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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Reclining at the Seder

This shiur is dedicated le-ilui nishmat avi mori ve-rabi, R. Shlomo ben Avraham Leib ZL, who passed away on or le-arba asar two years ago. 
I would like to say at the outset that the shiur will take the form of an analysis of a sugya, i.e., it is a “shiur in lomdus.”  Needless to say, I will make no practical conclusions halakha le-maaseh, although I will attempt to analyze both the maaseh ha-mitzva, the practice of reclining, and the kiyyum ha-mitzva, its function and meaning.  I hope that my analysis will enrich both, as any worthy "piece of lomdus" should.
The Talmud discusses reclining as a dining custom in the context of both hilkhot pesah and hilkhot berakhot.  We will begin with hilkhot berakhot.
The mishna in Ketzad Mevarkhin (source 1) in Tractate Berakhot discusses hotzaa bi-verakha, the option of including fellow diners in a blessing at a group meal.  It distinguishes between two dining postures – sitting and reclining.
משנה. ברך על היין שלפני המזון ־ פטר את היין שלאחר המזון . . . היו יושבין ־ כל אחד מברך לעצמו, הסבו ־ אחד מברך לכולן

There are two separate scenarios in this mishna.  The first deals with food served as an appetizer before a meal, and whether the blessing made over the preliminary course can include food eaten later during the meal itself.  The second case deals with how dining posture impacts hotzaa.  We will soon see how these cases are related and why they are contiguous in this mishna.

We should also note that read simply, the mishna is speaking of berakha rishona, but the gemara assumes it also refers to birkat hamazon.  

On the question of reclining vs. sitting, the gemara (42b) concludes that the possibility of hotzaa is not limited to the case where the diners have actually reclined.  The gemara states that if a group dined together deliberately, in a pre-meditated manner, they may appoint one member to say birkat hamazon for all, even if they ate sitting.  That is, if the meal was eaten with a sense of community, then hotzaa is possible.   In the words of the gemara:
כיון דאמרי ניזיל וניכול לחמא בדוך פלן ־ כהסבו דמי.

Within the shakela ve-taria of this sugya, the gemara quotes a tosefta (source 2) which is very similar to our mishna.   This tosefta is a sort of “Guide to Formal Dining” with respect to the relevant halakhot at each stage of the meal.
Berakhot 43a (from Tosefta):
כיצד סדר הסבה (י"ג סדר סעודה)? אורחין נכנסין ויושבין על גבי ספסלין ועל גבי קתדראות עד שיכנסו כולם. הביאו להם מים כל אחד ואחד נוטל ידו אחת, בא להם יין ־ כל אחד ואחד מברך לעצמוֹ. עלו והסבו ובא להם מים, אף על פי שכל אחד ואחד נטל ידו אחת ־ חוזר ונוטל שתי ידיו. בא להם יין, אף על פי שכל אחד ואחד ברך לעצמו ־ אחד מברך לכולם.

Some historical context: In the Roman period, to which the Mishna and Tosefta belong, nobility throughout the Mediterranean built homes and held banquets in the Roman style (see the illustrations).  Guests arriving at a dinner party entered the host’s villa from the street via a corridor, called the vestibulum (“prozdor” in Hazal, based on the Greek).  The vestibulum led to a central courtyard called the atrium, which was open to the air.  As described in the Tosefta, the guests sat on benches (ספסלין) or on chairs with backs (קתדראות) and were served wine and hors d'oeuvres (parperaot) until all the guests arrived.  Branching off from the atrium were several rooms, including the formal dining room, or triclinium -- “teraklin” in rabbinic Hebrew, e.g., Avot 4:
רבי יעקב אומר העולם הזה דומה לפרוזדור בפני העולם הבא. התקן עצמך בפרוזדור. כדי שתכנס לטרקלין:

“Triclinium,” based on the Greek, is a “room with three couches.”  The couches, either separate or combined in a single permanent fixture, were normally arranged in a U-shape, surrounding a small table.  The triclinia of wealthy Romans had a built-in stone structure in this shape, covered with cushions during meals. 

