Four Cups of Wine – Halacha


The sages of the second temple era introduced the practice of drinking four cups of wine at the Passover Seder on the night of the 15th of Nissan. This article will examine the many laws and measurements related to the 4 cups drawing from Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries. A companion article on this web site “Four Cups of Wine” examines the ritual of drinking 4 cups of wine from the perspective of its sources in scripture and the significance of the 5th cup.

Literal Meaning – פשט

Although the Torah does not directly mention the 4 cups of wine there are hints in the verses of Genesis 40:11, 13, and 21 which describe the dream of the butler and its interpretation and the different stages of redemption Exodus 6:6-8 which are explained in the companion article.

Exegesis – דרש

The Torah (Exodus 13:8) states, “You shall tell your son on that day (night of the 15th of Nissan) … that Hashem acted on my behalf when I left Egypt.” The Mechilta derives the obligation to recount the Exodus from Egypt from this verse. Although the Torah commands a father to tell his son, the Mechilta explains that this obligation applies even if a person is alone based upon the verse (ibid. 13:3), “Remember this day on which you left Egypt.”Similarly, even though the Torah mentions day, the Mechilta explains that this obligation only applies at night when the Torah commands the eating of matzoth (ibid. 12:8 and 12:18). The Torah did not specify the format of this recounting; rather it left the format to each Israelite according to his inclination and family, (viz. number of children, age, and level of knowledge of the bible). The sages of the Second Temple (Pesachim 116a) standardized the basic text of recounting using Deuteronomy 26:5-8 and the commentary of the Sifrei. In addition to recounting the story, the Talmud obligates the Israelites to thank and praise Hashem for the deliverance from Egypt.   The Tosefta (Pesachim 10:8) adds the requirement to discuss the laws of Passover this night, especially after the Seder. In summary, these are the following requirements on the Seder night:

  • Recounting the story of the exodus.
  • Thank and praise Hashem before and after the meal.
  • Festive meal with matzo and bitter herbs and paschal lamb or goat at the time of the temple.
  • Drink 4 cups of wine.
  • Discuss the laws of Passover.

The following table lists the requirements with the source in the Talmud and citation in the Shulchan Aruch.

RequirementPesachimOrach Chaim
Story of the exodus116a473:7
Praise to Hashem116b473:7 and 480
Festive meal117b477:1
Four cups of wine99b472:8
Discuss laws of PassoverTosefta 10:8481:2

Story of the exodus

To fully appreciate the miracle of the exodus, the Talmud (Pesachim 116a) specifies that one must begin the story with a disgrace of the Israelites both physical and spiritual and then conclude on a glorious tone in both domains. 

Maimonides (Laws of Passover – Leaven and Unleavened Bread 7:1) defines the requirement to tell the story of the exodus as follows, “It is a positive commandment of the Torah to relate the miracles and wonders wrought for our ancestors in Egypt on the night of the fifteenth of Nisan.  This mitzvah applies even though one does not have a son. Even great Sages are obligated to tell about the Exodus from Egypt. Whoever elaborates concerning these events is worthy of praise.”

 In terms of beginning with disgrace and ending with praise Maimonides (ibid. 7:4) writes, “One must begin the narrative describing our ancestors’ base origins and conclude with their praise meaning that Terah, father of Abraham denied Hashem’s existence and strayed after idol worship. One concludes with praise meaning that Hashem has drawn us close to Him and separated the Israelites from the other nations. Similarly, one begins by stating that we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and describing all the evil done to us. Then one concludes by telling of the miracles and wonders that were wrought upon us leading to our freedom by expounding upon Deuteronomy 26:5-8. Whoever extends the discussion on this passage is praiseworthy.”

