Holiday Traditions, History & Celebrations

The Seder Plate

Image Credit: Robert Couse-Baker (CC BY 2.0)

1. Karpas (a green vegetable—normally parsley)

Karpas rests on the seder plate for multiple reasons. They represent the period of Jewish flourishing prior to Egyptian slavery. Also, karpas represent a plentiful bounty of fruits and vegetables in the springtime harvest.

2. Maror (bitter herbs)

The word maror comes from the Hebrew root “mar”—meaning bitter. There is a list of qualifications for a food to have to meet the standards of maror; it should be bitter, have sap, have a grayish appearance and be a vegetable grown from the earth, not a tree.

The common foods used for maror are romaine lettuce—known for its bitter aftertaste, horseradish and celery.

Why do we eat maror?

Maror’s bitterness is symbolic of the bitterness felt by the Israelites while enslaved in Egypt; eating maror allows us to sympathize with this bitterness felt by our ancestors. 

3. Zeroa (shank bone)

This roasted shank bone—customarily from lamb—is used to remind us of the paschal lamb. The paschal lamb is the lamb sacrificed at the first Passover, on the eve of the Exodus from Egypt. 

Vegetarians can substitute a roasted beet instead, as the red of the beet represents the lamb’s blood that was smeared on Jews’ doorposts to protect them from the deaths of Egyptian firstborns. 

4. Charoset (a sweet fruit paste)

Charoset is a sweet, sticky paste that rests on the seder plate. The word charoset is derived from the Hebrew word cheres—meaning clay. This paste is normally a mixture of fruits, honey, nuts and wine or honey.

Why do we eat charoset?

We eat charoset because the paste-like substance symbolizes the mortar used by the Israelite slaves to construct buildings for the pharaoh. 

Another reason is that apples—the common fruit found in charoset—are symbolic of the apple trees in Egypt. In Egypt, there was an attempt to reduce Jewish reproduction by separating Jewish men and women; a tradition broke out where Jewish women would seduce their husbands in fields under apple trees. Therefore the apples are symbolic of Jewish defiance.

5. Beitzah (egg)

Beitzah is a roasted or hard-boiled egg—symbolizing the hagigah sacrifice. Another explanation is that the egg’s rounded shape is a symbol of the cycle of life.