By reading the mishna and tosefta in Ketsad Mevarkhin in parallel, the scene they each describe becomes more clear, and we may further understand why sitting and reclining differ le-halakha.  When the mishna speaks of “lifne hamazon” or “hayyu yoshvin”, it is referring to the preliminary phase of a banquet.  While guests were gathering in the vestibulum and artrium, during what we may call the “smorgasbord,” there was no keviut le-akhila.  They ate standing or perhaps sitting on benches and chairs.  This was considered akhilat arai, "transient eating" rather than dining (though we will soon see how some medieval halakhists offered an updated view of sitting down to eat).  Free men and women would recline, rather than sit, while dining.  Therefore, the mishna says היו יושבין ־ כל אחד מברך לעצמו  .  On the other hand, “be-tokh hamazon” refers to the dinner, served only after the guests had reclined in the triclinium.  Since this was the primary and stationary part of the meal, a single diner could include the others in his blessing -- הסבו ־ אחד מברך לכולן.  This is what the tosefta means by “alu ve-hesevu” – the guests have relocated to the the triclinium and have reclined.  In short, then, “sitting” and “reclining” in both our mishna and tosefta refer to two sequential events within the same meal.  The first event included no option for hotzaa due to its transiencethe second was marked by keviut and therefore included the possibility of hotzaa (I later discovered a similar analysis by Meir Ish Shalom in Meir Ayin al Ha-Hagada [Vienna, 1895], pp. 19ff.; available on  

It should be noted that reclining during meals far pre-dates the Romans.  It was the custom of elites in ancient Persian and Greek civilization, and is mentioned in Tanakh (SHS: “ad shehamelekh be-mesibo”; Meggilat Esther, “mitot zahav va-khesef”; Haman pleaded with Esther while she was reclining at the banquet). 
Reclining during a banquet was taken for granted by Hazal.  However, by the medieval period, at least in Christian Europe, it had fallen out of practice.  Tosafot on this sugya (source 3) acknowledges the change in dining customs, and applies the contemporary standard of behavior to the laws of berakhot:
Tosafot, Berakhot 42a, s.v. Hesevu:
הסבו אחד מברך לכלן. ואנו אין לנו הסבה אלא בפת בלבד ופת מהני אפילו בלא הסבה. דדוקא לדידהו שהיו אוכלים בהסבה היו צריכים הסבה אלא ישיבה שלנו הוי קביעות לנו כהסבה דידהו. שהם היו רגילים כל אחד להסב על מטתו ועל שלחנו אבל עכשיו כולנו אוכלים על שלחן אחד וכשאנו אוכלין יחד היינו קביעותינו.

This should not be viewed as a radical hiddush since the gemara itself equated sitting with reclining, if there was keviut at the meal.  What is striking about this Tosafot is the acknowledgement that a change in general culture over time may lead to a major deviation from a practice originally mandated by the Talmud.

We can now move on to reclining at the Seder.  The source of this obligation is the first mishna in Arve Pesahim (source 4).  Note that there are three phrases in this mishna.  The first clearly refers to issur akhila be-erev Pesah.  The last addresses the obligation of four cups of wine, i.e. that this obligation applies even to the poor.  The middle phrase is somewhat ambiguous.  The simplest reading connects it to the last phrase, the sefa; i.e., someone who is poor must also observe the reclining at the Seder in addition to the four cups of wine.  However, there is an opposing view quoted in Tosafot (source 5) which reads the middle phrase as a continuation of the first phrase in the mishna, the resha; i.e., that all members of the community, even a starving “ani shebe-yisrael,” must wait until dark to begin the Seder.
While the Mishna and the Bavli do not provide an explicit “ta'am” for reclining at the Seder, the Yerushalmi does (source 6).  The point to be emphasized in reading the Yerushalmi is that haseva and slavery cannot coexist within the same person; they are mutually exclusive, though in some ways interdependent.  Slavery facilitated reclining.  The slave’s function was to attend to the host and his guests, and therefore slaves were normally prohibited from reclining with their masters.  Indeed, reclining with one's master was a sign of manumission.  Reclining is thus a very fitting expression of “me-avdut le-herut.”  The Rambam expands on this theme (source 7).  Following the mishna in Arve Pesahim – according to the reading which ties “afilu ani” with “lo yifhatu lo” – the Rambam tightly links the obligation of four kosot with haseva, mentioning them almost in the same breath.  Both, in his view, are a kiyyum of “derekh herut” which, in turn, is a kiyyum of “leharot et atzmo” – of personally experiencing the redemption. 
We have read from the Tosafot in Berakhot, which argues that haseva around a table is equivalent to reclining for the purpose of keviut le-akhila.  We do not find such an explicit argument in any Tosafot in Arve Pesahim.  However, the Hakhmei Ashkenaz from the same period applied the approach of Tosafot in Berakhot to haseva be-lel Pesah (Raavan, Raavia, and Maharil, sources 8-10). 

