The Charoses Saga
Question #1: How Deep a Dip?
How deep into the charoses am I supposed to dip the maror?
Question #2: Only Lettuce!
What do you serve for karpas, if you realize that the only vegetable you have in the house is the lettuce you were planning to use for maror?
Much Pesach and pre-Pesach discussion focuses on the vast preparation necessary for the holiday and, also, on the mitzvos of the Seder. Because of the importance of the mitzvos of hagadah and matzoh, some of the less vital aspects of the Seder sometimes get shunted to the side. One of these observances is that of the charoses, which actually has considerable discussion in the Gemara. We will be discussing some of the questions germane to charoses, such as:
Is charoses a mitzvah of its own, or just a garnish to the maror?
If it is a mitzvah, how do we fulfill its observance?
Does it require eating a kezayis within a specific timeframe?
Let us begin our discussion from the earliest halachic source that mentions charoses, the Mishnah (Pesachim 114a) that states, “They brought in front of him [the person leading the Seder] matzoh, lettuce, charoses and two cooked items [these correspond to the zeroa and the beitzah that we have at our Seder], even though charoses is not a mitzvah. Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok says that it is a mitzvah. [We will soon explain the two sides in this dispute.] During the era of the Beis Hamikdash, they also brought the roasted korban Pesach at this time.”
We see that this Mishnah is of a relatively later date, after the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed and there was no longer a korban Pesach, and the two “cooked items” at the Seder are to remind us of the korban Pesach and the korban chagigah. This is interesting, because the very next Mishnah (Pesachim 116a) dates back to the era of the Beis Hamikdash, since its discussion of the four questions includes a question that assumes that there is a korban Pesach at the Seder: She’bechol haleilos anu ochlin basar shaluk, tzeli umevushal, halailah hazeh kulo tzeli, “On all other nights we eat meat that is either boiled, roasted or cooked; this night, we eat only roasted [meat].” Obviously, this Mishnah dates to the time of the Beis Hamikdash and refers to the eating of the roasted korbanos Pesach and chagigah. The Gemara (Pesachim 70a) explains that the text of this Mishnah follows the opinion of a tanna, Ben Teima, who contends that the korban chagigah eaten Pesach night at the time of the Beis Hamikdash was also required to be roasted. Thus, in his opinion, all meat eaten at the Seder was roasted.
The structure of this chapter of the Mishnah implies that there was an earlier edition of this Mishnah dating to the time of the Beis Hamikdash, and that when Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi edited it after the churban, he rewrote certain parts to accommodate the new reality, but he left other parts in their original format.
A mitzvah or a garnish?
We asked, above, whether charoses is a mitzvah on its own, or just a garnish to the maror. This appears to be the dispute between the Tanna Kamma and Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok in the Mishnah that I quoted. Let us see the passage of the Gemara (116a) that examines this dispute: First, the Gemara devotes itself to explaining the opinion of the Tanna Kamma, asking: Since this tanna insists that there is no mitzvah in using charoses, why prepare it and serve it at the Seder? The Gemara answers that charoses is brought to the Seder because of kafa, which is some type of toxin. Rashi and Rabbeinu Chananel disagree as to what kafa is. According to Rashi, it is in the sap of the maror, whereas Rabbeinu Chananel explains it to be an insect that is in the maror.
Tosafos (Pesachim 115b s.v. Kafa), in explaining Rabbeinu Chananel’s approach to kafa, asks the following: If kafa is an insect, then eating lettuce any time should be prohibited, because of a kashrus concern. Tosafos answers that most of the time, maror does not contain kafa. Since it is rare for maror to contain kafa, there is no kashrus concern when eating lettuce or other maror vegetables that you may be eating non-kosher kafa. (There may be a concern that you will eat thrips, aphids, leaf miners or other insects, but that is not the topic for today’s article. I recommend that our concerned readers contact their rav, posek or local vaad hakashrus for direction.)
However, there is a general halachic ruling of chamira sakanta mei’isura (see Chullin 10a), we are required to be more careful about safety concerns than about prohibitions. In other words, although there is no kashrus concern about possibly consuming kafa, there is still a safety concern, and for this reason, we eat the maror with charoses, which will prevent the toxin in the kafa from harming anyone.
According to both Rashi and Rabbeinu Chananel, we are faced with a question: When lettuce is eaten as karpas, most poskim (with the exception of Rashi and Tosafos, 114a s.v. Metabeil), do not require that it be dipped in charoses. What happened to the concern about kafa? The same question can be asked regarding eating lettuce or the other species of maror at any other time of the year. The halacha does not require that we eat these species with charoses – why not? Since we rule that chamira sakanta mei’isura, shouldn’t we always be required to eat charoses with our lettuce?
