman must be eaten in one place, because it commemorates the Paschal sacrifice, which had to be eaten in one place, as it is stated (Shemot 12:46): “It should be eaten in one house” (Rema 478:1, MB 4 ad loc.).

34. The Afikoman: Two Reasons, Two Kezeytim

As we have seen, according to most authorities the afikoman commemorates the Paschal sacrifice, which was eaten at the end of the meal (Ha-ma’or, Ramban, Or Zaru’a, Rosh, etc.). However, according to several major Rishonim (Rashi, Rashbam), the afikoman is actually the fulfillment of the fundamental mitzva of eating matza, which, they explain, must be eaten at the end of the meal along with the korban Pesaĥ. Since the Paschal sacrifice had to be eaten while satisfied, so must the matza. And even though we recite the berakha over the matza at the beginning of the meal, in their opinion the basic intention to fulfill the mitzva to eat matza must be at the end of the meal, when the afikoman is eaten.

Le-khatĥila, it is good to have both of these reasons – to commemorate the korban Pesaĥ and to fulfill the mitzva of eating matza – in mind while eating the afikoman. According to both opinions, the afikoman must be eaten while reclining to the left. However, if one forgets to recline, there is a difference between them: according to the opinion that the afikoman commemorates the korban Pesaĥ, one need not eat another afikoman while reclining. According to the opinion that the afikoman fulfills the mitzva of eating matza, reclining is a sine qua non. Therefore, if one forgot to recline while eating the afikoman, he should preferably eat a second one while reclining. However, if one is full and will have a hard time eating another kezayit of matza, he need not eat the afikoman a second time; he may rely on the mainstream opinion that the afikoman commemorates the korban Pesaĥ. Moreover, even according to Rashbam, since one intended to fulfill the mitzva of eating matza at the beginning of the meal, he has fulfilled his obligation even though, for Rashbam, that was not the proper time to have such intention. Therefore, failing to recline while eating the afikoman no longer prevents the fulfillment of the mitzva.

Some have a custom to eat two kezeytim of the afikoman, either because they want to show how desirable the matza is and thus eat a sizable portion to become fully satiated (Maharil), or because they want to allude to both reasons for eating the afikoman: one kezayit commemorates the korban Pesaĥ and another fulfills the mitzva to eat matza (Baĥ). However, this is not obligatory, and if one does not want to eat two kezeytim, he may eat just one and still keep both reasons in mind.

We have seen that, simply stated, a kezayit is about a third of a machine-made matza, and two kezeytim are about two-thirds. This is based on Tosafot’s stringent opinion about the size of a kezayit. In light of the fact that the afikoman is a rabbinic mitzva and that consumption of two kezeytim is subject to disagreement, one may certainly fulfill the mitzva of afikoman with a single kezayit of one third of a matza and, if necessary, with one fifth of a matza (based on Rambam’s smaller kezayit). And we have already learned that whoever eats the matza without interruption will certainly finish it within a shi’ur akhilat pras.[31]


[31]. SA states that one must eat a kezayit of matza for afikoman. Darkhei Moshe quotes Maharil that one must eat two kezeytim for afikoman, and similarly, MB states in 477:1 “le-khatĥila, one should take two kezeytim.” This is also the opinion of Kaf Ha-ĥayim 477:1. Sefer Ha-ĥinukh §21 implies that one can fulfill his obligation with less than a kezayit, and AHS 477:3 states that in an extreme situation one may use less than a kezayit, since the afikoman is only intended to commemorate the korban Pesaĥ. Responsa Ĥazon Ovadia §44 expands on this topic and presents other opinions, concluding that the mitzva is to eat one kezayit, although one who wishes to be stringent should follow MB. Several Aĥaronim write that the one may have in mind to fulfill both intentions with just one kezayit.