The position stating that haseva is no longer required due to the shift from a reclining to a table-and-chairs dining culture has come to be identified with the Raavia (R. Eliezer ben Yoel Ha-Levi, active in Germany around 1200; source 9).  In fact, he was preceded by his maternal grandfather, the Raavan (R. Eliezer ben Nathan, twelfth-century Germany; source 8).  The Rema cites the Raavia’s position in the context of two cases:  Although women are obligated to recline, they do not normally do so (לא נהגו להסב); in this, they can rely on the opinion of the Raavia.  Also, based on the uncontested authority of the Raavia, the Rema justifies the lenient opinion exempting those who forgot to recline from eating matza or drinking the kosot again - כדאי הוא ראבי״ה לסמוך עליו שבדיעבד יצא בלא הסיבה.  The Rema's own ruling, however, is that one must repeat eating matza and drinking the first two cups of wine if they were consumed without reclining (source 11).
Of the three German halakhists in the sources, the Maharil is the most strident in tone; he insists that one should not recline while eating, since he “resembles one who is ill.”  In Western countries, this is of course as true today as it was in 1400; only those who are very ill eat lying down. 
Note well that the Raavan and Raavia, given the Mishna and the Bavli, do not argue that haseva is anachronistic; they say that reclining is anachronistic.  Haseva derekh herut is indeed required but it may be defined broadly to include the sitting posture. 
[Taking a more radical approach to the question of sitting vs. reclining, the Maharal argues that haseva is actually synonymous with yeshiva. This goes far beyond the position of the Baalei Ha-Tosafot who said that ישיבה שלנו הוי קביעות לנו כהסבה דידהו.  Maharal's proof is from the Targum on Gen. 37:25, וישבו לאכול לחם – i.e., ואסתחרו, they reclined. This position is untenable, however, considering that Hazal distinguish explicitly between “haseva” and “yeshiva” in the context of hilkhot berakhot and hilkhot pesach.  Moreover, the fact that “sitting to eat” is translated by Onkelos as “reclining” does not imply the reverse, that when reclining is required, sitting may be substituted as an equivalent – reclining may be only a subset of sitting.] 
Another approach to broadening the definition of “haseva” is taken by Menahem Kasher in the Haggada Shelema.  He claims that the word הסבה is derived from the root סוב, as in “gathering round.”  Thus, haseva refers to the act of communal dining rather than the dining posture of the diners.  So, in line with the views of Tosafot, Raavan, and Raavia, haseva may include any contemporary dining format, including sitting, as long as the meal is shared.  Though I believe Kasher’s analysis correctly identifies the etymological origin of “haseva,” it is hard to argue – as noted by D. Goldschmidt – that the traditional usage of haseva includes anything but reclining.
Let us now turn to the question (or declaration) about reclining in the Ma Nishtana passage of the Haggada.  As is well known, the version of Ma Nishtana in the mishna omits reclining, and instead includes a question about why the Passover offering may only be prepared by broiling (basar tzali).  This does not necessarily imply that there were always four questions recited at the Seder, and that the mishna's question about broiling was simply replaced by the Haggada's question on reclining.  The Rambam (source 12), in fact, states that five questions were asked bizeman hamikdash, including the question about reclining; after the destruction of the Temple, the question regarding tzali was omitted.  The Vilna Gaon (source 13), on the other hand, argues that there was no question regarding reclining during the Temple period since it was common practice at all meals; it was inserted later in place of the question regarding the korban pesah.  Thus, according to the GRA, since today we are naturally surprised to see the anachronism of reclining practiced at the Seder, it deserves its own question within Ma Nishtana.  In the same vein, the Arukh Ha-Shulhan concedes that while reclining is completely anachronistic, ancient and outmoded dining manners are to be celebrated at the Seder, rather than avoided, as there is no better way to elicit questioning from the children. 

