Everyone is obligated to eat a Kezayit (olive’s volume, approx. twenty-seven grams) of Maror on the night of Pesach. There are several kinds of vegetables that one may use for Maror, however, the predominant custom today, especially among Sephardic Jewry, is to use the leaves and stalks (spines) of Romaine lettuce to fulfill the Mitzvah of Maror.
Some Acharonim point out that one should not use romaine lettuce to fulfill the Mitzvah of Maror since it is not especially bitter. Indeed, the Talmud Yerushalmi states that the characteristic of Maror is that it sweet in the beginning but has a bitter aftertaste; however, lettuce is not bitter at all. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l deals with this matter lengthily and concludes that halachically speaking, one should use romaine lettuce to fulfill the Mitzvah of Maror and it is indeed preferred over any other vegetable. With regards to the Talmud Yerushalmi’s statement that Maror has a bitter aftertaste, this refers to the beginning stages of the lettuce’s growth when it is sweet; however, when left to grow for a long time, the leaves become extremely bitter and inedible.
Caution Regarding Worms and Insects
One should be extremely careful when eating lettuce leaves to only use lettuce that was specially grown to be worm-free, in which case a thorough washing to remove flies and the like will be sufficient to permit it for consumption.
When buying these leaves, one must be extremely careful that this lettuce should be under reliable Kashrut supervision, for unfortunately it is common in certain places that lettuce will be packaged in a plastic bag and marketed as though it were worm-free, even in kosher supermarket chains throughout Israel and the United States. Sometimes, these regular Romaine heads are even placed next to the greenhouse-grown and checked produce which can lead to unfortunate mistakes and oversights. We even know of a certain Torah scholar who served Romaine lettuce on the Seder table for Maror, and these leaves were crawling with many insects and worms because he purchased them from such a supermarket without checking for the Kashrut supervision.
However, if such lettuce which was specially grown is not accessible, it is better not to eat the lettuce leaves at all; one should eat only from the white lettuce stalks after checking them well for worms. Even if one feels that he is able to inspect the lettuce leaves for worms should know that in truth, it is almost impossible to check these leaves, for even after repeated checking, if one places the lettuce leaves on a piece of paper in the sun, after a few minutes he will be able to notice tens of worms crawling out of the leaves and onto the paper. Therefore, such an inspection should not be relied upon even in a place where no specially grown lettuce is available. This has been the custom of Maran zt”l for many years, dating back to when there was no specially grown lettuce, that only the white stalks of the lettuce should be eaten after a thorough inspection for worms. It is proper to make sure that the stalks of lettuce that are used for Maror come only from the part that was above ground, for there are those that maintain that one does not fulfill his obligation of eating Maror with the part of the stalk which was underground during growth.
We have once discussed an incident which occurred in Jerusalem approximately sixty years ago where Maran zt”l exclaimed publicly that one should not use any lettuce leaves at all for Maror and using only the stalks would be sufficient. There were those that disagreed with this ruling and claimed that they could clean the lettuce leaves well from any insects as they would in years gone by. Maran zt”l then came to the house of one of the families who claimed he was incorrect on Erev Pesach and asked to inspect the lettuce leaves that were checked and prepared for the Mitzvah of Maror. He then took them outside and placed them on a white sheet of paper under the beating rays of the sun. Not even twenty minutes passed until the sheet was full of worms and other insects crawling all over it. Those families had since understood that Maran zt”l was correct, and it is nearly impossible to act leniently and eat lettuce grown under regular circumstances.
One should set his table beautifully on Erev Pesach and partake joyously of the holiday feast. Nevertheless, one should take care not to fill himself up too much with different delicacies so that he will be able to partake of the Afikoman later on with appetite, and not that he should be so stuffed that eating it will be a burden, in which case one has not fulfilled the obligation of eating the Afikoman. Therefore, it is also important for the women in charge of preparing the festive meal for the Seder night to go easy on the preparation of heavy and numerous foods so that the members of the household do not come to a point where they will not fulfill their obligation of eating the Afikoman. The bulk of the culinary delights should be left for the Pesach-day meal.
After eating the festive meal, the “Afikoman” (which is the Matzah kept under the tablecloth; if this is not enough, more Matzah should be supplemented) is eaten. This is a Kezayit (approx. twenty-seven grams) of Matzah which is in commemoration of the Korban Pesach (Pesach offering) which was eaten with appetite. Some act stringently and customarily eat two Kezayits (approx. fifty-four grams) of Matzah, one to commemorate the Korban Pesach and one to commemorate the Matzah that was eaten along with it. However, halachically speaking, one Kezayit is sufficient.
One must be certain to eat the Afikoman with appetite and while reclining (without reciting a blessing on it). If one is so satisfied at this point that one is repulsed by eating anymore, one has not fulfilled his obligation of eating the Afikoman, for excessive eating is not considered eating at all. Thus, one must pay attention to this fact during the meal, as we have mentioned. Similarly, one must make sure to eat the Afikoman while leaning, for if one did not, one must once again eat the Afikoman, and this may lead to a point of excessive eating.