Passover Seder Plate
Each of the six items arranged so on the plate has special significance to the retelling of the story of the exodus from Egypt, which is the focus of this ritual meal. The seventh symbolic item used during the meal — a stack of three matzos — is placed on its own plate on the Seder table. Others place the Seder plate on top of the stack of matzos.
The six traditional items on the Seder Plate are as follows:
- Maror and chazeret — Bitter herbs, symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of the slavery the Hebrews endured in Egypt. In Ashkenazi tradition, either horseradish or romaine lettuce may be eaten in the fulfillment of the mitzvah of eating bitter herbs during the Seder. Sephardic Jews often use curly parsley, green onion, or celery leaves.
- Charoset — A sweet, brown mixture representing the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves to build the storehouses or pyramids of Egypt. In Ashkenazi Jewish homes, Charoset is traditionally made from chopped nuts, grated apples, cinnamon, and sweet red wine. Sephardi recipes typically call for dates and honey in addition to chopped nuts, cinnamon, and wine.
- Karpas — A vegetable other than bitter herbs, which is dipped into salt water at the beginning of the Seder. Parsley, celery or boiled potato is usually used. The dipping of a simple vegetable bounces into salt water (which represents tears) mirrors the pain felt by the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. Usually in a Shabbat or holiday meal, the first thing to be eaten after the kiddush over wine is bread. At the Seder table, however, the first thing to be eaten after the kiddush is a vegetable. This leads immediately to the recital of the famous question, Ma Nishtana — "Why is this night different from all other nights?" It also symbolizes the spring time, because Jews celebrate Passover in the spring.
- Z'roa — Also called Zeroah, it is special as it is the only element of meat on the Seder Plate. A roasted lamb or goat shankbone, chicken wing, or chicken neck; symbolizing the korban Pesach (Pesach sacrifice), which was a lamb that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, then roasted and eaten as part of the meal on Seder night. Since the destruction of the Temple, the z'roa serves as a visual reminder of the Pesach sacrifice; it is not eaten or handled during the Seder. Vegetarians often substitute a beet, quoting Pesachim 114b as justification; other vegetarians substitute a sweet potato, allowing a "Paschal yam" to represent the Paschal lamb.
- Beitzah — A roasted hard-boiled egg, symbolizing the korban chagigah (festival sacrifice) that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and roasted and eaten as part of the meal on Seder night. Although both the Pesach sacrifice and the chagigah were meat offerings, the chagigah is commemorated by an egg, a symbol of mourning (as eggs are the first thing served to mourners after a funeral), evoking the idea of mourning over the destruction of the Temple and our inability to offer any kind of sacrifices in honor of the Pesach holiday. Since the destruction of the Temple, the beitzah serves as a visual reminder of the chagigah; it is not used during the formal part of the seder, but some people eat a regular hard-boiled egg dipped in saltwater as the first course of the meal.
Many decorative and artistic Seder Plates sold in Judaica stores have pre-formed spaces for inserting the various symbolic foods.
The sixth symbolic item on the Seder table is a plate of three whole matzot, which are stacked and separated from each other by cloths or napkins. The middle matzah will be broken and half of it put aside for the afikoman. The top and other half of the middle matzot will be used for the hamotzi (blessing over bread), and the bottom matzah will be used for the korech (Hillel sandwich). Matza is flat bread and symbolises the yeast less bread that was eaten by the Hebrews after they were set free.
A bowl of salt water, which is used for the first "dipping" of the Seder, is not traditionally part of the Seder Plate, but is placed on the table beside it. However, it sometimes is used as one of the six items, omitting chazeret.
- Orange. — In the early 1980s, Susannah Heschel began the tradition as a protest against the exclusion of homosexuals from Judaism. She found the orange to be a more appropriate symbol than a crust of bread that some Oberlin College students had suggested. There is a popular myth that the tradition was introduced in response to a rabbi who told a young girl that a woman belongs on a bimah as an orange on a seder plate. The orange is now said to be a symbol of the fruitfulness of all Jews, including women and gay people.
- Alpert, Rebecca T. (1998). Like Bread on the Seder Plate: Jewish Lesbians and the Transformation of Tradition. Columbia University Press. pp. 2–3. ISBN 978-0-231-09661-4. Excerpt available at Google Books.
- Tamara Cohen. "An Orange on the Seder Plate". Retrieved 28 Mar 2010.