Praise to Hashem

As a result of this great deliverance the sages commanded the Israelites to thank and praise Hashem as the Talmud (Pesachim 116b) states, “Therefore we are obligated to thank, praise, glorify, extol, exalt, honor, bless, revere, and laud the One who performed for our forefathers and for us all these miracles. He took us out from slavery to freedom, from sorrow to joy, from mourning to a festival, from darkness to a great light, and from enslavement to redemption and  we will say before Him: Hallelujah.” This passage is actually incorporated into the Haggadah. It is interesting to note that this passage contains 10 expressions of praise corresponding to the 10 plagues (i.e. 9 from the group thank, praise … laud and the 10th which is Hallelujah). In addition there are 5 expressions of redemption referring to the redemptions from the exile of Egypt and additional 4 exiles mentioned in the book of Daniel (e.g. 7:3-27) and numerous Midrashim (e.g. Genesis Rabbah 88:5).

In addition to this citation, the Talmud (ibid.) rules that one should recite the entire Hallel (Psalms 113-118 inclusive). Chapters 113 and 114 are recited before the meal because these two chapters refer to the exodus from Egypt. Verse 113:1 reads, “Give, praise you servants of Hashem”, implying that the Israelites are a free people and no longer enslaved to Pharaoh. Verse 114:1 reads, “When Israel left Egypt, Jacob’s household from a nation with a foreign language.”  

After the meal, the Talmud (ibid. 117b) rules that one recites the remaining chapters because these chapters refer to the final redemption including the arrival of the messiah and resurrection of the dead (ibid. 118a).    

Festive Meal

During the temple times the Israelites ate a festive meal with matzo, bitter herbs, and the paschal lamb or goat roasted on fire. (Note: the paschal offering must be less than one year old hence the term lamb is used instead of sheep.) In the absence of the temple the matzo and bitter herbs are still eaten before the meal. Maimonides (Laws of Passover – Leaven and Unleavened Bread 8:9) writes about this meal. “After the matzo and bitter herbs, one continues the meal, eating whatever one desires to eat and drinking whatever one desires to drink. At the conclusion of the meal, one eats an olive size (כזית) of matzo as a remembrance of the paschal offering lamb and does not taste anything afterwards. In this manner the taste of matzo will remain in one’s mouth.”

Although Maimonides states that one may eat what he likes during the meal there is a restriction on eating roasted meat at the Seder after the destruction of the temple. Maimonides writes (ibid. 8:11), “In a place where it is customary to eat roasted meat on Pesach night, one may eat. However, in a place where it is customary not to eat roasted meat, one should not eat it, lest it be said: This is the meat of the Paschal sacrifice.”

“In all places, it is forbidden to eat a sheep that has been roasted in its entirety on this night, for it would appear as though one were eating sacrificial animals outside the temple. If it has been cut in pieces or lacking a limb before roasting or any part of the meat was cooked it is permitted in a place where roasted meat is permitted.”

Four Cups of Wine

The Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim 99b) mentions the requirement for the 4 cups of wine but does not provide a source from scripture. Presumably the Talmud was not satisfied with the hints from the Midrash and preferred a more direct source which is not available from scripture.

Due to the importance of this ritual the codifiers of Halacha devote considerable attention to the details of this practice. For the sake of brevity this article will focus on the following points:

  • Type of beverage
  • Colour of wine
  • Amount of wine per cup
  • Sequence of cups

Type of Beverage

The preferred beverage is wine because wine symbolizes the essential components of the Seder namely:

  • Freedom (nobility)
  • Joy

However wine must be consumed in moderation to avoid drunkenness and should not pose health issues.


During the Seder one must conduct himself as a free man meaning that beverage used for the 4 cup should communicate freedom and nobility. Maimonides writes (Laws of Passover 7:9), “These four cups of wine should be mixed with water so that drinking them will be pleasant. The degree to which they are mixed depends upon the wine and preference of the person drinking. A person who drank these four cups from strong wine which was not mixed with water has fulfilled the obligation to drink four cups of wine, but has not fulfilled the obligation to do so in a manner expressive of freedom.”


Wine must bring joy to the person as the verse states (Psalms 104:15), “Wine gladdens the heart of man.” Hence if a person does not like wine he may dilute the wine with grape juice or water subject to the considerations of Halacha discussed below.