The approach which I believe is closest to the simple, and likely original, meaning of the question in Ma Nishtana on reclining is that of the Shibolei Ha-Leket (source 14).  In his view, the expression kulanu mesubin -- "tonight we all recline" -- emphasizes the egalitarian nature of the Seder.  On this night, all social classes, including servants, women, and children, were invited to recline.  "We all recline" means that all those present at the Seder must recline, in contrast to the normal practice of bein yoshvin u-vein mesubin, when members of some classes were not permitted to recline.  At the Seder, all classes, especially those who were normally subjugated to the will of others, must experience derekh herut.  Thus, according to Shibole Ha-Leket, the question on reclining in Ma Nashtina would have been appropriate, perhaps especially so, during the Temple period, when elites (only) reclined by default.  

I end with two conclusions, which are challenges that have been raised by this discussion.  The first is connected to the maaseh ha-mitzva and the second has to do with the kiyyum ha-mitzva.
1. How should we respond to changing norms and values in the world of which we are a part, when they conflict with our traditions, or when those norms and values make our customs seem outdated?  Despite our often diligent efforts, it is impossible to deny that the world around us changes.  Dress, social behaviors, speech, intellectual and artistic trends, and even moral values – in a word, culture – changes in both general society and in our subculture in parallel, though not necessarily at the same speed, whether we like it or not.  This is especially true today where any cultural barriers between our own community and wider society are voluntary and easily breached.
The 12th and 13th century Ashkenazic poskim were able to pronounce confidently that ישיבה שלנו הוי קביעות לנו כהסבה דידהו  (Tosafot) or that  יוצאין אנו כדרך הסיבתנו ואין לנטות ימין ושמאל (Raavan).  How and when can we apply the same reasoning today to other customs that appear to be obsolete?  Considering the dangers inherent in this activity, this is clearly not something we can do cavalierly.
A useful approach to this problem may be something like the following: With regard to certain customs, we must not idolize the past simply because it is old.  That is, even within our conservative religious tradition, we should not sacrifice progress on the altar of convention or maintain anachronistic behaviors only out of a sense of nostalgia.  The Hakhmei Ashkenaz ruled unequivocally that in the West one must -- le-hatkhila -- sit at the Seder (in contrast to Rema, who permitted sitting only after the fact, be-dieved), even though this was not in agreement with a literal reading of the Talmud.  It is the science and art of pesak to make determinations of this kind in each generation, as human behavior changes over time.  In short, our Torah is a Torat Hayyim, it is flexible and responsive to change but, to ensure its integrity, it must also be maintained by seyagim.

2. As mentioned, the Rambam says haseva is a kiyyum of “derekh herut,” which itself is a kiyyum of “Leharot et azmo.”  This is a difficult challenge in modern society.  We may try to demonstrate herut, but there is no universal set of actions that can inspire a feeling of herut, since most of us are so unfamiliar with its opposite.  This was not so at the time of Hazal: As many as 20-30% of the population in Rome were slaves.  During that period, when slavery was commonplace and when masters and slaves reclined together at the Seder, it was much easier to experience a sense of herut (the Rambam cites this as a technique to fulfill sippur yetziat mitzrayim for a קטן או טיפש בן).  So how can one truly experience herut today, as required by the Rambam?
 "וזכרת כי עבד היית" -- כלומר, כאילו אתה בעצמך היית עבד ויצאת לחירות ונפדית

