Alright, maybe not a real conundrum, but after a post about the more well known (and controversial ) topic of Kitniyot, I wanted to talk about something a little less well known outside of Orthodox circles.
But first, I want to make mention of a great new blog that I started reading yesterday called (believe it or not) A Shiksa in the Kitchen! Before anyone starts getting up in my face about the use of the word Shiksa, although I rarely use it, I think that in this case it is sort of ok. Read her blog (and website) and you might agree. Anyway, Tori Avey describes herself as an author, blogger, journalist, screenwriter, her family’s resident chef and a Shiksa (despite becoming a Jew by Choice recently – welcome to the Mishpaha!) Her blog is mainly about Jewish cooking and gives a wonderful mix of Ashkenazi and Sephardi cooking and other interesting Jewish entries. She is blessed with some wonderful friends of different Jewish backgrounds who guide her through learning traditional cooking. I recommend reading her blog, joining her fan page on Facebook (The Shiksa) or following her on Twitter (@theshiksa) or all three! She also makes mention often of a great Jewish organization called the Jewish Outreach Institute which is run by my friend Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and I also recommend visiting their website.
So now back to today’s main topic. To Shiur or not to Shiur, that is the question. At the Passover seder we have four main Mitzvot (perhaps another time I will write about the amazing appearance of the number four throughout the seder). The first is of course to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. The other three are all food related, maybe that is why we love this holiday so much! We are told to drink four cups of wine, eat Matza and eat Marror. The problem is, like many Mitzvot that come from the Torah, we know we need to drink four cups of wine, but we don’t know what that exactly means. How much is one cup of wine? I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone that the Rabbis of the Talmud and beyond did discuss these issues and came up with what we call Shiurim.
Most people might recognize the word שיור Shiur as the word for lesson. Often when people give a lecture on Jewish topics it is called a shiur. But Shiur can also mean measure, size, scale or proportion, which is how we are using it here. Each of these food based Mitzvot have a shiur assigned to it. So for the four cups, the Rabbis determined that one cup of wine is 3.3 fluid ounces. To fulfill the Mitzva, one needs to drink the majority of this measure, which was also determined to be 2/3. Sooooo, one should fill their cup with 3.3 ounces and drink at least 2.2 for each of the four cups. On Shabbat the amount was determined to me a little more, so when Passover coincides with Shabbat, the first of the four cups needs to be 4.4 ounces.
I am not advocating whether one should follow these rules or not, but the wine shiur is actually pretty easy to follow. The Rabbis did not want people falling asleep or getting drunk at the seder, so the amount was not set very high. Plus you can use low alcohol wine or even grape juice if you want. The real problem comes from the shiurim for Matza and Marror. Without going into some major Halakhic sources, the basic understanding is that the amount of Matza is that of k’zayit, or the size of an olive. This means that if you crushed up the matza the amount you need to eat would pack together to the size of a large olive. This is generally understood to be about ½ of a large round hand matza or 2/3 of a machine matza. There is also the opinion that you need to eat two times this when you say hamotzei because one for that blessing and one for the blessing “on eating the matza”! Now that is a lot of Matza! Again, I am not advocating any position here, but I will tell you that I generally do not eat that much Matza at the correct time.
Marror also has the shiur of k’zayit. If you use ground horseradish this has been defined as just less than 2 tablespoons. If you use lettuce leaves you should eat a quantity that covers an area of 8×6. Again, it is quite a lot!
We also eat the Korekh, which also has that pesky k’zayit shiur of both Matza and Marror! BTW, I use lettuce for the eating of Marror (since it is easier to dip) and use grated horseradish for the Korekh (easier to put between two pieces of Matza).
Finally we also need to eat a k’zayit of matza for the afikoman!
Again, I am not a Rabbi and do not suggest anything here. I am just reporting. However, if you do want to use the shiurim, you can find this nifty card at most Judaica shops
A friend from when I was at JTS, Rabbi Brad Hirshfield (now President of Klal) suggested at a study session on Shabbat that you make a mini seder plate for each guest and on it should be the proper shiurim for each item. This way when the blessings are said, the leader can pass a small amount from the main matza and marror and the guest can then eat the proper amount, having it in front of him or her.
Now for something completely different! We also have the custom of reclining to our left when we eat the items at the seder. Here is a great you tube video about this. It is in Hebrew but you will get the idea (I will post a basic translation in a comment to the blog post).
Here is another fun one for Passover