The sages always considered the health of a person when drinking wine. A person should drink wine (or dilute it) if the individual will only experience a minor discomfort. However if the person would suffer a major discomfort (e.g. become bed ridden or a serious headache) then he must consider the alternatives listed below (Mishna Berurah 472:35). This ruling follows a basic principle of Torah (Proverbs 3:17), “The ways of Torah are pleasant, and all its paths are peace.”

The Talmud (Nedarim 49b) relates that Rabbi Yehuda would only drink wine for a mitzvah namely Kiddush, havdala, and the four cups of Passover. After drinking those four cups he would tie his temples from Passover to Shavuot, as wine gave him a headache. Even though the Talmud states (Pesachim 109a) that it is a mitzvah to drink wine throughout the three pilgrim festivals, based upon the verse in Deuteronomy 16:14, “You shall rejoice on your festivals”, Rabbi Yehudah would only drink on the 3 occasions mentioned above because he could not easily handle wine. (Kiddush is recited at the beginning of the Sabbath or a holiday. Havdalah is recited at the end of the Sabbath or holiday.) From this source we see that must make an effort to drink 4 cups of wine at the Seder.

Alternative Beverages

Therefore if someone does not enjoy wine or cannot tolerate alcohol the following list of beverages apply in order of preference in Halacha:

  • Wine
  • Wine mixed with grape juice
  • Wine mixed with water
  • Raisin wine
  • Grape Juice
  • Other alcoholic beverages
  • Non-alcoholic beverages


Wine is the preferred beverage because it symbolizes freedom and joy. Since the Halacha does not specify the alcohol content of wine, one may use a low alcohol wine (e.g. 5% by volume). The Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 472:12) allows wine flavoured with honey or spices for the Seder although there are opinions to the contrary (ibid. 272:8). 

The reader may ask, “How is wine permitted on Passover since it contains alcohol?” The answer is that alcohol per se is not prohibited on Passover. Rather alcohol derived from the 5 grains (i.e. wheat, barley, rye, oats, and spelt) is prohibited on Passover but not from fruit (e.g. wine, plum liqueur, and orange liqueur).   

Wine with Grape Juice

One may dilute the wine with grape juice to mitigate the effects of alcohol to the point where the mixture contain 4% alcohol by volume (Rav Heinemann of the Star-K). Therefore, wine which has 12% alcohol content can be diluted into ⅓ wine and ⅔ grape juice or water. Alternatively, it can be diluted into ⅓ wine, ⅓ grape juice, and ⅓ water. The following link provides additional details about the four cups of the Seder.

Wine mixed with water

In the time of the Talmud wine was diluted to a ratio of 1 part wine concentrate, which was not drinkable by itself, and 3 parts water (Bava Batra 96b). However wines of today are diluted with water and do not require dilution for pleasurable consumption. Based upon this dilution principle other authorities allow diluting wine up to a 50% mixture (i.e. ½ wine and the rest grape juice or water). Alternatively, it can be diluted into ⅓ wine, ⅓ grape juice, and ⅓ water.

Raisin Wine

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 272:6) allows raisin wine for Kiddush on the Sabbath and holidays and by extension the Mishna Berurah (472:15) allows this wine for the 4 cups since this drink contains alcohol. One makes this wine by taking raisins, crushing them, and placing them in water for at least 3 days to ferment the wine (Mishna Berurah 272: 15). The Mishna Berurah (ibid.) rules that the ratio of raisins to water should be at least 1 to 6 to maintain the taste of the wine.

Grape Juice

The Gemara (Bava Batra 97b) and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 272:2) rule that one may use freshlysqueezed grape juice for Kiddush on the Sabbath and holidays. However the codifiers of Halacha debate the use of grape juice for the 4 cups because of the requirements of freedom and joy at the Seder. On the one hand grape juice before fermentation is not a significant beverage and therefore does not connote freedom or joy. On the other hand since grape juice could ferment to wine, this potential is significant enough to be deemed as wine. The prevailing custom is to permit grape juice though wine is still the preferred drink (Shucah Aruch Harav 472:27).