Rabbeinu Yonah asks this question and provides the following observation: “All year long, we eat lettuce without charoses, without being concerned about the ill effects that kafa causes… We are concerned only when we fulfill the mitzvah of maror – then the chachamim were careful that this [mitzvah] should not cause any possibility of danger.” In other words, the danger of kafa is not significant enough for us to show concern. However, in the opinion of the Sages, we should be careful to not let a mitzvah act cause even the remotest possibility of danger, and therefore we should eat the maror of the mitzvah with charoses (quoted by Rosh, Pesachim 10:25).
Tasting the maror
When the lettuce is eaten as maror, and you dip it deep into the charoses, you can hardly taste the lettuce, and you certainly don’t notice any bitterness. Have you fulfilled the mitzvah of maror this way?
The Gemara (Pesachim 115b) quotes the following: “Rav Papa said, ‘Don’t leave the maror sitting in the charoses, out of concern that the acid of the spices will overwhelm the bitterness, and we require the taste of maror, which you will not have.”
How deep a dip?
How deep into the charoses am I to dip the maror?
The answer to this question, which involves a dispute among the poskim, depends on the following discussion in the Gemara.
How does charoses work? The Gemara (Pesachim 115b) quotes a dispute whether it is contact with the charoses that overcomes the kafa, or whether it is the fragrance of the charoses that does the job. The difference in practical halacha is whether it is required to submerge the maror into the charoses, or if it is sufficient to dip the maror into the charoses. This difference of opinion in the Gemara manifests itself in a dispute between the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 475:1) and the Pri Chodosh.
The Shulchan Aruch rules that the maror should be submerged in the charoses, but you should not leave the maror in the charoses for long, and you should shake off the charoses. The Pri Chodosh notes that the prevalent custom is to simply dip the maror into the charoses, and he explains why this is sufficient. Both of these approaches are in order that the taste of the charoses not overwhelm that of the maror. The Mishnah Berurah mentions the opinion of the Pri Chodosh that disagrees with the Shulchan Aruch, and the custom in most places accords with the Pri Chodosh.
Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok
Until this point, we have been explaining the position of the Tanna Kamma. The Mishnah (Pesachim 114a) quotes Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok as saying that charoses is a mitzvah. The Gemara (ad locum 116a) asks, “What is the mitzvah? Rabbi Levi said, ‘In commemoration of the tapuach [usually translated as “apple” or “apple tree”].’ Rabbi Yochanan said, ‘To remember the clay [from which the bricks were baked in Mitzrayim].’”
Rashi explains the opinion of Rabbi Levi by quoting the verse in Shir Hashirim (8:5), tachas hatapuach o’rar’tich, “I roused you under the tapuach,” and the Midrash that the Jewish women encouraged their disheartened husbands to continue with married life, and thereby succeeded in creating the large Jewish nation that left Mitzrayim.
To quote the passage of Gemara that retells this miracle, “Because of the merit of the righteous women of that generation, Yisroel was redeemed from Egypt. When they went to draw water, Hashem prepared small fish in their buckets, such that what they drew was half water and half fish. The women then took two pots, one of hot water and one of cooked fish, and went to their husbands in the field. They washed their husbands, anointed them, fed them and gave them to drink… When the women became pregnant, they returned home. When it came time for them to give birth, they went out to the fields and gave birth under the tapuach, as the posuk says, ‘I roused you under the tapuach.’ Hashem sent from his upper heavens someone to make the children good-looking… When the Egyptians realized what had happened, they came to kill them [the Jewish women and the babies], but they were miraculously absorbed into the earth. At that point, they [the Jewish men] brought oxen who plowed above them” (Sotah 11b).
The Gemara in Pesachim, germane to the discussion about the charoses, continues: “Abaya said, ‘Therefore, you should make the charoses acidic [by adding apples, other fruits or vinegar], to remember the miracle of tapuach, and you should thicken the charoses, similar to the way clay functions.’ We found a beraisa supporting Rabbi Yochanan’s opinion [that charoses should contain spices] as a commemoration of the straw, and that the charoses should be ground up well, to commemorate the clay. Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok said: ‘The merchants of Yerushalayim used to advertise from the windows of their stores, “Come and purchase spices for the mitzvah.”’”
There is also a passage of Talmud Yerushalmi that states that the charoses should be of a thin consistency, so that it reminds us of makas dam.
What types of spices should be included in the charoses? The Rif and the Rosh both mention that charoses should contain spices such as cinnamon and ginger. This is in accordance with the description of Rabbi Yochanan, that it should have spices that have a physical appearance somewhat similar to that of straw.
The Rambam (Hilchos Chometz Umatzoh 7:11) adds to the recipe that it should include something like mashed dates, mashed dried figs or mashed raisins.
What is the dispute?
