1. Seder Plate
A special Seder Plate is displayed during the Seder, containing the key elements of Passover. The plate is carefully prepared and placed before the head of the household, or the one conducting the Seder, who dispenses the Seder foods to each of the participants.
The following items appear on the Seder Plate:
- Three whole Matzahs or unleavened “bread” (either on the plate or next to it)
- Maror or bitter herbs, usually horseradish or romaine lettuce
- Charoset or special mixture of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon symbolizing mortar
- Karpas or a vegetable, preferably parsley or celery
- Zeroah or a piece of roasted or boiled meat or poultry, preferably a shankbone, recalling the Paschal sacrifice of the original Exodus. Before the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple the Paschal sacrifice was the central feature of the Seder.
- Baytzah or a roasted or boiled egg, commemorating the festival sacrifice that was brought at the Jerusalem Temple. An egg is used because it is a traditional food for mourners, reminding us of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
- There are other items that can be placed on Seder plates depending on the customs followed by the family.
2. Basic Obligations
There are five basic obligations (mitzvos) performed by each Jew, in the course of the Seder conducted according to the traditional Haggadah:
- Eating Matzahs
- Drinking four cups of wine (Arba Kosos)
- Eating bitter herbs (Maror)
- Relating the story of the Exodus (Haggadah or Magid)
- Reciting Psalms of Praise (Hallel)
A. There are three times during the course of the Seder when Matzah must be eaten at the beginning of the Seder meal, when the special blessing over Matzah is made, for the Korech (Hillel Sandwich) together with the Maror, and at the end of the meal for the Afikomon.
B. For the appropriate minimum quantities of Matzah, and the time period in which it must be consumed, please refer to the following section on Shiurim.
C. Three unbroken Matzahs are required for the Seder plate for each Seder. Each individual must consume the minimum specified quantity of Matzah during the course of the Seder.
If the Matzahs from the Seder plate are insufficient, they should be supplemented by additional Matzahs.
D. The Matzah is eaten while reclining on the left side as a symbol of freedom. The piece of Matzah called Afikoman should be eaten before midnight, and no solid food should be eaten thereafter.
E. To fulfill the mitzvos of the Seder, one must use Shmurah Matzahs, which are produced under a special standard of supervision, beginning with the harvest of the grain (rather than with its milling into flour, as with regular Matzahs for Passover).
F. Matzah made with fruit juice or eggs, including Egg Matzah, Chocolate Covered Egg Matzah, and including White Grape Matzah or Grape Bit Crackers are permissible on Passover only for the elderly, sick, or young children who cannot digest regular Matzah. Under no circumstances should they be eaten by others at any time during Passover, nor can they be eaten to fulfill the mitzvos of the Seder.
4. Four Cups of Wine
A. Each Jew is obligated to drink four cups of wine at these specific times during each Seder: the first at the start of the Seder, following Kiddush; the second before the meal, after reciting the Haggadah story; the third following the Grace After the Meal; and the last after completing Psalms of Praise (Hallel).
B. Please consult the following section on Shiurim for minimum volumes necessary to be consumed and time limits for each of the four cups.
C. Red wine is the preferred beverage for use during the Seder. If a person has difficulty drinking wine, it may be diluted with kosher grape juice. If one wishes to dilute the wine with water, an Orthodox rabbi should be consulted to determine the minimum acceptable proportions. If someone cannot drink even diluted wine, he may drink kosher grape juice instead. If an individual cannot drink any grape product, then a rabbi should be consulted on the proper beverage to substitute in order to fulfill the mitzvah of drinking the four cups.
D. One should drink the wine reclining on the left side, in order to symbolize freedom.
5. Bitter Herbs (Maror)
A. All persons are obligated to eat bitter herbs twice at each Seder. According to most authorities, the bitter herbs may consist either of romaine lettuce, horseradish or endives.
B. When using the romaine lettuce, one may use the stalks or leaves for Maror.
When horseradish is used for the Maror, it should be chopped, ground or grated to reduce its strength, but it must be covered so as not to be weakened too much.