Other Alcoholic Beverages

In countries where wine is difficult to obtain (e.g. northern Europe in the past) Rema (Orach Chaim 483:1) allows the use of mead (3.5-18% alcohol by volume) for the 4 cups. In a similar vein the Mishna Berurah allows apple cider (4-6% alcohol by volume) for these cups. Other alcoholic beverages are also permitted when wine is unavailable as long as these beverages are considered as “the wine of the country” (מדינה חמר) meaning that these drinks are consumed year round as a sign of importance and joy. It goes without saying that the alcohol contents of these drinks should be low (e.g. 5-14% alcohol by volume) to allow a person to consume 4 cups without becoming drunk.  

In summary other alcoholic drinks are allowed only if:

  • Wine is not available in the city (Shulchan Aruch 272:9).
  • This drink is considered as “the wine of the country” (מדינה חמר) (Mishna Berurah 272:24).

Non-alcoholic Beverages

The codifiers of Halacha debate the use of non-alcoholic beverages (e.g. tea, coffee, fruit juices, and soft drinks) for the 4 cups. On one hand these drinks could be considered as “the wine of the country” because some people enjoy these drinks and therefore would serve them to guests. On the other hand since these drinks do not contain alcohol they lack the requirements of nobility and joy. The Mishna Berurah (296:9-10) considers different non-alcoholic beverages for Havdalah and the Dirshu edition (296:16) provides a range of opinions on this issue. This discussion is then extended to the 4 cups of the Seder.

 In summary non-alcoholic drinks are allowed only if:

  • Wine is not available in the city (Shulchan Aruch 272:9).
  • Other alcoholic beverages are not available (Mishna Berurah 296:9-10).
  • This drink is considered as “the wine of the country” (מדינה חמר) (Mishna Berurah 272:24).

Hence this option is a last resort which would be applicable in time of duress (e.g. war or famine).

Colour of Wine

The Shulchan Aruch (472:11) specifies the colour of the wine in the following order of preference:

  • Red
  • Rose
  • White


The Mishna Berurah (472:38) explains that red wine is more desirable and important than white wine based upon the verse (Proverbs 23:31), “Do not look at wine when it is red; when he puts his eye on the cup, it goes smoothly.“ Although the verse establishes that red wine is desirable it also warns against excessive consumption as the next verse says, “Ultimately, it will bite like a serpent, and sting like a viper.” In fact the former verse warns the alcoholic to not look at red wine to prevent his downfall which is described in verses (ibid. 29 and 30) as follows:

Verse 29 – “Who cries: Woe and Alas! That person (i.e. drunkard) quarrels and talks too much. Who has wounds without cause? Who has bloodshot eyes?”

Verse 30 – “Those who sit late over wine, those who come to search for blended wine.”

In addition to its desirability and importance red wine also symbolizes blood in terms of the exodus:

  • First plague (Exodus 7:14-25)
  • Blood of circumcision and the paschal offering (Exodus Rabbah 17:3 on Ezekiel 16:6 and Exodus 12:22-23, respectively).

 The Mishna Berurah (ibid.) adds that red wine also symbolizes the blood of the children of the Israelites who were slaughtered by Pharaoh when he was smitten with a debilitating skin disease based upon Exodus Rabbah 1:34. Since the association of red wine with blood could mislead some gentiles to believe in the false blood libel the Mishna Berurah (ibid.) advises that in those countries where the blood libel is believed white wine should be used for the 4 cups.  The following link provides many details about this nefarious lie.


One may also use a rose wine for the Seder because this wine has a natural red tinge.


The Rema (Orach Chaim 472:11) allows a white wine if it is better quality than the red one. The codifiers of Halacha debate the use of white mixed with red wine to give the appearance of red wine. On one hand the colour of the wine is now red. On the other hand it was initially a white wine. However if one were to mix the red wine with white in a 1 to 3 ratio, as wine was mixed with the water in the time of the Talmud, then this mixture would be considered as red wine.