One way to overcome this challenge is to view sippur yetziat mitzrayim from the perspective of the kabbalists.   They see it not only as the retelling of a national, historical event, but primarily as a  personal, metaphysical narrative of the human quest for inner freedom.  Rabbi Soloveitchik develops this idea in his essay “The Symbolism of Matza” (in Festival of Freedom, ed. Joel B. Wolowelsky and Reuven Ziegler, Toras Horav Foundation/Ktav, New York: 2006, pp. 61-62):
Everyone is in bondage to the unalterable order of things and events, to Pharaoh.  One is born into a slave world, into an environment of rigid causation and regularity.  One is thrust into an alien, indifferent, alas cruel world, where he is not master but slave to events not of his making.  Only through an act of sheer heroism can one free oneself from this order and mold a new inner experience . . . the exodus experience is the dramatic presentation of his encounter, of his combat with and victory over his antagonist, namely, the slave order and slave existence.
However, freedom is not the ultimate end of man’s questing.  Freedom is only the viaduct leading to something higher and more sublime, to the final destination of man’s fellowship with God . . .

הסיבה בליל פסח
1.  Mishna, Berakhot 42a
משנה. ברך על היין שלפני המזון ־ פטר את היין שלאחר המזון, ברך על הפרפרת שלפני המזון ־ פטר את הפרפרת שלאחר המזון, ברך על הפת ־ פטר את הפרפרת, על הפרפרת ־ לא פטר את הפתֹ בית שמאי אומרים: אף לא מעשה קדרה. היו יושבין ־ כל אחד מברך לעצמו, הסבו ־ אחד מברך לכולן . בא להם יין בתוך המזון ־ כל אחד ואחד מברך לעצמו. אחר המזון ־ אחד מברך לכולם
2.  Berakhot 43a (From Tosefta Berakhot)
כיצד סדר הסבה? אורחין נכנסין ויושבין על גבי ספסלין ועל גבי קתדראות עד שיכנסו כולם. הביאו להם מים כל אחד ואחד נוטל ידו אחת, בא להם יין ־ כל אחד ואחד מברך לעצמוֹ. עלו והסבו ובא להם מים, אף על פי שכל אחד ואחד נטל ידו אחת ־ חוזר ונוטל שתי ידיו. בא להם יין, אף על פי שכל אחד ואחד ברך לעצמו ־ אחד מברך לכולם
3. Tosafot, Berakhot 42a, s.v. Hesevu
הסבו אחד מברך לכלן. ואנו אין לנו הסבה אלא בפת בלבד ופת מהני אפילו בלא הסבה. דדוקא לדידהו שהיו אוכלים בהסבה היו צריכים הסבה אלא ישיבה שלנו הוי קביעות לנו כהסבה דידהו. שהם היו רגילים כל אחד להסב על מטתו ועל שלחנו אבל עכשיו כולנו אוכלים על שלחן אחד וכשאנו אוכלין יחד היינו קביעותינו.

4. Mishna, Pesahim 99b
משנה. ערב פסחים סמוך למנחה לא יאכל אדם עד שתחשך. אפילו עני שבישראל לא יאכל עד שיסב. ולא יפחתו לו מארבע כוסות של יין, ואפילו מן התמחוי.
5. Tosafot, Pesahim 99b, s.v. Ve-Afilu
ואפילו עני שבישראל לא יאכל עד שיסב. דסלקא דעת דהסיבת עני לא חשיבא הסיבה דאין לו על מה להסב ואין זה דרך חירות. ויש מפרשים דאדלעיל קאי עד שתחשך ואפילו עני שבישראל פירוש אפי׳ עני שלא אכל כמה ימים לא יאכל עד שתחשך
6. Yerushalmi, Pesahim 10:1
אמר רב לוי ולפי שדרך עבדים להיות אוכלין מעומד וכאן להיות אוכלין מסובין להודיע שיצאו מעבדות לחירות. ר׳ סימון בשם ר׳ יהושע בן לוי אותו כזית שאדם יוצא בו בפסח צריך לאוכלו מיסב. ר׳ יוסי בעא קומי ר׳ סימון אפי׳ עבד לפני רבו אפילו אשה לפני בעלה? א״ל כר׳ ע״כ שמעתי.