Regarding the size of a kezayit, see above section 23 and nn. 20 and 25, where we wrote that in unclear situations regarding Torah commandments or mitzvot that require berakhot we follow the stringent view of Tosafot – that a kezayit is the volume of half an egg. On the other hand, in unclear situations vis-à-vis rabbinic mitzvot with no berakhot we may follow the lenient view of Rambam – that a kezayit is less than one third of an egg, or c. one fifth of a machine matza. Therefore, regarding the rabbinic mitzva of eating the afikoman, for which only a minority of poskim maintain that one must eat two kezeytim, one may certainly fulfill the stringent opinion that eating two kezeytim of afikoman can be fulfilled by eating one fifth of a matza, since according to many Ge’onim and Rishonim a kezayit is the size of a common olive. One fifth of a matza thus constitutes several kezeytim by this standard. Regarding shi’ur akhilat pras, see above section 25 and n. 22.

See section 25 for a discussion of the measurement of akhilat pras; in general, the most stringent opinion is that the time of akhilat pras is four minutes, and the median opinion is that it is between six and seven minutes. Since afikoman is a rabbinical decree and no berakha is recited on it, one can eat the afikoman in 6-7 minutes, and even if he ate it in nine minutes, he fulfills his obligation, since we follow the lenient view in an unclear situation vis-à-vis rabbinic mitzvot with no berakhot.

35. Hallel, the Great Hallel, and the Concluding Berakha

After Birkat Ha-mazon, we drink the third cup of wine and then pour the fourth cup, over which we recite Hallel and “the Great” Hallel (“Hallel Ha-gadol”). Before Hallel we recite the paragraph “Shefokh Ĥamatkha (“Pour Your Wrath”). Some customarily open the door at this point to demonstrate that, on this night, we are protected against destructive forces and not afraid of our enemies. By virtue of this faith, the Mashi’aĥ (Messiah) will come and pour out his wrath upon the wicked enemies of Israel (Rema 480:1). Some have a custom to stand while reciting Shefokh Ĥamatkha (AHS ad loc., and this was the practice of Rav Kook). After reciting Shefokh Ĥamatkha, we close the door.

We then continue with the second part of Hallel (see above, section 20). There is a mitzva to recite verses 1-4 and 24-25 of Tehilim 118 responsively, led by the eldest member of the household. There is a mitzva to ensure that three adults are present in order to recite the verses in this manner, with one leader and multiple respondents (Rema 479:1). This is all le-khatĥila; of course, an individual fulfills the mitzva even by reciting Hallel alone. If only two people are present, they should recite the verses together (MB 479:10-11).

After this, we recite the Great Hallel (chapter 136 of Tehilim) followed by Nishmat Kol Ĥai (“The Soul of All Life”) and the concluding berakha. There are different opinions regarding the formula of the concluding berakha: Sephardim close with the paragraph “Yehallelukha,” which concludes the normal recitation of Hallel. Ashkenazim close with “Yishtabaĥ,” which concludes the psalms of praise recited at Shaĥarit (see section 31 above, where we learned that it is better to complete this berakha by midnight). Following this, we sing various songs composed in the period of the Rishonim.

Logic dictates that the fourth cup should be drunk right after the concluding berakha of Hallel, which also concludes the Seder that was instituted by the Sages in the times of the Mishna. The songs and poems that follow are merely a custom. Nevertheless, some drink the fourth cup after singing a few of these additional songs, so that they too are sung over a cup of wine and are thus included in the Seder (see MB 480:6). Each family should continue its own tradition.

The Sephardic custom is not to recite “ha-gefen before the fourth cup, whereas the Ashkenazic custom is to recite it (see section 21 above). After the fourth cup, the berakha aĥarona of “Al Ha-gefen” is said.

36. The Fifth Cup – Eliyahu’s Cup

A significant halakhic uncertainty arose concerning the fifth cup. Some say that there is an extra special mitzva to drink a fifth cup; the fourth cup should be drunk at the end of the Hallel and the fifth cup after the concluding berakha. Others say that the fifth cup is merely the Sages’ recommendation for one who wishes to continue drinking after the fourth cup. Still others say it is forbidden to drink a fifth cup.[32]

The customary practice is not to drink a fifth cup, though we do pour one, called Eliyahu’s Cup. The Vilna Gaon explains how it got this name: when there is an uncertainty that cannot be resolved, we believe that when the prophet Eliyahu returns as a harbinger of the messianic era, he will resolve it. Thus, we pour a fifth cup in his honor, and when he arrives he will tell us if we should drink it.

