Question & Answer With Schneur Zalman - Using An Onion On The Seder Plate
A Simple Jew asks:
Given the fact that Chabad did not have the Baal Shem Tov's mesora to refrain from eating raw onions for karpas (see Sichos HaRan 265), is there a reason why Chabad is so adamant about using a whole onion in its place? I noticed that Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 118:2 states, "For the first dipping, which is called karpas, many people follow the custom of using parsley, but it is better to use celery, which tastes good when raw. Best of all is to use radishes."
Was using an onion for karpas originally a regional minhag of White Russia and later adopted by Chabad as its minhag?
Schneur Zalman answers:
Not being an official Chabad person I can not answer this question. But permit me to ask a few related questions that may assist in answering the question.
What do Lithuanian Jews use for karpas? My mother a Lithuanian Misnaged used onions (I know because she never objected to my father using onions it was an ongenumene zach). My father did too and he came from a Chabad background. Many Chabad minhogim mirror local minhogim such as not having atoros on Tallesim, not having a Mizva Tanz at weddings, clothing, etc. So you may be correct perhaps this is a regional minhog.
Until 1951 there was no uniform Chabad minhog. Individual towns in White Russia had their own minhogim and the Bais Horav had its minhogim. Clearly Rav Levi Yitzchok of Yekatrinislav had many of his own minhogim. In 1951, the Lubavitcher Rebbe started revealing the minhogim of Bais Horav to Anash. Rabbi Barry Gourary, the grandson of Rabbi Yosef Yitchak Schneersohn, however, told me that he does remember many of these customs in his grandfather's house. My father was "raised " and educated in Reb Ziskind's kluiz in Kurenitz and he too had no inkling of many of the new minhogim practiced by the chassidim after 1951. The explanation thus is that the Rebbe interpolated his owns father's minhogim in the new institutional version of minhogei Chabad.