7. Rambam, Hametz u-Matza (7:6-7):
 ו. בכל דור ודור חייב אדם להראות את עצמו כאילו הוא בעצמו יצא עתה משעבוד מצרים, שנאמר ואותנו הוציא משם וגו׳, ועל דבר זה צוה הקב״ה בתורה, וזכרת כי עבד היית כלומר כאילו אתה בעצמך היית עבד ויצאת לחירות ונפדית. ז לפיכך כשסועד אדם בלילה הזה צריך לאכול ולשתות והוא מיסב דרך חירות, וכל אחד ואחד בין אנשים בין נשים חייב לשתות בלילה הזה ארבעה כוסות של יין, אין פוחתין מהם, ואפילו עני המתפרנס מן הצדקה לא יפחתו לו מארבעה כוסות, שיעור כל כוס מהן רביעית.

8. Ra’avan, Pesahim 37:

9. Ra’avia, 525:

10. Maharil, Seder Ha-Haggada 20:

11. Rema, Orah Hayyim 472
ד אשה אינה צריכה הסיבה אא״כ היא חשובה: הגה וכל הנשים שלנו מיקרי חשובות (מרדכי ריש פ׳ ע״פ ורבינו ירוחם) אך לא נהגו להסב כי סמכו על דברי ראבי״ה דכתב דבזמן הזה אין להסב (ד״ע (:

ז כל מי שצריך הסיבה אם אכל או שתה בלא הסיבה לא יצא וצריך לחזור לאכול ולשתות בהסיבה: הגה וי״א דבזמן הזה דאין דרך להסב כדאי הוא ראבי״ה לסמוך עליו שבדיעבד יצא בלא הסיבה (אגודה פרק ערבי פסחים) ונראה לי אם לא שתה כוס שלישי או רביעי בהסיבה אין לחזור ולשתות בהסיבה דיש בה חשש שנראה כמוסיף על הכוסות אבל בשני כוסות ראשונות יחזור וישתה בלא ברכה (מנהגים) וכן באכילת מצה ולכתחלה יסב כל הסעודה. (מהרי״ב) :

12. Rambam, Hametz u-Matza 8:2-3
ב ומוזגין הכוס השני וכאן הבן שואל, ואומר הקורא מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות שבכל הלילות אין אנו מטבילין אפילו פעם אחת והלילה הזה שתי פעמים, שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין חמץ ומצה והלילה הזה כולו מצה, שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין בשר צלי שלוק ומבושל והלילה הזה כולו צלי, שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין שאר ירקות והלילה הזה מרורים, שבכל הלילות אנו אוכלין בין יושבין בין מסובין והלילה הזה כולנו מסובין. ג בזמן הזה אינו אומר והלילה הזה כולו צלי שאין לנו קרבן

13. Vilna Gaon, Perush al Ha-Haggada (reprinted below from Shmuel Klein, Seder Eliyahu al Ha-Haggada, Prague, 1813.  First published by Menahem Mendel of Shklov in Seder Haggada shel Pesah, Grodno, 1805).

14. Shibolei Ha-Leket, Perush al Ha-Haggada

Triclinium (House of Julia Felix, Pompeii):

Photo courtesy Yaakov Zinberg

Photo courtesy Yaakov Zinberg

Photo courtesy Yaakov Zinberg

1 comment:

  1. why cannot you not say that the mah nishtanah question of msubin (which according to the rambam was bzman habyis as well) was on all other nights we eat bein yoshvin both seated in the atrium and bein mezubin reclining in the traklin and tonight we are doing it all mesubin. so not the fact that women and slaves are leaning but that rather we are not doing the yoshvin thing (it would not be about the location on pesach night because they would probably set the seder up in the largest room anyway which was the atrium not the traklin.)
    PS it seems that women did not recline based on the images of that time of course there were shifts in their culture as well.