We can interpret this issue in a deeper way as well. The Sages instituted the four cups to signify the four expressions of redemption used in reference to the Exodus from Egypt: “I will rescue you… I will save you… I will redeem you… I will take you…” (Shemot 6:6-7). An additional expression of redemption is mentioned there: “I will bring you to the land” (ibid. 8). However, since this does not relate to the Exodus itself, the Sages do not obligate us to drink a corresponding fifth cup. They tell us, however, that there is a mitzva to drink a fifth cup in order to allude to the complete redemption, which begins with our entry into Eretz Yisrael.

It could also be that the uncertainty about the fifth cup stems from the question as to whether it is proper to drink a fifth cup after the destruction of the Temple and during the long exile. Perhaps after the Temple’s destruction we can only celebrate with those cups that allude to our Exodus from the Egyptian bondage, since this will forever distinguish us. Even if the nations of the world subjugate our bodies, our souls remain eternally free; ever since the Exodus, it has been clear that we are God’s uniquely chosen people, that we received the Torah, and that all the hardships that have come upon us have not broken our faith in God, our Redeemer. Therefore, we drink four cups of wine corresponding to the four expressions of redemption from Egypt. The fifth cup, though, does not correspond to our emancipation alone; rather, it alludes to the complete redemption, which depends on our entry into Eretz Yisrael, where the word of God is revealed in all spheres of life, through the Torah and prophecy, and through God’s blessing, which inheres in the building of the nation and the land. This notion of the Temple is that it joins heaven and earth and reveals the divine unity that nourishes everything. Indeed, the number five alludes to the inner, unifying point at the center of the four compass directions. And so perhaps at the source of the uncertainty about the fifth cup lies the question: is it fitting, in light of the Temple’s destruction, to drink the fifth cup, which alludes to the complete redemption?

The solution is to pour a fifth cup but not drink it as part of the Seder until Eliyahu appears. His very appearance will show us that the time has come to drink the fifth cup, celebrating our complete redemption.

The custom is to pour Eliyahu’s Cup after drinking the third cup; when we pour the fourth cup for everybody, we pour a cup for Eliyahu as well. The custom is to leave Eliyahu’s Cup covered until morning, when we pour the wine back into the bottle and then use it for the morning kiddush.[33]


[32]. The issue in brief: According to the text of the Bavli used by Rashi and Rashbam, the Gemara does not mention a fifth cup at all, meaning that it would certainly be forbidden to add to the mitzva of drinking four cups by adding a fifth cup. However, according to the text of Rabbeinu Ĥananel, Rif, and Rambam, a beraita in Pesaĥim 118a states: “One recites Hallel Ha-gadol over the fifth [cup] – these are the words of R. Tarfon.” According to Ha-ma’or, R. Tarfon disagrees with the mishna (Pesaĥim 99b) that obligates giving paupers enough money to buy four cups of wine, implying that there is no fifth cup; the halakha would follow the mishna, as it is anonymous and does not acknowledge dissenting opinions. However, according to Ran, there is no dispute between R. Tarfon and the mishna; therefore, one must drink four cups and may – and perhaps even must – drink a fifth. Raavad (in his glosses to Ha-ma’or) states, and Rambam implies, that it is a mitzva to drink a fifth cup. Mordechai states that the main obligation is to drink four cups, but the Sages made an allowance for those who wish to drink more wine, that they may recite Hallel over the fourth cup and Hallel Ha-gadol over a fifth. This is what Rema states in 481:1, but SA does not mention a fifth cup at all. According to Kaf Ha-ĥayim (6 ad loc.), the implication of SA is that drinking a fifth cup is prohibited.