Above, I quoted the dispute between the Tanna Kamma and Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok whether charoses is a mitzvah or not. What practical application results from this dispute?
It seems from the discussion in the Gemara that the two tanna’im disagree regarding the recipe that we should use for charoses. According to the Tanna Kamma, the requirement is that charoses contain some ingredient that will mitigate the toxicity of the kafa. However, Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok rules that it should contain something acidic, like wine, apples or vinegar, and spices that bear a physical resemblance to straw; and that it should have a consistency that reminds us of clay. And, according to the Yerushalmi, the final product should have the viscosity of a thick liquid.
The position of the Rambam on this topic seems to have changed from what he held initially. In his commentary on the Mishnah, the Rambam seems to understand that the dispute between the Tanna Kamma and Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok is that, according to Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok, charoses is a mitzvah on the night of the Seder that requires the recital of a brocha prior to eating it, whereas according to the Tanna Kamma charoses in not a mitzvah and does not require a brocha. The Rambam writes that the halacha is not like Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok. However, in the Mishneh Torah the Rambam seems to have had a change of opinion, as he rules that charoses is a mitzvah (Lechem Mishneh). He also seems to understand that the dispute between the Tanna Kamma and Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok is as explained above, regarding which ingredients are required in the charoses (see Magid Mishnah, Hilchos Chometz Umatzoh 7:11).
Dip the matzoh in charoses?
There is also another interesting dispute among the very early poskim. Most people today have the custom that when they eat the matzoh the first night of Pesach to fulfill the mitzvah, they do not dip the matzoh in salt or anything else. There are some who dip it in salt. However, several very early authorities, including Rav Amram Gaon, Rabbeinu Yosef, Rashi, Rabbeinu Shmayah (quoted by Tosafos, Pesachim 114a s.v. Metabeil) and the Rambam rule that when eating the very first matzoh, you should dip the matzoh into charoses! What is the Talmudic source for this ruling?
Some explain that when the Mishnah states that you should bring out the charoses together with the matzoh, it is implying that just as we dip our hamotzi into salt or something similar the rest of the year, at the Seder the matzoh should also be dipped into something to make it tastier – in this case, charoses.
Others explain that Rav Amram and the Rambam understood that this is part of the machlokes between the Tanna Kamma and Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok.
At this point, let us explain the third of our opening questions: “What do you serve for karpas, if you realize that the only vegetable you have in the house is the lettuce you were planning to use for maror?”
This situation is found in the following Mishnah (Pesachim 114a), which describes someone who had only one vegetable available for the Seder: the lettuce that he will be using for the mitzvah of eating maror. Since this is his only vegetable, it will have to serve also as his karpas. The Mishnah says, “They brought in front of him and he dips the lettuce, prior to the lettuce that he will be eating after the matzoh.” There is a dispute between Rashi and his grandson, the Rashbam, as to how he dipped this lettuce. Rashi explains that he dips it into the charoses, presumably for the same reasons why the maror is dipped into the charoses. According to the Rashbam, when the lettuce is eaten for karpas, it is not dipped into the charoses, but into something else. Most of us are familiar with a custom of dipping the karpas into saltwater. I have also seen references to customs of dipping the karpas into vinegar or wine. The Rashbam’s opinion is that, notwithstanding that lettuce will also be used for maror, when being used as karpas, it is treated like karpas and dipped into something other than charoses.
The Gemara (114b) raises a question here: If for karpas you are eating lettuce, with which you can fulfill the mitzvah of maror, when do you recite the brocha of al achilas maror? How can you recite this brocha later, after you have already eaten maror? The Gemara concludes that you do not fulfill the mitzvah of maror when you eat the lettuce as karpas, a concept called mitzvos tzerichos kavanah, fulfilling a mitzvah requires that you have in mind to perform it (Tosafos ad locum).
Still, although the rule is that mitzvos tzerichos kavanah, there is a dispute as to when you recite the brocha of al achilas maror. Rav Huna rules that you recite it prior to eating the lettuce for maror, whereas Rav Chisda rules that you recite it prior to eating the lettuce for karpas, even though the main mitzvah of eating maror will be fulfilled later. The Gemara then describes how later amora’im ruled, some following Rav Huna and others Rav Chisda. The Gemara concludes that the halacha follows Rav Chisda. Despite this conclusion, an amora, Rav Acha the son of Rava, went out of his way to make sure that he had other vegetables in the house, so that he could avoid the entire question by serving something else for karpas.
The Seder is a very special time for us to transmit our mesorah and some of the most basic of our Jewish beliefs to our children and future generations. Chazal added to the beautiful Torah mitzvos of hagadah, matzoh, and maror many other mitzvos that broaden the entire experience. We should also note the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 35a) that teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer than the Torah laws, since they demonstrate how much the Jewish people, as a nation, value our special relationship with Hashem.