Halachos of the Seder

As Pesach itself rapidly approaches, let’s discuss some Halachos relevant the Seder night itself.

While the primary focus of the Seder is the retelling of the story of Yetzias Mitzraim and bringing it to life, there are a number of technical Mitzvos that can be somewhat overlooked. Certainly no one would forget to eat the Matza or Maror altogether or to drink the 4 cups of wine, but it is entirely conceivable that one might not fulfill these Mitzvos according to Halacha.

 

As with all Mitzvos relating to eating, these have a minimum quantity required to satisfy the basic obligation. The Torah generally defines “eating” as consuming a quantity not less than the size of half a average chicken’s egg. There are two primary differing opinions regarding how to calculate this amount: Rabbi Chaim Na’eh suggests we should evaluate the size of a medium size egg today, and the Chazon Ish proposes that average eggs in the time of Chazal were roughly double this size, and that is the defining quantity. It is accepted by most Poskim that the basic Halacha follows Rabbi Chaim Na’eh, but one should strive to be Machmir for the Chazon Ish, especially regarding Mitzvos d’Oraisa.

Consequently, since Matza is a Biblical obligation, one should consume at least 27 grams (.95 oz) for Motzi-Matza and Afikoman. Korech is merely a Minhag and is more lenient, and 15 grams (.53 oz) suffices. It is customary to eat 2 portions of Matza for each or Motzi-Matza (and Afikoman), one from each of the 2 Matzos utilized, although this practice is debatable. Certainly, it not necessary to consume more than 2 of the smaller quantity, for a total of 30 grams (1.06 oz).

 

It should be noted that technically the minimum measurements are volume and not weight. However, it is difficult to estimate the precise volume of a Matza due to the various thicknesses of various brands and even individual Matzos. Weight is a much more precise scale, and since all Matzos are roughly the same density these numbers should be accurate. As a rough estimate, the larger quantity is approximately ½ of a hand Matza or 2/3 of a machine one.

 

Furthermore, these quantities must be consumed within a certain minimal timeframe to be considered a single act of eating. Opinions vary between 2-9 minutes, and one should attempt to be stringent. Certainly, haste should be made.

 

As a practical suggestion, the best method to insure that all the participants in the Seder fulfill their obligations according to Halacha is to prepare pre-measured amounts in advance. Erev Pesach I always take a stack of sandwich bags and a scale, and prepare the appropriate number of pre-measured bags. One 15 gram bag for each participant for Korech and 2 30 gram bags for Motzi-Matza and Afikoman (for each Seder, for those living in Chutz l’Aretz). I always tell my older boys that if they wish to be more Machmir, they should feel free to supplement their bags from the plate of extra Matza on the table, as I do. Before washing, it is best to inform all the participants that they have each been given the minimum quantity, and they should take care to finish every last piece, and quickly.

 

A similar idea can be done for Maror as well. Bags of lettuce or horseradish can be measured and prepared prior to Yom Tov. In my experience, a Kezayis of Romaine lettuce weighs approximately 40 grams (1.41 oz).

 

Wine glasses being used at the Seder should also be measured in advance to insure they hold a sufficient quantity. The glass must hold at least 86 ml (2.9 oz), of which a majority should be consumed. According to the Chazon Ish this amount is 150 ml (5.07 oz). If the cup is larger it is worth noting how much so, that way one can know how much to fill the goblets.

 

Again, the primary focus should certainly be on the children and the story, and developing a method of relating the miracles that is suited to ones personality and one’s children must also be prepared in advance. However, the other Mitzvos should not be neglected either.

 

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