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Passover Seder Plate

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The Passover Seder Plate Hebrew: ke'ara (קערה) is a special plate containing symbolic foods eaten or displayed at the Passover Seder.

Significance

Each of the six items arranged 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.

Symbolic foods

The six traditional items on the Seder Plate are as follows:

  • Maror and chazeret — Bitter herbs, symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of the slavery which the Jews endured in Egypt. Either horseradish or romaine lettuce may be eaten in fulfillment of the mitzvah of eating bitter herbs during the Seder.
  • Charoset — A sweet, brown mixture representing the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt. In Ashkenazi Jewish homes, charoset is traditionally made from chopped nuts, grated apples, cinnamon, and sweet red wine. Sephardi recipes 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 into salt water (which represents tears) mirrors the pain felt by the Jewish 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.
  • Beitzah — A 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 it with 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. Table set for the seder with a seder plate, salt water, matza, kosher wine and a copy of the Haggadah for each guest

The seventh 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).

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. It is sometimes placed in the center of the plate.

Variants

Orange. — Since the early 1980s, a custom has arisen (especially among more liberal and feminist Jews) to include an orange on the Seder plate. This custom is often explained as having arisen in response to a man who confronted a Jewish feminist who was giving a speech and opposed the right of women to become rabbis, supposedly declaring that women had as much place on the bimah as an orange had on the seder plate. However, Susannah Heschel, a Jewish scholar who is widely credited with beginning this custom, has explained it as a symbol of the fruitfulness of all Jews, including gay men and lesbians. After hearing that some college students were placing crusts of bread on their seder plates as a protest against the exclusion of homosexuals from Judaism, Heschel substituted the fruit (originally a tangerine) on the plate instead. Today, there are seder plates made with seven spots, an extra for the orange on the seder plate, such as Michael Aram's Pomegranate Seder Plate.


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References

Passover Seder Plate, en.wikipedia.org

How To Prepare a Passover Seder Plate, judaism.about.com

Passover Seder Plate, www.theholidayspot.com

Introduction to the Seder Plate, www.chabad.org