Quantity of Wine

Per Cup

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 472:9) specifies that each of the 4 cups should contain ¼ of a lug. There is a difference of opinion of this measure in cubic centimeters, ranging from 86 to 150 cc). Appendix 1 -”Volume Measurements in Halacha” provides a detailed explanation of the calculations for this measurement. The codifiers of Halacha debate the amount of wine a person should drink per cup as follows.     

Per Person

The Shulcah Aruch (ibid. 472:9) specifies the following amounts of wine to drink per cup, listed in order of preference:

  1. Full cup
  2. Majority of cup
  3. ¼ lug
  4. > 1/8 lug (i.e. majority of ¼ lug).  

The implementation of this order depends upon the cup size as follows:

Cup size = ¼ Lug¼  lug < Cup size < ½ lug  Cup size ≥ ½ lug
Full cupFull cupFull cup
Majority of cup¼ lugMajority of cup
 —Majority of cup¼ lug
 — > 1/8 lug

Cup size = ¼ lug

In this case options 1 and 3 are the same as well 2 and 4 are the same because the cup contains exactly ¼ of a lug. Hence there are only two options as shown in the table above.  

Cup size between ¼ and ½ lug

In this case if someone drinks the entire cup he has exceeded the ¼ requirement. Since the majority of this cup is less than ¼ of a lug he should preferably drink the ¼ lug amount. For this cup size, options 2 and 4 are the same.

Cup size ≥ ½ of a lug

In this case the above 4 options are in sequence because the majority of the cup either equals or exceeds the ¼ lug requirement. If the cup contains 2 or more of these ¼ lug measures then many people can drink from this cup as long as each person at the outset drinks a ¼ lug measurement or after the fact at least the majority of this ¼ measurement. The Shulchan Aruch (ibid.) quotes a dissenting view that only one person should drink this wine and in turn must consume the majority of the wine even though he will end up drinking much more than the ¼ measure.

This analysis while very detailed illustrates the care and thoroughness of decisors of Halacha in determining normative practice.


The Mishna Berurah (472:34) specifies that the person should at the outset consume the wine in a normal manner of drinking namely two gulps which is about ½ of a minute. However after the fact a person may consume the wine in the time it takes to consume half a loaf of bread meaning which means up to 6 minutes but preferably within 2 minutes. The ½ loaf corresponds to 3 or 4 egg volumes of food with the egg volume discussed in detail in the Appendix 1 – “Volume Measurements in Halacha”.             


Each cup must be consumed at a particu;lar point in the Seder. The Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 472:8), following the Talmud (Pesachim 108b), rules that if one would drink the four cups at once he has not fulfilled the obligation of these 4 cups. The following table lists the number of the cup, place in the Seder, folio page in the Talmud, and citation in the Shulchan Aruch.   

NumberPlacePesachimOrach Chaim
1Before meal114a473:1
2After story of Exodus116a474
3After grace on the meal117b479
4After praise of Hashem117b480
5 (dispute)Praise for land of Israel118a481:1

The 1st cup is part of the Kiddush ceremony which applies to every festive meal at night, whether on Shabbat or the festivals. The 2nd cup is unique to the Seder and is consumed after reciting the story of the exodus. The 3rd cup is consumed after grace on the meal which in the case of the Seder is mandatory. However during the rest of the year one may say the grace after meals with a cup of wine on an optional basis (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 182:1). The 4th cup is also unique to the Seder and is consumed after completing the Hallel and additional praises to Hashem. The 5th cup for the raise of the land of Israel is subject to dispute and is discussed in the companion article “Four Cups of Wine – Midrash”.    

