For the week ending 7 April 2012 / 14 Nisan 5772

The Lettuce for Maror Pickle

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
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Most of us are busy around this time of year preparing for Pesach: cleaning, scouring, kashering, covering, stocking up, and getting ready for that unique annual experience, the Pesach Seder. One of the more important hallmarks of the Seder is the consumption of Maror, bitter herbs[1], to evoke the bitterness that our ancestors felt from their enslavement at the hands of the cruel, sadistic Egyptians[2]. Although the Mishna[3] lists five different types of herbs that are classified as “Maror”, the Gemara (and later codified by the Shulchan Aruch[4]) feels that the one that best fulfills the criteria is “Chazeres”, a.k.a. “Chasa[5], which is identified[6] as Romaine lettuce[7].

Although due to lack of availability in many areas over the years, as well as lettuce’s tendency to be insect infested[8], horseradish has become the herb of choice as Maror for many[9]. Yet, the recent influx of the “Gush Katif” type of “Greenhouse Grown Bug Free” Romaine lettuce allows us to get the best of both worlds: Romaine lettuce for Maror that is much easier to check and make certain that it does not contain any uninvited guests.

But it was not always so simple. In fact, in 1978, inorder to allow the masses to fulfill the Maror requirement in the best possible manner, the Badat”z Eidah Chareidis of Yerushalayim consulted with top experts in the field to ascertain if there is any available method that would rid the Romaine lettuce of its perennial pesky insects. They devised a sure-fire method: first washing the lettuce in vinegar (which makes the bugs loosen their grip on the lettuce), then rinsing it in a strong steady stream of water (to actively wash the insects off), and finally checking every leaf very well in front of a strong light (sun, lightbox, etc.) to ensure that no hidden critters are remaining[10]. The only problem with this bug checking method is that it unwittingly set off a halachic firestorm between two of the Gedolei HaDor, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Yitzchok Yaakov Weiss, the renowned Minchas Yitzchok, who was then the Av Beis Din of the Eidah Charedis.

The core issue at hand was that Rav Shlomo Zalman[11] maintained that soaking the lettuce for any amount of time in vinegar would be considered an act of kavush (pickling), which in some ways is halachically akin to cooking, and would thereby disqualify this lettuce from being used as Maror. Although kavush generally only takes effect after an item was immersed for a full 24 hours[12], however, when soaked in a salty brine it is considered pickled after only 18 minutes[13], and a fingernail thin segment (klipah) of the item is even affected immediately. If so, stated Rav Auerbach, since several authorities, including the Shulchan Aruch himself, feel that vinegar shares the status of a salty brine solution[14], as soon as the lettuce is placed inside a bowl of vinegar, a klipah of it would be considered kavush. Worse, since the whole lettuce leaf is so thin, the entire leaf would instantly become kavush, and cooked or pickled bitter herbs are disqualified from being able to fulfill the halachic Maror requirement[15].

The Minchas Yitzchok defended this practice on several counts[16]. First of all, although the Shulchan Aruch himself does equate vinegar to salty brine, many other halachic authorities including the Shach, Pri Chadash, Gr”a and Mishna Berura[17], disagree completely and feel that immersion in vinegar is not considered kavush until a full 24 hours have passed. Furthermore, several decisors feel that even according to the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch, it is possible that vinegar is not entirely equated to salty brine, thus negating the instant klipah effect, since that rule seems to be indicative and exclusive to the halachos of salting[18]. Additionally, the Mishna’s ruling that pickled herbs may not be used as Maror is only referring to when its essential taste is changed through the kavush process[19]; merely soaking the leaves in vinegar for a short period of time undoubtedly would not change the lettuce’s taste. Finally, since we are trying to fulfill the mitzvah of eating Maror in the best possible manner (by using Romaine lettuce), one may certainly rely on these rationales b’makom Mitzvah.

