Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Orthodoxy Versus Maror

It's interesting that "boring, technical" halachic topics can often shed light on sociological phenomena.

As discussed in my monograph The Evolution Of The Olive, there is absolutely no reason to think that olives in the time of Chazal or the Rishonim were any bigger than those of today. Many people are not aware of that; but even of those that become aware of it, many still use a larger shiur. Some explain that although they accept the history of the kezayis, they attribute significance to custom; Judaism is as Judaism does. I can certainly respect that policy, even if I wouldn't apply it to kezayis. However, other people claim a different reason for insisting on a larger shiur: there's no downside to it, and the benefit is that one is being choshesh lechol hadeyos, being concerned to fulfill the mitzvah according to all opinions. And especially since the Shulchan Aruch notes that some say that a kezayis is half an egg, they want to cover that view.

The idea of "being concerned to follow all opinions" is itself a fascinating topic; it very much hinges on a non-rationalist understanding of what mitzvos do. But that is a discussion for another time. The topic for today is how this plays out with maror - or rather, how it does not play out with maror.

A full discussion of the history of maror can be found in this excellent article by Ari (Arthur) Schaffer. In brief: Traditionally, wild lettuce and similar plants were used for maror. But when Jews moved to Europe, such plants were not available in the spring. As a result, they began to use horseradish instead.

However, there are a number of problems with horseradish. First, it is not in the Mishnah's list of plants/ vegetables that are approved for maror. Second, it is sharp rather than bitter. Now, the former objection is not realized by most people, due to the difficulty of translating the Mishnah's terms, while the latter does not seem to have ever been raised by Poskim. However, much more serious is that Rabbeinu Tam, based on the Mishnah, rules that only leaves and stems may be used for maror - not roots. For this reason, many authorities strongly objected to the innovation of using horseradish root. Even the Shulchan Aruch explicitly states that the root may not be used.

Nevertheless, due to the difficulty of obtaining wild lettuce and similarly leafy maror, the custom to use horseradish root became widespread. Seeking to justify this common practice, some authorities claimed that the prohibition of using roots did not apply to horseradish, whose main root is so thick that it is equivalent to a stem. But such arguments were clearly strained, and many authorities (such as Kitzur Shulchan Aruch and Chacham Tzvi) made it clear that even horseradish root was either prohibited or very much bedi'eved. (I know about the Chasam Sofer's objection to bugs in lettuce and other leafy maror. So wash it!)

Now, someone who takes the approach of striving to be yotzi lechol hadeyos should clearly be using wild lettuce or a similarly bitter leaf (I would note that today's commercially available lettuce suffers from not being bitter; but wild lettuce and endives are easy to get hold of). And there were some who did that; Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, for example, had lettuce as well as horseradish. But how many people do that today? The very same people who are declare themselves to be chareidim l'dvar Hashem, striving to fulfill mitzvos according all opinions, use something for maror that is not traditional and according to many authorities is unacceptable or bedi'eved, when at no cost they could supplement it with the original maror that is acceptable lechatchilah according to all!

So why don't they eat wild lettuce, or at the very least, Romaine lettuce? It seems to me that the reason is that this idea is something that is perceived as coming from "outside." Professor Feliks, Professor Schaffer, Dr. Ari Zivotofsky - they are the "names" associated with the resurrection of this view. It doesn't make a difference that they are merely bringing to light the views of many prestigious Acharonim, which in turn are shedding light upon Chazal and the Shulchan Aruch.

Now I am not as cynical about all this as it may sound. Orthodoxy - defined by historians as a movement that began with Chasam Sofer - is fundamentally reactionary. Due to the (entirely justified) concern about wholesale abandonment of tradition in modern society, the more extreme sector of Orthodoxy has an approach of rejecting anything that is perceived as coming from "outside" - even if it is fine frum Jews quoting Rishonim and Acharonim. So it is perfectly consistent and legitimate for this consideration to take precedence over the usual policy of being yotzi lechol hadeyos.

My point therefore is not to criticize this approach. But I do think that it is important for the situation to be correctly understood.


