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Heseiba (reclining) is a Rabbinic ordinance of the Passover seder intended to invoke the style of derech cherut ("the way of freedom" - associated with luxury/aristocracy). Some Rishonim (medieval Torah scholars) opine that other mitzvot of the night are not considered valid without heseiba (e.g. the biblical commandment of eating matzah is not considered fulfilled without a concurrent, halachikally-valid heseiba; see e.g. http://www.koltorah.org/ravj/13-28%20The%20Mitzvah%20of%20Heseiba.htm).

Heseiba as commonly practiced generally consists of leaning slightly to the left in one's upright chair. However, the historical act of leisurely reclining-while-eating in the ancient middle east was much more dramatically distinct, consisting of reclining to the left with one's length more closely parallel to the ground.miniature statue of a man lying on his side, with his upper body supported on his left elbow (See also: http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/reclining-and-dining-and-drinking-in-ancient-rome/ and http://sciencenordic.com/why-did-romans-recline-while-feasting )

Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveichik is quoted as having required leaning upon some object in order to qualify as heseiba. However, do any halachic authorities discuss the shiur of the incline of heseiba? Considering that the modern prevalent practice is considered, if anything, uncomfortable, is the issue at all discussed in the context of the actual ancient rite of reclining-while-dining whether leaning slightly to the left in an upright chair qualifies as heseiba?

(I myself try to use a second [folding] chair with a pillow/cushion to accomplish something more comfortable that more closely mimics the old custom. I was wondering if the issue is raised at all in halachik works.)

  • I think that, for clarity, you should remove the phrase "in the context of the actual ancient rite of reclining-while-dining". But I didn't want to make that major a change without your okay: it will open the floor to more general answers, perhaps, than you seek. – msh210 Mar 24 '15 at 18:12
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    The dude in the picture is leaning on his left side, but also eating (drinking?) with his left hand! Unless he was just posing for the carving and he was really eating with his right hand out of the bowl in his left. – user6591 Mar 24 '15 at 18:19
  • @msh210 I was hoping for something that did address specifically the actual ancient practice, but if you think that should be phrased better, please feel free to edit. – Loewian Mar 24 '15 at 20:11
  • @user6591 He might also have periodically dipped his head into the bowl as if it were a trough. ;) – Loewian Mar 24 '15 at 20:16
  • @Ioewian i hadn't thought of that:) i was getting all excited cause of the whole why lean to the left sugya. Bobbing for mitzvos wasn't mentioned:) – user6591 Mar 24 '15 at 20:31
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R. Belsky was asked "How much must one lean for proper heseiba, 10 degrees, 45 degrees, or 90 degrees?"

He answered that heseiba does not refer to awkward lateral leaning. He notes that he recounted that he saw a tapestry depicting heseiba and realized that the act refers not to awkward leaning, but to comfortable reclining.

He demonstrated how this can be performed without a couch; by leaning over, and supporting one's hand on one's head, with one's elbow on the table.

The implication is that the act is not defined by the number of degrees of inclination, but rather by the positioning relative to the table.


I would add that one can mimic the couch effect by pulling up a second chair to support one's feet

  • Source: I saw a video of this. – mevaqesh May 17 '16 at 23:41
  • I have the problem with drinking while doing hesaiba. I almost lie down, so a lot gets spilt. The SA seems to say that one uses a kind of rounded cup with only a small opening at the top. Because he says it shouldnt be too small. Also this was used at a wedding to show that she was a virgin. Since I dont know how to obtain this what other options are there. Drinking with a few straws would be ideal but there would be the "sota" problem. So I use a kind of childs cover with a spout. @mevaqesh – newcomer May 18 '16 at 5:31

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