Each of these great luminaries “stuck to his guns”, sending halachic responsa back and forth to each other, offering rationales and proofs to their positions. And it wasn’t until a relatively young Rabbi, Rav Matis Deutsch (today a Rabbi on the Eidah Chareidis and Rav of Ramat Shlomo in Yerushalayim) tackled the topic[20] that new clarity was achieved. He at first presented various reasons to be lenient, and concluded with a very important point. Standard commercial vinegar available nowadays is not 100% pure vinegar. Rather, it is only 5% actual vinegar; the vast majority of its composition is water! Furthermore, many of the authorities who equate vinegar to brine qualify the ruling by specifying that it is only applicable to strong vinegar, and not weak vinegar[21]. Moreover, even for the salty brine itself, when it is mixed with mainly water, the halacha is that it can no longer immediately affect an immersed item[22]. Therefore, he concludes, that one need not be concerned with following the experts’ advice to soak our lettuce in our commercial weak vinegar[23] for the short period of time mandated, as it certainly will not affect it!

Rav Deutsch recently told this author that when Rav Shlomo Zalman read his conclusive proof, he personally thanked him for enabling everyone to partake in the Mitzvah of eating Maror l’chatchila. Nowadays, with the proliferation of the “Gush Katif” lettuce for Maror, this has become much less of an issue, but this Seder Night, as we dip our Maror into the Charoses, we can reflect and appreciate all that has gone into making sure that we can fulfill this Mitzva in the best possible fashion.

[1]Bamidbar (Beha’aloscha) Ch. 9, verse 11. Nowadays, since we do not have the Korban Pesach, this Mitzva is DeRabbanan - Gemara Pesachim 120a.

[2]See beginning of Sefer Shemos; Mishna Pesachim 116b - statements of Rabban Gamliel, also cited in the Haggada.

[3]Pesachim 39a.

[4]Talmud Bavli Pesachim 39a, Talmud Yerushalmi Pesachim 20b, Ch.2, Halacha 5, Shulchan Aruch O.C. 473, 5.

[5]As Hashem was “Chasa” - had mercy on Bnei Yisrael in Egyptand redeemed them - Gemara/ Rashi ad loc. See also Yerushalmi Pesachim 20b, Ch. 2, Halacha 5.

[6]See Shu”t Chacham Tzvi (Shu”t 119), Shu”t Chasam Sofer (O.C. 132), Chok Yaakov (473, 18), and Mishna Berura (473, 34 & 42). This is referring to lettuce which starts out soft (the leaves) and ends hard (the stalk), similar to the enslavement in Egyptwhich started out easy and as a paying job, and deteriorated into total subjugation and inhumane enslavement. Also, lettuce when it starts to grow is very sweet; the longer it is left in the ground the more bitter it becomes - Gemara Bavli and Yerushalmi and relevant commentaries ad loc., Mishna Berura 473, 32, Shu”t Tirosh V’Yitzhar 117.

[7]Although Iceberg (Crisphead) lettuce is also kosher for Maror use even though it is not bitter at all, as the Yerushalmi ibid. states explicitly that it’s better to use Chazeres even though it is sweet and contains no bitterness [see also Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzva 381), Beis Yosef (O.C. 473, 5), and Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 473, 16)], they could not have actually been referring to the Iceberg variety, as it was only first grown locally in Salinas Valley, California (“The Great Salad Bowl of America”), and only exported nationally starting in 1926 by famed lettuce farmer Bruce Church, who devised a way to ship them packed with ice; hence the name Iceberg Lettuce. [See also Shu”t Igros Moshe )O.C. 4, 91, 3) who mentions that the common American lettuce was unknown in Europe.] Additionally, there are opinions who feel that any lettuce used for Maror must contain at least some bitterness (Ridbaz - cited in Shu”t Tirosh V’Yitzhar ibid. and Chazon Ish - O.C. 124), therefore Romaine would seemingly be a preferred choice.

[8]See Shu”t Chasam Sofer (ibid.) and Mishna Berura (473, 42) who rule that if one does not know how to properly check for bugs, it is preferential to eat horseradish for Maror. See also Shu”t Igros Moshe )O.C. 4, 91, 3) who mentions that it is well known that the type of lettuce used for Maror (Romaine) is riddled with insects and a very thorough checking is required to ensure that it is free of them. For further treatment of this topic, see previous articles “Bubby Didn’t Eat Bugs!” and “Leeuwenhoek’s Halachic Legacy”.