  1. I got a chance to shmooze w/ Prof. Schaffer over the first day. He told me that as a result of his article, a bunch of YU Roshei Yeshiva (he mentioned R. Schachter and R. Willig) will not make the bracha of "al achilat maror" on horseradish.
    An emerging practice seems to be that one makes the bracha on lettuce, but then eats horseradish afterward, or with "korekh." The idea is that our Ashkenazi ancestors ate horseradish on Pesach for hundreds of years, so it deserves a place at the seder no less than anything else that we do to preserve collective memory.
    BTW - had you seen the article before I linked to it in the comments of your last post?

  2. Another link which agrees that maror is not horseradish:

  3. I was taught that when the mishnas says Tamcha as he fifth type of maror, its talking about the horseradish.

  4. I noticed that you got one kefira for this post. I really suspect that people do not even read what you write.

  5. I would think the Chasam Sofer was the founder of the Charedim, not the Orthodox. Even if Orthodoxy was originally reactionary in some sense, this does not mean that this is the core definition of what Orthodoxy is, so that reacting conservatively to proposed change is always the authentic Orthodox response. Wouldn't it make more sense to understand Orthodoxy as a form of Judaism that, more or less, preserves the basic haskafic views of historical rabbinic Judaism, believes in the binding nature of all traditional halachah and strives to actually follow it, and adheres to a halachic methodology that is consistent with historical practice?

    Despite increased stringencies among many (if not all) Orthodox Jews over the last couple centuries, Orthodoxy is mainly about continuity with historical Judaism. Conservative Judaism claims this distinction, but it clear that it deviates from long-held hashkafic beliefs (about the origin of the Oral Torah and authorship of the Tanakh, for example), halachic practices (many mitzvot, even whole categories of mitzvot, are widely ignored in practice), and halachic methodology (leniencies that would be impossible to justify with traditional halachah, and major halachic decisions, like on women's ordination, being made by non-rabbis outside the halachic process).

    Consider headcoverings. Even very religious Jewish women in Eastern Europe didn't wear them, despite the halachah on this issue. In recent decades people realized this, and now most Orthodox women cover their hair. So there is a historical parallel for changing a traditional practice to conform with halachah. Since Orthodoxy could be defined, as I do so above, as a form of Judaism committed to traditional halachah, it is arguably more "Orthodox" to revert back to eating lettuce.

    However, there is also the belief (especially among charedim) that minhag is not optional and should be followed, and this is a good reason for continuing to include horseradish in the seder plate along with lettuce or at least eating it at the meal.

  6. Sounds like a business opportunity: Badatz-certified bitter wild lettuce in pre-measured packages.

    You heard it here first :-)

  7. Is there a problem with using non-bitter Romaine lettuce? Your post seems to imply so.

  8. This is anecdotal, but I've now been to at least 6 separate haredi seder tables (possibly more, but at least this many), and from what I remember, at all of these for the maror we used a combination of romaine lettuce with horseradish thrown on top. The horseradish thrown on romaine lettuce is an instance where there is a clear admission that an ashkenazi galut custom is simply wrong. Otherwise there would be no lettuce involved. It's a very important case study.

  9. I'm not sure who you are talking about.
    Every seder I have been to since I became a BT has romain lettice for maror (with some horseraddish sprinkled on for a kick).
    Even the english books about pesach shiurim have pictures of romain leafs and endives.
    Who only eats horseradish besides reform/conservative??
    This pesach I decided to use a romain leaf with and endive leaf on that with horseradish in that :).

  10. StudentV,

    If it were an admission that it is wrong to use horseradish, then putting it on top of the lettuce is not a good idea. They are being mevatel the taste of the maror with something that is not.

    I eat a kezayis of both separately, for both maror and korech (two separate sandwiches).

  11. Agreeing with Student V... everyone I know in my circles (Israeli, mostly charedi) eats lettuce with or without horseradish.

    Growing up in the USA, it was of course horseradish only. My wife reports the same from England.

