Learn About the 6 Elements of a Traditional Seder Plate

published Apr 3, 2017
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(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

The Seder plate is the most important part of any Passover Seder. It’s rich with symbolism, meaning, and history. And it’s what the holiday ritual is centered around.

While there are plenty of new, modern twists or additions, there are traditionally six main items that go on the Seder plate. (Fun fact: Many Seder plate designs configure the six items into the six points of the Jewish star.) How the Seder plate is arranged differs by families and their interpretations; this setup is one common option.

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1. Maror

This is the bitter herb, which reminds the Jews of the bitterness of the slavery their forefathers endured in Egypt. It’s usually represented on Seder plates with horseradish. You can use part of a full root or spoon out some of the jarred stuff.

How it’s used: The maror may be used a few times during the Seder. First, it gets dipped or mixed into some charoset. It’s sometimes also made into a small sandwich with charoset and matzo.

2. Z’roa

Usually a roasted lamb shank bone, the z’roa is just for show to represent the lamb that was sacrificed the night the Jews left Egypt. (Some communities use a roasted chicken neck instead.) The word z’roa means arm, and people often say this item also symbolizes the outstretched arm of G-d.

How it’s used: The shank bone is not eaten (it’s a bone, after all!), but is used symbolically.

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

3. Charoset

The charoset is meant to resemble the mortar and brick made by the Jews when they were slaves in Egypt under Pharaoh. Some communities of Ashkenazi Jews make it with apples, walnuts, and wine. Sephardic Jews often use figs and dates, which are more common than apples.

How it’s used: Charoset is eaten with horseradish and, during some Seders, it’s turned into what’s called Hillel’s sandwich, put between two pieces of matzo with the maror.

4. Chazeret

A second bitter item, which is sometimes left off the Seder plate entirely, romaine lettuce symbolizes the fact that the Jewish stay in Egypt began soft and ended hard and bitter (look at the two ends of a piece of lettuce).

How it’s used: Some families do use the chazeret and the maror interchangeably or together. And sometimes the chazeret is used in the sandwich mentioned above.

5. Karpas

Typically represented with parsley (although some families use boiled potatoes), the karpas is a symbol of spring and new beginnings. It can also symbolize the initial flourishing of the Israelites during the first years in Egypt.

How it’s used: To start the Seder, participants take a small piece of parsley and dip it in salt water to remember the tears the Jews shed when they were slaves in Egypt.

6. Beitzah

There are many different explanations for why a roasted hard-boiled egg sits on the Seder plate. Some families say it represents the pre-holiday offering. It’s also said the roundness of the egg represents the cycle of life. And other people say it represents new beginnings and hope.

How it’s used: Although it’s traditional to begin the actual Seder meal with each person eating a hardboiled egg that’s dipped in the bowl of salt water, the egg on the Seder plate is typically not eaten.

See 3 Other Takes on the Passover Seder Plate

Editorial consultant: Rabbi Josh Franklin of Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Massachusetts