[9]See Shu”t Har Tzvi (ibid.), Chok Yaakov (ibid.), Ba’er Heitiv (O.C. 473, 11), Shaarei Teshuva (O.C. 473, 11), and Mishna Berura (473, 36). This is also seen from how many Gedolim through the ages stressed that the horseradish root must be eaten only after it is first grated to lessen the bitterness - including the Chayei Adam (130, 3), Chasam Sofer (ibid.), Noda B’Yehuda (cited in Shu”t Teshuva M’Ahava vol. 2, 262), Gr”a (cited in Mishna Berura ibid and Shaar HaTzion 46), and Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 473, 14), and not like the Chavas Daas (Haggada Maaseh Nissim) who maintained that it should be eaten whole.

[10]In the Badat”z Eidah Chareidis Madrich HaKashrus 5738 (1978) pg. 22.

[11]Shu”t Minchas Shlomo (vol. 2, 58, 21; Tinyana 52). See also Halichos Shlomo (Moadim vol. 2, Pesach Ch. 7, 26).

[12]See beginning of Yoreh De’ah 105 at length.

[13]Second half of Y”D 105, 1. Although some say this effect can start as soon as six minutes (see Darchei Teshuva ad loc. 42), nevertheless, 18 minutes is the accepted amount of time for “kday sheyitnenah al haAish vyarsiach” - seeTiferes Yisrael (Mishnayos Pesachim Ch. 2, 44; Terumos Ch. 10, Mishna 10, 42) and Beis Lechem Yehuda (in his introduction).

[14]These include the Shulchan Aruch (Y”D 105, 1), the Kreisi U’Pleisi (Y”D 105, 4) and the Chochmas Adam (58, 3).

[15]Mishna Bavli and Yerushalmi Pesachim ibid, Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 473, 5). The Mishna Berura (473, 38) specifies kavush in vinegar as problematic.

[16]Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok vol. 7, 31 and vol. 8, 61.

[17]Shach (Y”D 105, 2), Pri Chadash (Y”D 105, 4), Gr”a (Y”D 105, 9), Minchas Yaakov (klal 22, 14; Chok Yaakov O.C. 447, 34), Noda B’Yehuda (Dagul Mervavah O.C. 447, MG”A 28), Mishna Berura (447, 71’Shaar HaTzion 95). This (and the next) rationale is also given by the Megillas Sefer (on BB”C and Taaruvos 105, 13).

[18]Pri Chadash (Y”D 105, 4), Pri Toar (Y”D 105, end 4), Gr”a (Y”D 105, 10), Aruch Hashulchan (Y”D 105, end 11). However, from the words of the Shulchan Aruch in his Beis Yosef commentary ad loc. it does not seem that he would agree with this. See also Pri Megadim (YD 105, S.D. 2) who understands the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch differently.

[19]See Gemara (ibid.) and Mishna Berura (447, 39) that the issue is that we are worried that they will no longer have the “Ta’am Maror”.

[20]Shu”t Nesivos Adam (vol. 1, 37).

[21]Magen Avraham (O.C. 447, 28), Pri Toar (Y”D 105, 4, s.v. u’mah), Chavas Da’as (Y”D 105, biurim 6, chiddushim 7), Aruch Hashulchan (Y”D 105, end 11). This distinction is also noted by the Pri Megadim (ibid.), Chochmas Adam (ibid.) and Kaf Hachaim (Y”D 105, 19 & 20).

[22]Rema (Y”D 70, 6), Shach (ad loc, 50), R’ Akiva Eiger (glosses, ad loc.), Darchei Teshuva (ad loc. 91).

[23]Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk (Shu”t Machazeh Eliyahu 92), although not writing as extensively, concludes similarly.

For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author: [email protected]

Disclaimer: These are just a few basic guidelines and overview of the Halacha discussed in this article. This is by no means a complete comprehensive authoritative guide, but rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issue. One should not compare similar cases in order to rules in any real case, but should refer his questions to a competent Halachic authority.

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