  12. 1) Another possibility people are sticking with horseradish is because there are those out there who insist that no matter how hard you try, you can't properly clean romaine lettuce or endives and be sure they're bug-free. (Even using that handing Artscroll fluorescent light box!)

    2) Orthodoxy was not founded by anybody. The term was conferred upon shomrei-mitzvos by the early Reformers and Conservatives because they needed a name to label them with.

  13. As I mentioned before, I believe you are mistaken as to the identity of chazeret - chasa.

    According to the mesorah of almost all ancient communities (Bavel, Yemen, Egypt, Djerba etc.) this was chasa aravit - Lactuca sativa var. longifolia a.k.a. romaine lettuce. This messorah is supported by archeological and botanical findings.

    It is true that the romaine lettuce commercially sold in the western countries today is more cultivated and tasted better (i.e. less bitter) than the one used in older days in the Mediterranean area.

    However, we are NOT talking here about wild lettuce varieties - Lactuca virosa, Lactuca serriola or Lactuca saligna.

    Those may be also good for merrorim but it seems that they are not the chazeret of the mishna.

  14. I was told that according to kabbolah eating horseradish is supposed to be a 'tikkun' for pgam habris. I saw people eating a whole cezais, which was more like a kebeiza, chewing it and swallowing lechatchila in one shot! Some went for seconds! This is what I call tradition! Awesome! These people (and you guessed who) believe that every golus happened because of pgam habris. Zigmund Freud, Heronimus Bosch, aecha?

    I actually like a little horseradish. Without getting all analytical if it's sharp or bitter, it's a nice way to feel the bitterness of golus mizraim.

  15. > Despite increased stringencies among many (if not all) Orthodox Jews over the last couple centuries, Orthodoxy is mainly about continuity with historical Judaism.

    But Orthodoxy itself is only a couple of centuries old, so if there has been a trend towards increased stringency among the Orthodox in reaction to other Jewish sects tending towards leniency, then it is fair to describe Orthodoxy as reactionary.

  16. Wouldn't the natural extension fot the shita of wrapping minhag-ashkenazi horseradish in Mishnaic lettuce be to wrap a piece of minhag-ashkenazi hard shmura matza in Mishnaic soft matza?

  17. G*3, but what you're describing only applies to Charedi and RWMO -- LWMO have not piled on the stringencies. What they all have in common is the basic core of haskhafic beliefs and commitment to following halachah using a more or less traditional halachic methodology.

  18. If we want to follow the Traditional ways of our ancestors simply because they did so, then what makes us different then the nations of the world for they have tradition as well.

    The Mishnah dose not state horseradish as maror for it is just simply sharp and not bitter (i.e. not maror), and (Wild) Lettuce is bitter, as mentioned in Natan's post.

    So eating horseradish instead of lettuce is clearly not the Torah way. And eating horseardish with the lettuce will muffle the taste of the maror (i.e. the lettuce), defeating the intended purpose of why we eat the maror and therefore is too not the Torah way.

    Following the Mishnah rather then tradition should be a no brainer.

    Everything we do at the seder (as well as in all Torah related matters) has highly significant meaning. Do we do them for traditional reasons or for Torah reasons.
    Which do you say is more significant.

    Are we like the nations of the world or are we the childern of Israel whom Hashem gave the Torah to?

  19. If we know that horseradish is not the real McCoy and is a good example of how the galuth reality scrambles the proper fulfillment of Torah and misswoth, I can't see why one should keep it out of veneration for his Ashkenazi ancestors. The treating of all ancestral practices as something which must be maintained is actually a pernicious mechanism which has the effect of enshrining minhage tauth and things which don't even fall into the geder of minhag. Another example is Hebrew pronunciation. I changed my pronunciation to something very close to the Temani one, and once was talking to a (haredi) friend of mine, who objected to this, on the grounds of "al titosh Torath imecha". As R' Bension Kohen wrote extensively in his book Sfath Emeth about Hebrew pronunciation, this is actually an insult to the Torah, to say that glitches that work their way into the system because of galuth influences should be dignified and accorded the status of Torah. Aderaba, I would think that our ancestors would be proud when we are not only able to discern these glitches but act upon it.