Blessings on the Wine


One makes a blessing before consuming wine (Orach Chaim 202:1) and does not make an additional blessing if the next cup of wine, outside of a meal, is consumed before the previous cup was digested (Beur Halacha 190:1) which means within 72 minutes. Since the discussion of the Haggadah takes more than 72 minutes one should make an additional blessing when consuming the 2nd cups of wine which is the practice of the Ashkenazim (ibid. 474:1). However the Sephardim follow the practice of Rabbi Yosef Caro (ibid. 474:1) and do not make a blessing over the second cup because the reciting of the Haggadah is a requirement of the Seder and the time lapse is not considered an interruption between these two cups of wine. Both Ashkenazim and Sephardim make a blessing over the 3rd cup because the grace after meals starts a new sequence of consuming wine. A similar dispute applies over the 4th cup with the Ashkenazim considering the reciting of Hallel and other praises to Hashem as an interruption and necessitating an additional blessing. In addition since the sages instituted the practice of consuming 4 cups of wine at specified times in the Seder each cup is considered as a separate mitzvah with its own blessing (Mishna Berurah ibid. 474:4). However the Sephardim follow the view of Rabbi Yosef Caro (ibid. 474:1) and do not make a blessing over the 4th cup because the reciting of these praises is a requirement of the Seder and is not considered an interruption. In addition the time to recite Hallel and other praises is much less than 72 minutes.

The following table summarizes the Ashkenazi and Sephardic customs for the blessing over the four cups.

Cup NumberAshkenazi CustomSephardic Custom



In addition to the opening blessing for consuming wine there is also a closing blessing over the wine unless the wine was consumed immediately before or during a meal with bread. In that case the grace over meals covers the after blessing for the wine. Here also an after blessing would be required after the 1st cup of wine if the time between the 1st and 2nd cups exceeds 72 minutes (Orach Chaim 184:5 and Mishna Berurah 184:20). The after blessing on the 4th cup covers the 3rd cup because the delay is less than 72 minutes. However both Ashkenazim and Sephardim recite the after blessing only over the 4th cup because the grace after meals covers the after blessing for the second cup and by extension the first cup which will be explained as follows:

  • Since a person intends to have a full meal after the 1st cup the wine is not deemed as fully digested therefore the 72 minute limit is extended (Shuchan Aruch Harav 473:10).
  • The time limit of 72 minutes is waved in this case because each cup of wine is integral to the Seder and therefore the drinking of wine is not completed until the 4th cup (Mishna Berurah 474:5)
  • Try to keep the time lapse between the 1st and 2nd cups to less than 72 minutes. One may start to count the 72 minutes from eating the karpas which occurs a few minutes after drinking the wine (Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as quoted in Orach Chaim Dirshu Edition 474:8).
  • Where permitted one may consume a small snack to restart the 72 minute limit (ibid.).
  • Others actually permit the after blessing if the time limit of 72 minutes is exceeded (Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv as quoted ibid.).

Blessing on the Song

The Mishna in Pesachim 117b states that the Israelites complete the Hallel and recite the blessing of the song before drinking the 4th cup. There are different customs to fulfill this requirement and the text of the Haggadah is somewhat confusing. Appendix 2 – “Praise to Hashem” explains the different practices.

Secrets of the Torah – סוד

In addition to the details of Halacha the Zohar (2:40b) comments on the mitzvah of recounting the story of the exodus from the viewpoint of heaven. The Zohar emphasizes that the Israelites should perform this mitzvah with joy and in turn Hashem will “respond with joy” (so to speak) meaning that Hashem will summon the angels to hear His praise from the Israelites. In addition Hashem will reward the Israelites with an encounter of the Shechinah, whether in this world or the world to come. The Zohar adds that the performance of this mitzvah increases the “strength” of the Israelites in heaven. The Zohar (ibid. 41a) asks, “Why does Hashem need to hear the story of the exodus from the Israelites, since Hashem knows the past present and future?” The Zohar answers that thus mitzvah is the will of Hashem and the influence in heaven benefits the Israelites.       

