כ״ב באב ה׳תשע״ג (July 29, 2013)

Pesaḥim 39a-b: Vegetables That Can Count as Maror

Aside from hametz and matza that we have been discussing, another one of the mitzvot of Pesah is eating maror – bitter herbs. The Mishna that opens our daf lists five types of vegetables that can be used to fulfill the mitzva of maror. It is commonly accepted that the first type listed, hazeret, is romaine lettuce. identify the second type, tamkha, as horseradish. Some hold that the fourth type, olashin, is endives. There is no firm tradition regarding the remaining two species – harhavina and maror – although the Me’iri claims that it is not the name of a specific plant, rather it includes all types of bitter vegetables.

According to the Gemara, the most preferred type is hazeret – romaine lettuce. Initially this is soft and sweet, but the longer it remains in the ground, the more bitter it becomes. This recalls the nature of the Egyptian servitude which was bearable at first, but became progressively worse as time went on. Furthermore, its name in Hebrew – hassah – reminds us of God’s mercy on the Jewish People in Egypt.

This leaf-lettuce, Lactuca sativa var. Romana, is grown commercially for food. Its leaves, which grow to a length of 35 cm. and a width of 15 cm., develop into a “head.” If the lettuce is allowed to grow undisturbed, it develops a long (up to one meter), hard stem, from which flowers and small, bitter leaves will sprout, probably the source for the Gemara’s comment that it starts out sweet, but ends up bitter. As noted, the identification of hazeret as horseradish is a common error.

One vegetable that is rejected by the Gemara as a possible type of maror is oleander, a shrub that grows to a height of four meters with hard yellow-green leaves and pink flowers. Aside from being bitter, the leaves and flowers of this plant are poisonous, and can kill animals and even people if eaten in large quantities.

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