Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Marror and Horseradish


Historically, Jews have used various vegetables and herbs as marror, from Romaine lettuce and cardoon artichoke to chicory and horseradish. The Talmud (Mishnah Pesachim 2:6, discussed on Pesachim 39a) lists five potential species, the first of which is chazeret (lettuce) and the rest of which are subject to some debate.

It seems fairly clear that horseradish is not one of the five species listed in the mishnah, especially given the talmudic description of marror as an above-ground plant. How, then, did people begin to use horseradish?

We first find horseradish in use for marror in late-13th century Germany [although a century earlier it was an ingredient in German charoset!]. Some speculate that people first used the leaves as marror, and only began to eat the root because of a scarcity of leaves. Others note that 19th century authorities recommended the use of the root for those who had trouble checking lettuce leaves for bugs.

For more on this issue, see this excellent article by Dr. Arthur Schaffer, and the sources I cite on this page.

Have a great day,

1 comment:

  1. My seder is very schizophrenic -- I have a lot of things I do twice: once in a theoretically superior way (as per my or my father's rabbeim) and once in a "what everyone does" way.

    So, for example, the big fancy ke'arah my father-in-law bought us has everything laid out as per the usual -- each element corresponding to one of the sefiros, as described by the Ari. The little one next to me, that I take things from first, is set up like the Rama or the Gra (they differ slightly, and it depends on the year), so that whatever is used first is closest and my hand does not "pass over the mitzvos" when reaching for a further item.

    Similarly, I am not sure we can extrapolate from the halakhah when it was impossible to one when it is ("ein donin es ha'efshar mishe'i efshar". So, while my ancestors who could get lettuce this time of year (or at least not without eating bugs) could fulfill their obligation with horseradish, I can by lettuce -- the store even offers hydroponic low-bug lettuce (!) -- so I am not sure I would fulfill the obligation.

    So this too I do twice. First the horseradish, because without the "pain and tears" (not literal tears -- too much horseradish at one time isn't healthy!) of my childhood it just isn't maror, then (after a few seconds for my mouth to recover) romaine lettuce and/or endives. Horseradhish first, so that the gemara-listed vegetable is the taste left in my mouth.