Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What is marror?


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,

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