  20. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Very good point. This is one of the reasons why I rejected charedism: because they are inconsistent l'shitasam.

  21. "Following the Mishnah rather then tradition should be a no brainer."

    So, should we toss out our traditional Haggadot and go back to the much shorter format in Mishna Pesachim perek 10?

  22. People, is this really so important? How does eating horseradish and reading the Haggodah with an Askenazi pronunciation interfere with internalizing the message of the chag? It's hard to imagine that our ancestors care about this stuff in Olam Hoemes. Now, if the prevailing ideas about the meaning of Pesach and Torah in general are distorted - that's a real issue. Why sweat the small stuff?

  23. just two points:
    1) i believe you have misquoted both the kitzur shulchan aruch and the chacham tzvi. The former makes no mention whatsoever of chrain being assur, and the latter simply says it shoudlnt be used because its dangerous and people will eat less than a kzayis.
    2) you actually arent yotzei lchol hadeios when you use romain: teh chazon ish and others maintain that one cant use lettuce if it's not bitter

  24. IH said
    "Following the Mishnah rather then tradition should be a no brainer."

    "So, should we toss out our traditional Haggadot and go back to the much shorter format in Mishna Pesachim perek 10?" [un- quote]

    We as Torah observant Jews have a Torah obligation that we are required to tell the story of the Exodous from Egypt. The traditional Haggadah (in my personal view) fulfills this obligation and dose not contradict the Torah's teachings. Whereas eating horseradish as maror at the seder dose make a contratiction with the Torah.

    Tradition for dradition's sake or Tradition for Torah's sake? That is the question.

  25. Carol said
    "Why sweat the small stuff?"

    Because, Those who search out the precise reasons behind the Torah's teachings, examining and clarifying everything, learn Torah for its own sake. Alternatively, those who do not labor sufficiently in the Torah, learn for ulterior motives. Artscroll, Tractate Shabbos, 63a(3)

  26. you actually arent yotzei lchol hadeios when you use romain: teh chazon ish and others maintain that one cant use lettuce if it's not bitter

    What's the point of the existence of multiple de'os if one attempts to be yotzei all of them?

  27. Additionally, on Erev Pesach, I was reviewing Mishna Pesachim Perek 10 in the (1977) Kehati edition and noticed a small comment on mishna 3: בנוסחות אחרות אין התיבות: ושני תבשילין. And sure enough, it is missing in the Kaufmann Manuscript of the mishna: ...

    It also turns out that, but not mentioned in Kehati, mishna 4 – which includes the proto Ma Nishtana – is also slightly different. In the Kaufmann MS: 1) matbilim, 2) ochlim matza, 3) basar tzali; whereas, in our “standard” printed mishna, the order is: 1) ochlim matza, 2) ochlim maror, 3) basar tzali, & 4) matbilim.

  28. I don't feel that it is appropriate at this late stage to 'pasel' the horseradish still used by many people for maror. What was done at people's sedarim was done, and there is no going back. The mishnah's list of 5 species may also be illustrative rather than definitive for all places and ages. As to the required quality of 'bitterness', that would become clearer if all 5 species of the mishnah were positively identified. It's possible, in principle, that something with the taste sensation akin to horseradish, i.e., sharp, was also considered as falling into the 'merorim' category of the torah.

    The cited view of the Hazon Ish that the species used for maror must be actually bitter is not accepted by other major poskim. It is sufficient in their view that the species either have a mild bitterness (romaine lettuce) or capable of bitterness if harvested late (iceberg lettuce). Since maror in post-temple times is strictly a rabbinic matter, then we are certainly permitted to accept the lenient viewpoint. The same consideration would apply to the issue of combining horseradish and lettuce, where the horseradish taste overwhelms the lettuce. If you don't have to taste the bitterness from the lettuce, then the horseradish doesn't detract from the rabbinic mitzvah. It's purpose is then primarily to fulfill a tradition of centuries.