[33]. Some have the custom of pouring the wine from Eliyahu’s Cup back into the bottle right after the Seder (this is the custom of Chabad). Others have the custom to add the wine from Eliyahu’s Cup to the fourth cup; see Piskei Teshuvot 480:1.

Regarding the symbolism of the fifth cup, my ideas echo what Maharal writes in Gevurot Hashem at the end of a brief section on the laws of Pesaĥ. He cryptically states that the fifth cup symbolizes livelihood that comes from God. See R. Goren’s Torat Ha-Shabbat Ve-hamo’ed, pp. 145-154, where he explains that the fifth cup represents the mitzva of settling Eretz Yisrael, a mitzva that requires total devotion on our part. R. Goren states that the fifth cup is not an obligation because it is on a higher level than ordinary obligations. He encourages drinking the fifth cup nowadays, since we are actively involved in settling Eretz Yisrael.

37. Drinking Coffee or Juice after the Seder

We have learned that the Sages ordained the afikoman at the end of the Seder to commemorate the korban Pesaĥ, which was eaten “while satisfied.” Just as it was forbidden to eat any other food after the Paschal sacrifice, so that its taste lingered, so too the Sages forbade eating after the afikoman.[34]

It is also forbidden to drink wine after the afikoman, for several reasons. If one has not yet finished reciting the Hagada, he might become intoxicated and be unable to finish reciting Hallel properly; furthermore, by drinking an additional cup of wine, one will appear to be adding to the number of cups instituted by the Sages.

It is even forbidden to drink wine after the Seder, because there is a mitzva to delve into the laws of Pesaĥ and the Exodus story until one is overcome with sleep, and if one drinks wine or some other intoxicating beverage, he will not be able to do so (Rabbeinu Yona, Rosh). Furthermore, even though the Seder is over, if one drinks additional cups of wine he may still appear to be adding to the cups instituted by the Sages, or starting a new series of cups (Ramban, Ran).

Some poskim maintain that it is even forbidden to drink coffee or juice after the afikoman until one goes to sleep, because any flavored food or drink weakens the taste of the afikoman in one’s mouth, so just as it is forbidden to eat after the afikoman, so is it forbidden to drink anything flavored. To be sure, we drink two more cups of wine after the afikoman, but since these are part of the mitzva, they are not seen as weakening the taste of the mitzva. According to this, only water may be drunk after the Seder.

However, in contrast to these poskim, many other poskim permit drinking coffee or juice. They maintain that beverages are not included in the prohibition, because only food is seen as weakening the taste of the afikoman.

In practice, if one wishes to drink coffee or juice after the Seder, he may, as this is the opinion of most poskim. But preferably one should be stringent and avoid drinking anything except water. If one wishes to drink coffee so that he will be able to continue delving into the laws of Pesaĥ and the Exodus story, he may, even le-khatĥila.[35]


[34]. If one accidentally ate after the afikoman, as long as he did not recite Birkat Ha-mazon he should eat another piece of shmura matza for afikoman, as per MB 478:1. If he already recited Birkat Ha-mazon, he need not re-wash his hands and eat another afikoman (MB 478:12), as explained in R. Harari’s Mikra’ei Kodesh ch. 9 n. 50.

