Konfused by Korech


    Dear Miriam,

    Another Miriam, writing in Slate's column, "You're Doing it Wrong: Charoset," says that the Hillel sandwich (korech) during the seder is matzah, maror, and charoset. In my family, we always just put horseradish and matzah together. Who's doing it wrong?

    Konfused by Korech

    Dear Konfused,

    This is indeed one of the more confusing steps in the seder, both in terms of what to do and why we do it, but let me start by saying to all my readers that wherever you come down on this debate, the presence or absence of charoset in your Hillel sandwich does not invalidate years of family seders or family traditions.

    In my family, when we get to the "maror" step (eating bitter herbs), we take some horseradish on a spoon, add a little charoset, and eat, and, for us, korech consists of two pieces of matzah with some horseradish in between. When you're using whole horseradish root, as we tend to do, the sandwich is not especially tasty or easy to eat, and in this scenario, charoset gets short shrift, which means many more sandwiches must follow, heavy on the charoset with maybe a touch of jarred horseradish.

    After years of leading communal seders, I've noticed that many people complete the maror step by putting horseradish and matzah together open-face style, and then add charoset and another piece of matzah for korech. The haggadahs (seder books) that I've consulted seem to lean (seder pun intended) in favor of the way my family does it, but online Passover guides put out by several groups of different denominations seem to differ more widely. Even more compelling for me is that I've had people adamantly insist they know they're doing it right, and who I am to argue with their family traditions?

    An incredible thing about Passover is how home-based the rituals are, to the point where some adults may never see a seder conducted by anyone other than their immediate family for their entire lives. That's pretty unique among Jewish traditions, and I think that reality lends a weight to the way each family does things that shouldn't be disputed.

    If you join me for a seder, I'll tell you my opinion, but then you're free to have your own; that goes for how you eat korech, the best tune for Chag Gadya, and what is the true meaning of liberation.

    Enjoy your matzah, and be well,