Appendix 1 – Volume Measurements in Halacha

As mentioned above, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 472:9) specifies that each of the 4 cups should contain ¼ of a measure called a lug. There is a difference of opinion of this measure in cubic centimeters, ranging from 86.4 to 150 cc or in US measurement 2.92 to 5.07 fl oz. (One fluid ounce equals 29.574 cc). The reader may ask, “Why is there such a range of measures for this cup since each view is based on the same Talmudic text (viz. Pesachim 109a-b)?” The answer is that there are different ways to establish the basic measurement of the component terms as follows. The Talmud (ibid.) determines the measure of ¼ of a lug by comparing the volume of a mikvah (ritual bath) to the volume of a person in this bath.

Volume of Mikvah

The Talmud (ibid.) establishes that the minimum volume of water in a mikvah is 40 seah. In turn 1 seah = 6 kabin and 1 kav = 4 lugin. Therefore 40 seah = 960 lugin (40 *6*4) or 3,840 ¼ lugin (960*4).    

Volume of Person

The Talmud (ibid.) establishes the volume of an adult male as 3 amot (cubits) in length, 1 amah in width and 1 amah in depth. These dimensions allow for free movement in a mikvah of these dimensions. Tosafot (ibid. 109a) explains that the 3 amot in height exclude the person’s head because the water of the mikvah will rise over the head due to the displacement of the body. However other Talmudic commentators disagree (e.g. Rashbam and Ramban on Bava Batra 100b) and include the head in the cubit measure. In turn, 1 amah = 6 tefachim (handbreadth) and 1 tefach = 4 thumb widths. Therefore 1 amah = 24 thumb widths (6*4). As a result 3*1*1 cubic amot = 3*24*24*24 = 41,472 cubic thumb widths.

Comparing Measurements

By comparing these measurements we obtain 3,840 ¼ lugin = 41,472 cubic thumb widths. As a result ¼ of a lug equals 10.8 cubic thumb widths (41,472/3,840 = 10.8).

Physical Measurements

Up to this point the analysis relied on mathematics using terms that are not commonly used in current measurements and are subject to dispute in terms of modern day equivalents of cubic centimeters or fluid ounces. However the Talmud (ibid.) defines the volume of a mikvah in terms of the following body measurements:

  • Height of a person – 3 cubits.
  • Width of a thumb – 1/24 of a cubit.

The codifiers of Halacha debate whether we should use the dimensions of man at the time of the second temple or we may use the current dimensions of man for these measurements. The majority view accepts the current dimensions of man.  

Height of Person

Even thought the 3 cubit measurement may or may not include the head we can obtain a range of values for the cubit within a 15% range. Assuming the average height of a male is 1.75 m or 68.9 inches and the average height of a head is 21.59 cm or 8.5 inches we obtain two different measurements for the cubit, either 175/3 cm or (175-21.6)/3, including or excluding the head respectively . We obtain the thumb width by dividing the cubit measurement by 24. Therefore cup volume is equal to the thumb width (W) multiplied 3 times (i.e. cubed) and then by 10.8, using the above conversion factor or mathematically W*W*W*10.8.

The following table shows the different measurement criteria, length of cubit, width of thumb and corresponding cup size.

MeasurementCubit Thumb Width Cup Size
Including Head58.3 cm or 22.3 in2.43 cm or 0.96 in155 cc or 5.24 fl. oz.
Excluding Head51.1 cm or 20.1 in2.13 cm or 0.84 in104 cc or 3.52 fl. oz.
Minimum Size48 cm or 18.9 in2 cm or 0.78 in86.4 cc or 2.92 fl. oz.  

The minimum size measurement is based upon the height of a male at 48*3 cm excluding the head. With a head size of 21.59 the minimum size measurement of the cup assumes the average height for a male is 165.6 cm or 65.2 inches (i.e. 48*3 + 21.6 = 165.6) which is slightly less than the average height of an American or European male. By contrast the cup measure of 104 cc assumes the average height for a male of 174.9 cm or 68.9 inches (i.e. 51.1*3 + 21.6 = 174.9) which is close to the average height of an American or European male.        