[35]. According to Ha-ma’or and several other Rishonim, once the Seder has ended there is no reason to refrain from drinking wine, even if it will cause one to become intoxicated. Conversely, Mordechai and Hagahot Maimoniyot state that even drinking water is forbidden. Most Aĥaronim follow the opinion of Rosh and Ran that either out of concern that one will become intoxicated and will not be able to continue delving into Pesaĥ topics, or out of concern that he will appear to be adding on to the four cups, one may not drink any alcoholic beverage, including ĥamar medina (see section 13 above, n. 10). Some poskim follow Rif and Mahari Weil, who maintain that one is only permitted to drink water, since water has no taste and will not ruin the aftertaste of the afikoman. Accordingly, Knesset Ha-gedola and Ma’amar Mordechai prohibit drinking coffee or other flavored drinks after the Seder. On the other hand, some Aĥaronim, including MA (481:1), reason that even according to Mahari Weil one may drink a beverage with a weak taste, and the prohibition is only on drinking beverages that have a strong flavor. According to this, the status of coffee requires clarification. Regardless, according to most Rishonim, one may drink coffee or juice, since these drinks are not intoxicating and it does not appear that one who drinks them is adding to the four cups. It is told that Ĥatam Sofer would drink coffee after the Seder every year. Ĥazon Ovadia 1:50 discusses this topic at length and rules leniently that one may drink coffee. According to SAH (481:1), MB (481:1), and Ben Ish Ĥai (Tzav 35), one should preferably be stringent and refrain from drinking coffee and flavored drinks, but they permit it when there is a great necessity. As I have written, if by drinking coffee one will be able to study Torah, he should certainly drink coffee, even le-khatĥila.

According to Ĥok Yaakov 481:1, since the main reason not to drink strong beverages is to avoid drowsiness, once one is drowsy he may even drink alcoholic beverages. Many Aĥaronim cite this view. SAH (481:1) also quotes this opinion, and adds that according to those who prohibit drinking because the beverages ruin the taste of the afikoman, the prohibition applies all night. Accordingly, it is clear that one may not eat throughout the night, since that would certainly ruin the aftertaste of the afikoman. In an extreme situation, one may be lenient based on the opinion of Avnei Nezer (OĤ  381), which maintains that according to R. Elazar b. Azarya, since the time for eating the korban Pesaĥ (and the afikoman) ends at midnight, the prohibition against eating afterward ends at midnight as well. Therefore, in extenuating circumstances, since this is only a rabbinic injunction, one may rely on Avnei Nezer’s explanation of R. Elazar b. Azarya’s view.

According to the custom of the Sephardim, who do not recite a berakha on the fourth cup of wine, one who wishes to drink water between the third and fourth cups does not recite a berakha on it (provided that he had in mind to drink water or the water was in front of him), since the berakha on the third cup covers the fourth cup and any other beverage. According to Ashkenazic custom, the berakha on the third cup does not cover the fourth cup; therefore, one cannot drink water without a berakha between the third and fourth cups, even if the water was in front of him, since we assume that when he drinks the water he is no longer thinking about the berakha he made on the third cup.

38. Recounting the Exodus and Studying the Laws of Pesaĥ All Night

Some have a custom to read Shir Ha-shirim (the Song of Songs) upon completing the Hagada, as it alludes to the love between God and Israel.

Though we have fulfilled our obligation to tell the story of the Exodus by reading the Hagada, there is a mitzva to continue embellishing the story and telling of the miracles and wonders that God did for our ancestors throughout the night of the fifteenth, until one is overcome with sleep. This mitzva includes studying the laws of Pesaĥ (SA 481:2; Gevurot Hashem ch. 2), but it does not include “pilpul (talmudic casuistry) (Derashot Ĥatam Sofer p. 265).

It is best not to spend a lot of time on the portion of the Hagada that precedes the meal, because we want the children and all of the participants to remain alert until the fourth cup. But after finishing the Hagada, there is a mitzva to continue discussing the Exodus as much as possible.

If one fears that by staying up late he will be unable to pray Shaĥarit properly, it is better that he goes to bed earlier (Sidur Yaavetz). An effort should nonetheless be made to continue relating the story of the Exodus until after midnight (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 481:11).

Before going to sleep on Pesaĥ night, it is customary to recite Shema and the berakha of Ha-mapil, but not to read the other verses that are read on all other nights. These verses are recited as a protective remedy against harmful forces, but this night is safeguarded against such forces and opportune for redemption (Rema 481:2; and see Ben Ish Ĥai, Tzav 38).

May it be God’s will that just as we have merited to study the halakhot of the Seder, so may we merit to fulfill them.

 

 

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