The Passover Seder Plate
The Passover Seder Plate is the centerpiece of the Passover meal and is the
heart of the Passover Seder. The foods that are placed on the Seder Plate are
integral to the telling of the Passover story. There are six different foods
on the Passover Seder plate and each serves the purpose of retelling the story
There are no specific rules about how a Seder Plate should look. It can be
traditional or contemporary, round or square, flat or architectural. It can
be as simple as you wish or ornate and festive. Generally, each of the six sections
are decorated with the Hebrew words for what goes in them, often in fanciful
Every participant at the Passover Seder is served from the Seder plate, which
has been specially arranged by the leader of the ceremony. Below are the symbolic
foods that are served during the Passover Seder.
Matzah is one of the most iconic elements of Passover. During the
Exodus from Egypt, the Jews fled so quickly that there was no time to waste
waiting for bread to ris. Instead, they ate unleavened matzah in their desperate
escape from slavery. What was once an act of necessity is now celebrated in
triumphant, everlasting joy. Jews choose to eat matzah in honor of their ancestors,
and to celebrate their freedom. This special bread is included on the Seder
plate, or next to it.
Maror and Chazeret are bitter herbs, such as romaine lettuce,
endives, or horseradish, which are eaten to remind the participants of the bitter
and frightening journey of Exodus.
Charoset is a sweet-tasting mixture of apples, cinnamon, wine, and
nuts. Charoset is symbolic of the mortar that the Jewish slaves used when being
forced to build Egyptian storehouses. The bitter maror is dipped into the charoset
before being consumed. When tasted together, the participants remember the struggle
of the Jewish slaves, and pay homage to their hardships. The bitterness of the
maror tells the tale of a life of strife, while the sweet-tasting charoset invokes
the very building blocks of a slave’s daily existence. While it may seem strange
that the charoset, which tastes so delightful, should be used to reinforce the
building clay of the slaves, it is a reminder that Passover is a time of celebration
of the Jewish slaves’ freedom.
Karpas is a vegetable, often celery or potatoes, which is dipped
into salted water or vinegar. The plain, bitter taste of this food also reinforces
the brutal life of the Jewish slaves, which was frought with scarcity and pain.
The participants at the Passover Seder meal taste the pain of their ancestors.
The vegetable serves a secondary purpose - the promise that spring is on its
way. Like many of the elements of the Passover dinner, the dual nature of the
dish both reminds us of the past struggles of our ancestors, and celebrates
their successful journey to freedom.
Zeroah is the second-to-last dish on the Passover Seder Plate. Zeroah
is the only meat included on the dish. Usually, zeroah is a shank bone of meat
or poultry. In ancient Jeruselum, the Jews celebrated the first night of Passover
by sacrificing a lamb in the Temple, roasting it, and consuming it on the eve
of the Exodus. The lamb was known as the “Pesach” offering. After the temple
was destroyed, the zeroah became part of the Seder Plate to invoke the offering
of Pesach. For vegetarians, the Pesach sacrifice can be represented by a beet.
Beitzah is an egg which has been roasted to symbolize another ancient
Jerusalem sacrifice - the Korban Chagigah. The Chagigah was a meat sacrifice,
yet on the Seder Plate it is represented by an egg for two reasons. The egg
is symbolic of mourning and represents sadness after the Temple’s destruction
and in knowing that no sacrifices could be offered there. Another meaning behind
the Beitzah is that it celebrates Spring, renewal, and rejuvenation.
An Orange - A New Addition to the Passover Seder Plate
The traditional bitter herbs, sweet cinnamon paste, shank bone, roasted egg,
and matzah come together to make the traditional Seder Plate dishes. The special
foods eaten on Passover are also food for thought. Every item on the Seder plate
abounds in meaning and allusion. Because of this, there can be some variety
in the foods that are used to celebrate Passover, and different foods may be
added to the plates to symbolize more elements of Passover. Some Seders include
an orange on the Seder Plate to honor feminism, gay and lesbian rights, and
rights for marginalized people.
The origin of the orange comes from an interesting, though unverified story,
that the orange earned its way onto the Seder plate after a stuffy rabbi said,
“A woman belongs on the bimah like an orange belongs on the Seder plate!” Susannah
Heschel, who claims to have started the orange tradition, says this story is
false. Heschel, a Jewish feminist scholar, says that she started the tradition
after witnessing students placing crusts of bread on their plates to symbolize
the intolerance of women and homosexuals in Judaism. Heschel loved the idea
of symbolizing these minorities, but changed the bread crust to an orange, in
order to avoid violating the restrictions of the Passover diet (Heschel would
spit out the seeds of the fruit, as if “spitting out” or rejecting intolerance
The symbolic foods of the Passover Seder Plate each have an interesting and
layered meaning. They come together to create an atmosphere which reflects upon,
sympathizes, and celebrates the tragedies and triumphs of our Jewish ancestors
and the Exodus from Egypt.
Read all of the articles in our Jewish Passover Traditions series: