The Passover Seder Plate and New Traditions

published Apr 15, 2008
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(Image credit: Nina Callaway)

We’ve already shown you some pretty Seder plates, but we’ve haven’t yet talked about what goes on them. Those who grew up celebrating Passover can probably recite the traditional items in their sleep. But you may not be aware that some Jews are adding and substituting new items to bring additional meaning to their Passover rituals.

And, if you’ve never been to a Seder before, you might be lost entirely. So we’ve put together a mini guide to the traditional and new additions on a Seder Plate.

Traditional Items
Charoset – Apples, Walnuts, and Honey
This chopped, sweet mixture symbolizes the mortar of the Temple.
Karpas – A Vegetable
Parsley, celery, or potato is used as a symbol of spring, which is dipped into salt water, symbolizing the tears of the enslaved Jews.
Maror – Bitter Herbs
These remind us of the bitterness of slavery. Frequently this is romaine lettuce (whose roots are bitter) or ungrated horseradish root.
Zeroa – The Shankbone
A roasted shankbone symbolizes the sacrificial lamb that was offered in the Temple.
Beitzah – The Egg
Not only a symbol of spring and new life, the egg also represents the second offering in the Temple.
Chazeret – Bitter Herbs Eaten with Matzo
During the ritual, you will make a sandwich of matzo, bitter herbs, and charoset. Not everyone includes Chazeret on their Seder plate; Many of those who do say this must be very bitter uncooked horseradish, with no beet juice or other sweeteners added. Others specifically choose sweetened horseradish to make it more palatable.

New Additions:
Passover celebrates the end of slavery for Jews in Egypt, so naturally much of the discussion centers around freedom and oppression. As part of this discussion, some Jews choose to add or substitute additional items that represent their political beliefs and spark conversation.

The Orange Many will tell you that the orange represents women, and feminism. A false myth circulates, saying that a man angrily told Jewish scholar Susannah Heschel that “A woman belongs on the bimah like an orange belongs on the Seder plate,” and that’s why feminists today include an orange. However Heschel herself repudiates this myth, saying that she added the orange to honor lesbians and gay men.

The Olive In the early 90s, American Jews working to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands started adding an olive to their seder plates, to remember the economic insecurity caused by the destruction of olive trees, a historical symbol of hope for many people in the region. Some now erroneously believe that the olive was added as a symbol of peace in the Middle East.

The Beet Vegetarians who do not wish to add the shank bone instead substitute a roasted beet, citing the Talmud, Tractate 114b.

The Flower or the Seed If you’re vegan, the traditional egg needs to leave the Seder plate as well. You can use a purely decorative egg, as we have in the picture above, but some choose to go further. Since the egg represents spring and new life, a flower or seed is often substituted.

What’s on your family’s Seder plate? What sparks the most discussion?