  29. What's wrong with the other official bitter herbs? Chicory is easy to find.

  30. "לפום צערא אגרא"
    A commonly held view is that the more it hurts, the better it is. Since it is more painful to eat horseraddish than it is to each lettuce, it must be more mehudar.
    I think that this is the basis for many chumros. The more painfull - the better.

  31. Akiva, you and I both know that nobody does it because of the reason its supposed to be done. They do it to do the halacha and follow minhag. Its an eating and face-stuffing exercise to fulfill the exciting parameters of halachic "kezayis" before the time runs out - like a kids' game. Oops the game has nothing to do with pesah, and I forgot why I was eating this.

    I still assert that you would not see any lettuce at these tables if we would truly follow the customs from europe and adding in lettuce is an admission of insecurity "we are afraid our forefathers in europe may have done the wrong thing, we need to supplement..." no one dares do away with it entirely because of course "what if they were right" (even tho they weren't), and what about the custom-following mechanics games and what will pesah be without that (perhaps as intended instead?) ?

  32. I went to a neighbor's for second seder, and they served grated horseradish. Before I ate some, they apologized for having left it out for too long, so it had lost its bite. (I was relieved.) So, when I ate it, it wasn't all that sharp, but it was kind of bitter.

  33. Only in the recent times has the idea originated that we must cull all the shitas and be machmir to be yotzei all of them (i.e mishna brura) Why cant we go back to paskening shailos based on logic and not trying to be yotzei kol hadeos?

  34. Y aharon - No one is "paseling" anything. It is the oral law which describes the proper species for maror and if one doesn't use any of those, or uses an incorrect species like horseradish, they are simply doing it wrong regardless of what anyone has to say about it. And so it would seem likewise that that does not fulfill the mitzvah regardless of what anyone feels or thinks about it. Either we go by talmud (oral law) or make up our own, but I feel that traditional Judaism goes by the oral law.

  35. The idea of "being concerned to follow all opinions" is itself a fascinating topic; it very much hinges on a non-rationalist understanding of what mitzvos do. But that is a discussion for another time.

    Do you plan to do such a post soon? I look forward to it, as it is indeed a most interesting and relevant (and imho unfortunate, since that view is disturbing and yet almost convincing) topic.

  36. Student V – help me understand your logic. The Mishna to which you and others refer -- Pesachim 2:6 -- states:
    ואלו ירקות שאדם יוצא בהן ידי חובתו בפסח--בחזרת, ובעולשין, ובתמכה, ובחרחבינה, ובמרור.

    So, “Maror” is a subset of “Yerakot”. Kehati (1977) translates “Maror” in the above as: “Min Kusbar (Coriander) she’hu mar be’yoter” referencing Rambam.

    Now skipping forward to Mishna 10:3, the Mishna refers to Chazeret rather than “Maror” with reference to the Seder. And referring back to Pesachim 2:6, “Chazeret” is another one of the 5 types of “Yerakot” that Kehati (1977) translates as “Chasa” w/ no attribution.

    So, if we’re going to pasken according to the Mishna, we should use explicitly “Chasa” for Karpas; and explicitly “Kusbar” for Maror. No?

    [Not that I think we should pasken this way, but I am trying to understand the logic that says Horseradish is “wrong” because of the Mishna]

  37. Ih- it' not just the mishna but also our knowledge of botany and the use of our minds along with the mishna.

    I refer you to rabbi Bar Hayim's article where he has summarized this issue (already was linked to early in this thread by someone else), but in short I will say that horseradish which people eat is not mentioned in the mishna, it is not a green leafy vegetable, it is a stalk not a leaf, and it is not bitter but sharp. An open-shut case.

  38. All I can say is that I'm chareidi, and I've only ever seen ppl use lettuce. I remember only 2 instances where someone did not do it, one was my elementary school teacher talking about someone he knew eating a lot of horseradish, and one was someone else who ate a little, but I don't think he even does that every year and I'm not sure if he even eat a full k'zayis.


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