Width of Thumb

There is a variation in thumb width and this measurement is prone to inaccuracy due to its small size, as opposed to the height of a man which is much greater. The conventional measure of thumb width is about 2.5 cm or 1 in corresponding to the larger measure of the cup size. The minimum size uses 2.0 cm for 0.78 in for thumb width. 

Dimensional analysis

The reader may ask, “How can these be such a wide range of measures for the size of the cup especially in view of the fact that human body measurements do not vary much across the world. The answer lies in the domain of dimensional analysis which examines variations of a basic measurement in terms of the final result. Here the critical issue is that the cubit or thumb width may vary slightly, however when this unit is cubed to account for the three dimensions of volume (i.e. length, width, and depth) the variation is quite significant.

Using a base of 1 for one opinion (i.e. cubit excluding head) and 1.141 (i.e. cubit including head) for another (i.e. 58.3/51.1 = 1.141) the resulting difference is almost 50% more as follows:

Base of 1 (1*1*1 = 1)

Base of 1.14 (1.141*1.141*1.141 = 1.485)

Using the minimum size the difference is even larger (58.3/48 = 1.215) which results in a difference of almost 80% as follows:   

Base of 1.215 (1.215*1.215*1.215 = 1.793)  

Volume of Egg

In addition to the dimensions of man, the Talmud states (Eruvin 83a) that the cup size (1/4 of a lug) is 1.5 times the volume of a chicken egg, providing another means of measurement in addition to the cubit and thumb size. Based on this statement we can compare current egg volume to the cup size as shown in the following table: 

MeasurementCup Size Egg Size (implied)
Including Head155 cc or 5.24 fl. oz.103 cc or 3.49 fl oz
Excluding Head104 cc or 3.52 fl. oz.69.3 cc or 2.35 fl oz
Minimum Size86.4 cc or 2.92 fl. oz.   57.6 cc or 1.95 fl oz

Although egg volume varies by grade and country the following chart for American grade eggs provides a perspective on cup size which favours the minimum size measurement:

Jumbo 62.7 cc or 2.12 fl oz
Extra Large56.4 cc or 1.91 fl oz
Large50.1 cc or 1.69 fl oz
Medium43.8 cc or 1.48 fl oz

In addition the Talmud (Yoma 80a) states that a person can eat an egg with a single swallow which implies that the eggs measurement for the cup could be based upon a medium size of egg of 43.8 cc or even smaller.  


This appendix examined the different measurement approaches to obtain the cup size for the Seder as follows:

  • Height of a person.
  • Width of a thumb.
  • Volume of an egg.

By comparing the results of these different approaches the minimum cup size measurement is closest to all 3 approaches. 

Appendix 2 – Praise to Hashem

The Talmud (Peaschim 118a) asks, “What is the blessing of the song?” and offers the following answers:

  • First blessing – The main text of the concluding blessing on the Hallel which begins with the clause, “All your works should praise You (יהללוך) Hashem.” 
  • Second blessing – The concluding text of festival, preliminary morning prayers (i.e. “The soul of every living thing (חי כל נשמת)”, “He who abides forever (עד שוכן), and “May your name be praised (שמך ישתבח) forever.”

In addition to the main text of these blessings they have also have different endings as follows:

  • Ending of first blessing, “Blessed are You Hashem, the King who is lauded with praises (בתשבחות מהלל מלך).”
  • Ending of second blessing, “Blessed are You Hashem … Life-giver of the world (העולמים חי ל-א מלך).”

The following customs arise for reciting the blessing of the song based upon two different blessings each with different endings.

  • Shulchan Aruch 480:1 – Start with the main text of the second blessing and conclude with the first blessing main text and ending. This method has the advantage that the blessing and its ending are contiguous and Hallel is concluded in the regular way.
  • Mishna Berurah 480:5 – Start with the first blessing, proceed with the second blessing but not its ending and conclude with the ending of the first blessing. This method has the advantage that the first blessing is recited next to Hallel. 
  • Mishna Berurah 480:5 – Start with the first blessing, proceed with second blessing and conclude with the ending of that blessing. This method has the advantage that the second blessing is completed in its regular way.   

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