Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Nisan 5759 - March 24, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly

















Home and Family

by Rivka Tal

On Seder night we are commanded to eat matza and maror. Eating of the bitter herbs is one of the main features of the Seder and immediately follows the eating of the matza. The mitzva was for the initial yetzias Mitzrayim as well as for us throughout the generations. Chazal discuss what exactly this maror was.

Merorim, the plural form, is used throughout Tanach. In Koheles 3:15 it is used to denote a bitter vegetable, somewhat parallel to wormwood. In Maseches Pesachim 39a, merorim are described as plants whose common features are "bitterness, possessing sap, with a grayish appearance", meaning wild or cultivated vegetables with milk-like sap, leaves that are silvery-gray- green in color and have a bitter taste. This description can apply to a number of plants, some belonging to the compositae family.

The mishna lists five: 1. Chazeres - identified as Romaine lettuce. 2. Olshin - identified as endives (or escarole). 3. Tamkha - is identified in the Mishnah Berurah and other poskim as horseradish (charein). 4. Hahavina - poskim cannot identify. 5. Maror - poskim cannot identify.

Although the mishna lists these various types of maror, we may fulfill our obligation only with those traditionally known as such. Chazeres is denoted by the Talmud as chassa - identified today by most poskim as Romaine lettuce, also known as cos lettuce, somehow related to the Greek island of Kos. (Some poskim allow the use of iceberg lettuce.) The Hebrew word chassa is similar to the word chas, which means to pity, for Hashem took pity on His children and redeemed them from slavery.

Although Romaine is preferred, because of the problems involved in its inspection for insects and worms, some poskim agree that if this cannot be done correctly by a G-d-fearing person, horseradish should be used.

The Talmud Yerushalmi describes maror as a "bitter vegetable with a silvery appearance that has sap (Pesochim 2:5, 29); the same description we find in the Bavli for all types of merorim. In its explanation of chazeres, it says that the growth stages of chazeres simulate the history of our forefatherS in Egypt. It starts out sweet, but if it remains too long in the earth, it becomes bitter. In Egypt, the Egyptians first treated the Jews like royal guests, letting them settle in the prime parts of the country. At a later stage, they encouraged them to work for hire, but subsequently embittered their lives with slavery.

Incidentally, these characteristics most agree with a plant called in Arabic murar, a weed widespread in gardens, fallow fields and roadsides throughout Israel. Its soft leaves are sometimes eaten as salad by the poor, some also eating the juicy root. The plant is filled with a milky sap, the underside is a luish-silvery color and the green plant has a bitter taste and is hardly edible.

Maror is not an independent mitzva. We are told, "Al matzos um'rorim tochluhu," it is dependent on the eating of korbon Pesach. One cannot fulfill the Tortah commandment of eating maror without matza and korbon Pesach. However, Chazal required us to eat maror on Seder night even without the korbon Pesach, therefore for us it is a mitzva d'rabbonon. The maror, of course, serves to remind us how the Egyptians embittered our lives.

The eating of the matza must precede the eating of the bitter herbs. Even in the times of the Beis Hamikdosh, they were eaten in this order.

Romaine lettuce has narrow, elongated dark green leaves with a crisp texture. Be sure to purchase fresh lettuce, avoiding limp or bruised lettuce or those with rust spots.

Men and women alike are commanded to eat a k'zayis maror at the Seder. Of course, no one wants the transgression of mitzva haba'a b'aveira! Most are familiar with the serious problem of insect and worm infestation inevitably present on Romaine lettuce. And, since the creatures often resemble the lettuce in color, the job of the checker is even more difficult. Formerly, one of the major pre-Pesach projects, the checking of the Romaine for maror can involve tedious, painstaking, important work.

For the last ten or so years, certified insect-and-worm-free Romaine lettuce has been available throughout Eretz Yisroel, and during the last few years, in the States as well as Europe (and even in Minneapolis, my mother reports). So we are saved this job. We still, however, must get rid of the accompanying sand. In addition, we are alerted to a reminder on most of the packages that each leaf must be washed to remove any possibility of any easy-to-remove flies.

