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Laws of Dayenu!

By on April 6, 2017

There is a beautiful practice among Persian Jews worldwide to whip each other with scallions during the recitation of the Dayenu song found in the Haggadah.  We strike family members with scallions when the Hebrew word Dayenu is read, symbolizing the whips endured by the Israelites under the ancient Egyptians.

Much to my dismay, many of our young children are not following the proper traditions laid down by our forefathers.  In many cases, I have seen gross negligence on their part, so much so that I don’t think they have even fulfilled their obligations for Dayenu. I have jotted down some important points as a guide.

Background

Dayenu is an ancient custom; anyone who makes fun of this or mistakenly calls it barbaric should not be invited to the Seder table. If one has family over and because of Shalom Bayit purposes must invite such evil doers to their home, they should only be invited for the dinner portion so as not to disrespect this holy Mitsvah. In general, one should be careful about exposing their children to such people throughout the year, as well.

Preparation

  1. Yom Kippur is an auspicious time to pray for properly sized and shaped scallions that can cause the most pain. There is a custom to plant scallions right after Yom Kippur in one’s backyard.

Type of Scallion to Use

  1. The color of the scallion leaf should be fully green and ripened. Our Sages say it should be ripe enough to leave a dime-sized mark on a new white cloth. 
  2. Lengthwise, the scallion must be a minimum of two tefachim (handbreadths).  However, one who uses scallions that are at least an amah (arms length) will receive special blessings from heaven. Note: length does not include the head/bulb.
  3. Preferably, scallions from Iran should be used, and they must be checked for Chametz a minimum of 3 times. (Elat Market has a special shipment for only $27 per scallion. It must have Kosher for Passover supervision).
  4. If there is a famine and scallions cannot be found, whole round onion may be used. If one does not have onions either, a belt can be used provided it is 100% pure leather without any additives or synthetic ingredients.
  5. There is a dispute among authorities as to the proper size of the scallion. Some say the head should be olive-sized (around 18.753 grams) and others say egg-sized (around 32.256 grams).
  6. The scallion head/bulbs should have at least two visible root hairs.

The Custom of Dayenu

  1. To properly fulfill the Mitsvah, one must hit at least two Jewish males above the age of Bar Mitsvah at least two times in at least 3.5 minutes. If this is not done, one must go back and Dayenu again.
  2. The Mitzvah of Dayenu should be done while standing, however old people and Shirazis may sit.
  3. There is a debate amongst Rabbis as to whether this custom came from a Jewish source or the ghettos of Iran. Therefore, when in doubt, no blessing is recited. One can simply say ‘Baruch Sh’asani Heyvun’ without mentioning G-d’s name.
  4. If one fell asleep during the seder and wakes up in time for dinner, the latest he can make up Dayenu is by midnight. If he misses this time, he has to wait until the second night and do it twice. If he forgets both nights, he should hit himself with the scallion every night before he goes to sleep as a penalty for not doing it properly the first time.
  5. Although many say Dayenu was established to remind us of slavery, some say that the scallions represent our Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) and Yetzer Tov (Good Inclination), and that it is a Mitsvah to rebuke others even by force. Therefore, it is better that two scallions are used at same time, symbolizing that we are beating up our friends and family to make them serve the Almighty with both inclinations. 
  6. The mystics tell us that there should be direct contact between the hands and the scallions. Therefore, special blessings come to those that do not wear gloves and remove rings before Dayenu.
  7. For the Dayenu hit to count, an audible “ouch” or “aay” should be heard at least 6 steps away from the person being hit.
  8. One should preferably use another fellow Persian to fulfill this custom. If an Ashkenazi was invited to the Seder, one can fulfill his obligation by hitting him as well. Please note the 6-step audible requirement (see previous halacha) would instead be 3-steps as Ashkenazim are not as rowdy as Persians. (Please also note that it is forbidden to feed Ashkenazim rice, however, one can be lenient and serve them food that was cooked in a rice pot).
  9. Hitting the face is not allowed as we fear the person will become blind and not be able to fulfill the Mitsvah of reading the Haggadah.
  10. It is not becoming of Jewish women to do Dayenu. The custom is that the women go to the kitchen and prepare the meal at this time. Nowadays, if there is a concern that the women would be offended, or if there is a chance that they will leave the seder altogether, it is permissible for them to engage in the custom. However, G-d fearing men should not gaze at ladies doing Dayenu. They should quickly find another G-d fearing man, do the Dayenu ceremony together, and find a corner to stare at while the frivolous immodest ladies finish Dayenuing.
  11. There is a Torah prohibition against hitting parents. One must be very careful to get permission in advance from their parents if they want to use them to fulfill this Mitsvah. Fortunately, there is no prohibition against in-laws.

After the Dayenu

  1. Since the scallions have been used for a Mitsvah, they are considered very holy and one should not profane them by disposing them in a trash can. Some have the custom of putting the scallions under their bed as a Segulah (omen) to have righteous and calm children. For those that don’t believe in such nonsense, the scallions may be buried.
  2. If someone is summoned to a non-Jewish court for damages incurred by the Dayenu ceremony, he should explain his religious obligation and demand his right to religious freedom.

 

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About Eman Esmailzadeh

Eman Esmailzadeh is a graduate of UC Irvine where he studied mechanical Engineering and Business Management. After college, he advanced his Judaic studies at various seminaries in New York and Jerusalem. He currently is the Brand Director at Coloronix, a manufacturer of themed lighting products.