Cooked or preserved vegetables are not suitable for Maror; therefore commercially prepared grated horseradish, which is packed in vinegar, may not be used for the mitzvah.
C. The Maror is dipped in Charoses, a specially prepared mixture of wine, nuts, cinnamon, and apples, symbolizing the bricks and mortar of ancient Egypt.
D. Immediately thereafter, a second, smaller volume of Maror is eaten with Matzah in the Korech (Hillel Sandwich).
E. When lettuce is used, it must be cleaned and inspected very carefully to remove the small insects which often are present in its leaves. One recommended way to clean lettuce of insects is to soak it for not more than half an hour in salt water, and rinse it in fresh water before inspection.
F. Consult the following section on Shiurim for the minimum volume of Maror to be consumed each time and the time limits.
6. Relating The Story of the Exodus & Hallel
A. Most of the unique Seder practices are designed to stimulate interest and arouse curiosity in the Exodus story.
The central theme for the Haggadah is the discussion of the Exodus, a timeless event which has forged countless generations of Jews into an unbroken chain through history, with each year’s Seder another link of that chain.
B. The Seder is a symbolic reenactment of the Exodus, with a compelling message for young and old alike.
Seder participants are encouraged to discuss the various aspects of the Exodus in detail, beyond the text of the Haggadah.
C. Young children are encouraged to participate in the Seder to the extent of their ability.
In addition to the Four Questions at the start of the Seder, they are encouraged to drink the Four Cups, eat the Maror and Matzah, and ask as many questions as they wish.
D. In addition to relating the story of the Exodus, each Jew at the Seder is obligated to discuss three central elements of the Seder ritual – the Paschal sacrifice, the Matzah and the Maror, as explained in the Haggadah.
The Seder is a miniature recreation of the Exodus, and participants should imagine themselves as leaving Egypt.
E. The formal part of the Seder closes with special Psalms known as Hallel, which praise the Almighty and His special relationship with the people of Israel.
F. The Seder traditionally concludes with the singing of several lively songs celebrating the relationship between G-d and the Jewish People.
Shiurim: Measures & Minimums
In order to fulfill the Mitzvos of the Passover Seder, it is necessary to consume a minimum quantity (Shiur) of the Four Cups of wine, Matzah and Maror, in a minimum period of time.
For wine, the volume of most of a Revi’is should be consumed. For Matzah and Maror, a Kazayis is the minimum volume. The time limit is Kday Achilas Pras.
Rabbinic authorities have historically disagreed as to the exact quantities that each of these represent in modern measures.
We quote here, for the information of the public, the modern equivalent values for the minimum acceptable quantities (Bedieved) for each of these Mitzvos, according to the listings published by the Otzar HaPoskim of Jerusalem. We also include some practical suggestions for estimating these amounts.
We urge the reader to consult with a competent halachic authority for the ideal quantities that should be consumed in each case to perform the mitzvah optimally (Lechatchila).
Minimum Volume for Wine: 86 c.c. (3.0 fluid ounces).
This should be the minimum size of wine cups used during the Passover Seder for drinking the Four Cups. Each Seder participant must drink more than half this volume for each of the Four Cups to fulfill the mitzvah.
Minimum Quantity of Matzah:
The minimum quantity of Matzah is approximately at least one-third of an average, machine made Matzah.
Please note, however, that machine made Matzahs vary in size.
Optimally (Lechatchila) one should consume substantially higher minimum quantities both for the initial mitzvah of “Achilat Matzah” and for the “Afikoman.”
Minimum Volume of Maror (Bitter Herbs):
19 grams (0.7 fluid ounces).
In the case of ground horseradish, this volume can be easily estimated by putting it in a small cup or glass.
In the case of lettuce, this volume can be estimated as follows:
Leaves: enough to cover an area of 80 square inches (8″ by 10″)
Stalks: enough to cover an area of 15 square inches (3″ by 5″)
The eating of the Matzah and Maror, and the drinking of each of the Four Cups of wine should be done, if possible, in one or two swallows. In any event, the drinking of each cup of wine and the eating of the Matzah and Maror should be completed within 4 minutes. In the event this is not possible, a competent Halachic authority should be consulted.