How to do it? Wash thoroughly in several changes of cold water, then shake off excess moisture. For a small amount, you may toss it in a cloth towel or gently blot with toweling or dry in a salad spinner. Here is my secret for drying large quantities of Romaine (or any salad green): After shaking off excess water, place in a pillowcase, fasten securely. Place in washing machine and put it through the spin cycle. Remove from washing machine. Open pillowcase and add a small towel. Close again and store in refrigerator until needed.

Often we are overenthusiastic and prepare too much maror. Don't despair. Use the lettuce in salads to offset heavy yom tov meals. [For those who eat gebrokts], make matza sandwiches with crispy lettuce as trim. Fruit salads or chopped liver can also be served on a bed of lettuce. Various dressings (homemade, since most people use less prepared products, Pesach is a time to show your culinary ingenuity!) will liven up the lettuce - add your favorite raw vegetables and toss. Caesar salad, minus the croutons, of course, is another possibility.

* What's Cooking? Maror? Actually, yes. When your Romaine starts turning a little brown, but not slimy, it may not be suitable for salads, but it is for sauteing. Sauteed salad greens make an unusual but tasty side dish. Saute lettuce just as you would spinach. Cook lettuce quickly in a little olive oil, minced garlic, and salt. You won't be able to tell that the greens were once a little brown.

Sugar And Spice Nuts


4 1/2 cups mixed unsalted nuts (walnut, pecan, almond - and during the year, peanuts)

2 cups sugar

1 cup water

Grated rind of 1 or two oranges (well scraped)

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (opt.)

pinch of ground cloves - not for Pesach [cloves, for some reason, are considered chometz, but should be tried for during the year]


1. Mix all ingredients in large, heavy skillet. Simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly, until water evaporates and nuts look sugary, about 5 minutes.

2. Remove from heat and pour nuts onto large, greased baking sheet/ aluminum foil. Using two forks [beware, this is very hot], separate quickly to prevent from sticking together. Let cool, then store in an airtight container in frig or freezer - if it lasts that long.

3. Serve at room temperature or crush for ice cream topping.

Pesach Mayonnaise

by Yaffa Shepsel

My mother didn't have a Pesach electric mixer, but mayonnaise was the family treat. Chemically, mayonnaise is an emulsion, that is, a suspension of oil and water-based liquid combined. It may go runny until you get the feel, so first read how to do it, then how to re-do it without getting hysterical about the expensive ingredients going down the drain (Pesach oil is about 5 times the price of regular oil).

Ingredients: one egg, lemon juice, oil, salt (minced garlic).

HAND METHOD: It is important to invest in a wooden spoon. They are cheap, convenient, and if you decide to buy a mixer, can be burned with next year's chometz.

Put whole egg and juice of half a lemon in bowl and stir vigorously with wooden spoon. Very gradually, add oil in a very thin steady stream, stirring all the while [you may need a third hand here] until mixture becomes thick, like - er - mayonnaise. Add salt, garlic and taste. You may wish to experiment with different oils. Olive oil is not especially recommended, but some families use only that.

MIXER METHOD: Same as hand method. Beat well before adding oil, a little at a time.

BLENDER METHOD: I would suggest using one whole egg plus one white to get it started. You need enough liquid to cover the blender blades and get the emulsion to `take'. Start the blender and then add the oil in a very thin, steady stream. It will get thick very quickly.

OOPS! What to do if the mixture goes runny. Set aside and begin with a fresh bowl, juice and egg. Sorry. Beat, then add the ruined mixture to this very slowly. It should `take' this time. Keeping adding oil to desired consistency.

Since the oil is quite expensive and the mayonnaise, hopefully, delicious, you may wish to dilute it to stretch it. Those who do not eat gebrokts (allow any contact of water with their matza), can, nevertheless, make large quantities to use as a spread, without too much oil.

DILUTION: Orange juice may be added at the beginning stage, since pure fruit juice does not constitute gebrokts, especially if the mayonnaise is eaten on bite size pieces of matza at a time. I make my mayonnaise in the blender, and before adding the oil, put in a whole onion, some real orange juice and garlic for taste, then add the oil to the desired consistency.

CAUTION: It may be so delicious, that you may find yourself using up more matza than you bargained for. You can limit mayonnaise-on-matza to only meaty meals. Or whatever.

Enjoy. Chag somayach!


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