The Five Mitzvot of the Seder (Part II)

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Four Cups of Wine

The most prominent rabbinical mitzva[1] of the Seder evening is the requirement to drink four cups of wine at specially ordained points in the Haggada. These four cups of wine represent the four different expressions used by the Torah to portray our redemption.[2] All wine glasses must hold at least 3.3 ounces, though widespread custom is to ensure that glasses hold at least 4.5 ounces of wine. Some authorities even require 5.5 ounces.

While it is preferable to drink the entire cup,[3] it suffices to merely drink the majority of the cup.[4] Using white wine at the Seder is acceptable, but red wine is to be preferred.[5] It is considered preferable to use non-mevushal wine, wine which was not cooked, for the four cups of the Seder.[6] The four cups must be drunk in the order and at the points in the Haggada that they were instituted.[7] Drinking the four cups of wine at the Seder is one of those few mitzvot which are considered pirsumei nisa – publicizing the miracle of the Exodus.[8]

Click here to read moreOne should make great efforts to use wine rather than grape juice for the Seder even if it means some physical discomfort,[9] though one need not make oneself sick.[10] Even mixing some wine into grape juice is to be preferred before choosing to use exclusively grape juice for the four cups. In an emergency, one can use any chamar medina, any beverage that it is customary to drink or serve others even when one is not thirsty, for the four cups of “wine”.[11] The first of the four cups of wine is the first mitzva of the evening which formally opens the Seder proceedings. As such, one must be sure not to commence even the Kiddush before dark.[12] It is customary to arrange that Seder participants do not pour their own wine, but rather have it poured by someone else as a display of freedom and royalty.[13]


Eating marror/bitter herbs is one of the rabbinical mitzvot of the Seder which is intended, of course, to remind us of the bitter life while under Egyptian bondage.[14] One should proceed to the marror right after having eaten the matza without delay.[15]

Marror is one of the more enigmatic mitzvot of the Seder in terms of which vegetables are acceptable to be used in fulfillment of the mitzva.[16] The Talmud and codes list five acceptable species of vegetables which qualify as marror, however the modern-day identification of these vegetables remains in doubt.[17]

Although horseradish is certainly[18] one of the valid species for use as marror, many people mistakenly use the commercial white or red horseradish that comes in a glass jar for this purpose. While eating this form of horseradish is truly a grueling and bitter experience, one actually does not fulfill the mitzva at all with these products because a) they are not 100% pure horseradish, often including beets and sugar and b) the ingredients in these jarred horseradishes include preservatives and the like.[19]

The mitzva of marror may only be fulfilled with raw vegetables, nothing processed or preserved. The consensus of most authorities is that one should ideally use carefully washed, insect-free romaine lettuce for marror.[20] Although romaine lettuce is not particularly bitter, the Talmud seems to prefer it from among the other acceptable species of marror.[21] Some rabbis were known to use even the sweetish iceberg lettuce for marror.[22] There are authorities who sanction the use of endives for marror as well.[23] Those who seek a truly gruelingly bitter experience may, of course, use the raw horseradish root, an option favored by many authorities as well.[24]

One must eat a minimum of a kezayit, 1.33 ounces of marror[25] which can be made up of a combination of lettuce and horseradish.[26] One who is simply unable to acquire any of the vegetables suitable for marror should at least eat any bitter vegetable at the Seder, though the accompanying blessing recited upon eating marror is omitted.[27]

The marror should be dipped in the charoset mixture before eating it, though one should be sure to shake off any charoset remains.[28] Contrary to popular misconception, there does not seem to be a mitzva to eat Charoset at any time.[29] The entire kezayit of marror should be eaten at once if possible.[30] One does not recline while eating the marror.[31] One should have in mind when eating the marror that it serve to atone for any forbidden foods one has eaten throughout the year.[32]


The recitation of the Hallel is another rabbinical mitzva of the Seder.[33] In what is a break in common practice, the Hallel is divided up, with some of it being recited before the meal, and the rest of it being recited after the meal. These special prayers focus on praise and thanksgiving to God for having taken us out of Egypt. It is important that one understands the words of the Hallel in order to properly fulfill the mitzva and it should be sung or at least recited out loud.[34] It is permitted to recite the Hallel in a place other than where the Seder was held.[35] Along with the eating of the Afikoman, one is advised to complete the recitation of Hallel before midnight as well.[36] Three or more people reciting Hallel together should appoint one person to lead those sections which are customarily recited responsively.[37]

There you have it. A Seder that is experienced and fulfilled in its traditional way will truly allow us to feel the Talmudic outlook that “every person is obligated to see himself as having personally left Egypt.”[38]

(For the first part of “The Five Mitzvot of the Seder” see:

NEXT WEEK: A review of “Working on Chol Hamoed”. Please send me your lesser-known and obscure sources as well as anecdotes for inclusion. I truly thank and appreciate all those who sent me tidbits in preparation for this article!! [email protected]

[1] Pesachim 108b.
[2] Shemot 6:6.
[3] Shulchan Aruch Harav O.C. 472:19
[4] Shulchan Aruch O.C. 472:9
[5] OC 472:11.
[6] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 77:6
[7] O.C. 472:8
[8] Maggid Mishna to Hilchot Chanuka 4:12
[9] Nedarim 49b, O.C. 472:10
[10] Mishna Berura 472:35, Teshuvot V’hanhagot 2:243
[11] Mishna Berura 472:37, Igrot Moshe O.C. 2:75
[12] O.C. 472:1, Mishna Berura 472:5
[13] O.C. 473:1, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 119:2, Kaf Hachaim 473:31
[14] The mitzva of marror is a Torah level mitzva when eaten together with the Korban Pesach. Since the Beit Hamikdash is no more, and sacrifices have ceased, eating marror is only required by rabbinical law today.
[15] O.C. 475:1
[16] Pesachim 39a.
[17] O.C. 473:5
[18] It is interesting to note that Rabbi Herschel Schachter subscribes to a view that horseradish is not one of the five vegetables that are acceptable for maror. He notes that the other vegetables on the list are green leafy vegetables and are bitter rather than “sharp” (an entirely different sensation). This seems to be a da’at yachid.
[19] O.C. 473:5
[20] Shulchan Aruch Harav 473:30
[21] Mishna Berura 473:34.
[22] The practice of Rabbi Aharon Kotler, cited in Rabbi Shimon Eider, Halachos of Pesach (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1998).
[23] Chacham Tzvi 119
[24] Pesachim 39b, Magen Avraham 473:12
[25] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 119:7
[26] O.C. 473:5
[27] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 119:7
[28] O.C. 475:1, Mishna Berura 475:17
[29] Pesachim 114a, Pesachim 116a. See also:
[30] Magen Avraham 475:4
[31] O.C. 475:1
[32] Nitei Gavriel 54:19
[33] Pesachim 116b.
[34] Nitei Gavriel 102:4
[35] Rema O.C. 480:1
[36] O.C. 477:1, Mishna Berura 477:7
[37] Rema O.C. 479:1
[38] Ibid.

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot.

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