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    Leaning & reclining – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. In Mah Nishtanah, what is meant when we say “we recline”?

    From the Szyk Haggadah

    A. Reclining is an ancient part of the Seder, but it was not part of the original Mah Nishtanah.

    Originally there was a question about why on this night we eat only roast meat, which is a reference to the paschal lamb. When the Temple was destroyed the roast meat question was replaced by one about why we recline, and reclining became not just a custom but a law.

    According to the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayyim 472), “a person should prepare his place at the Seder table so that he can recline as free men do”. Deriving from the Roman custom of eating whilst reclining on a couch, this meant more than just leaning in a certain direction (the left).

    What about a poor person who has no couch? The Rema says one may recline on a bench. Does this apply to women as well as men? The Talmud states, “A woman does not recline” (Pes. 108a), though some texts say, “A woman sitting with her husband does not recline”. The Talmud however adds that “an important woman” should recline, and the Mordechai quotes in the name of Tosafot, “Nowadays, all our women are important”.

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