Foundations for Planning
- How are symbols used in celebrations and holidays?
- How do family traditions play an important role in our lives?
- How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
- What do the symbols on the Seder plate mean?
- How do the food items on the plate convey the themes of Pesach?
- How can I make the Seder more meaningful for me and my family?
- How does the Seder plate reflect the diversity of the Jewish people?
On Seder Night we tell the story of the exodus from Egypt in various ways. One way is through the Seder plate, where we place six foods that symbolize ideas and events connected to the story. Many of the foods are related in one...
On Seder Night we tell the story of the exodus from Egypt in various ways. One way is through the Seder plate, where we place six foods that symbolize ideas and events connected to the story. Many of the foods are related in one way or another to the memory of the liberation of the Children of Israel from slavery to freedom.
Like other symbols, the food items on the plate have various meanings. The following are some examples:
Matzah: The matzah reminds us of both slavery and freedom. On the one hand, matzah is the “bread of affliction” that symbolizes the difficult lives of the Children of Israel when they were slaves. On the other hand, matzah reminds us of the exodus from Egypt, the journey from slavery to freedom. The Children of Israel left Egypt in such a hurry that the dough they made did not have time to rise.
Zeroa: A roasted leg of lamb or a roasted chicken leg or wing that commemorates the roasted meat that the Children of Israel ate on their last night in Egypt and the meat sacrifice that was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem on Passover. The zeroa also reminds us that God took the Children of Israel out of Egypt “בְּיַד חֲזָקָה וּבִזְרוֹעַ נְטוּיָה”
(“with a strong hand and an outstretched arm [zeroa]”) (Deuteronomy 5:14). Some vegetarians use a roasted mushroom or roasted vegetable as the zeroa on their Seder plate.
Maror: A vegetable with a bitter flavor that is meant to remind us of the bitterness of the lives of the Children of Israel in Egypt. As it is written: “וַיַּעֲבִדוּ מִצְרַיִם אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּפָרֶךְ. וַיְמָרַרוּ אֶת חַיֵּיהֶם בַּעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה בְּחֹמֶר וּבִלְבֵנִים” (“And Egypt worked the Children of Israel with harsh labor and embittered their lives with hard work with mortar and bricks”) (Exodus 1:13‒14). Many people use romaine lettuce for maror.
Charoset: A sweet mixture of fruits, nuts, spices and wine that reminds us of the mortar that the Children of Israel used in their hard labor.
Chazeret: Chazeret symbolizes the bitter lives of the Children of Israel in Egypt. The chazeret mentioned in the Mishna is romaine lettuce. In the Middle Ages, Jews in Europe began to use a spicy root which we know as horseradish.
Karpas: A green vegetable that symbolizes the coming of spring. It is customary to use celery, parsley, potato, radish, or other vegetables. We dip the karpas in salt water or vinegar to remember the tears that the Children of Israel shed in Egypt.
Baytza: A hard-boiled egg, burnt at one end in some communities, that is meant to commemorate the sacrifice that was brought to the Temple on every holiday. Some people see the baytza as a symbol of spring or of the Children of Israel’s new lives after leaving Egypt.
Note: Different Jewish communities have different customs concerning the foods on the Seder plate.
- Show the students the picture of the Seder plate and ask: Have you ever seen a plate like this before? Do you know anything about what we use it for?
- For older students: sometimes something we eat reminds us of an event, place or person. Ask the students to think about a food and write down the name of the food and the memory it raises. Hang the pages on the walls of the classroom so the students can walk around and see what their friends wrote.
- In order to present the Seder place you can use this presentation, which explains each of the items.
Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.
- The foods on the Seder plate help us tell the exodus story. What foods remind us that the Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt? What foods remind us that they came out into freedom? What food reminds us both of slavery and of freedom?
For older students:
- The main commandment at Pesach is to tell the story of the exodus from Egypt. We could do that just by using words. Why do you think we also tell the story using food items?
- Discuss the different roles the items on the Seder plate play:
– Which one reminds us how the slaves felt in Egypt?
– Which one reminds us of the physical hardship of slavery?
– Why do we need different symbols rather than just one symbol to remind us of everything (such as matzah)?
- Jews across the world put a Seder plate on their table on Seder Night, but the foods may vary a bit from one community to another. What does that tell us about the development of Jewish customs?
- The meaning of the different foods on the Seder plate: Use this template with a picture of the Seder plate. The students write down the name of each item in the right place (use the list of words). For older students: they can add what the item represents and how it is related to freedom, slavery or both. Some people put an additional item on the Seder plate to emphasize a particular idea, figure or event from the exodus story that is not reflected on the traditional plate. For example, some people add a glass of water to remind us of Miriam, Moses’ sister, who appears in the exodus story in connection with the theme of water. Think of a person, event or idea you would like to mention on Seder Night and think of a suitable item to remind us of it/them. On the template we left an empty place for another food item. Each student chooses their own item and draws it or writes its name. The students explain to the class why they chose to add that item.
- Invite the students to check whether they have a Seder plate at home, and if they do – to take a photo of it and tell its story (where did it come from, etc.) Prepare an exhibition of photos and Seder plates in class.
- Charoset in different communities: Make charoset in class using recipes from different communities, or ask the students to look for recipes. What are the similarities and differences between the different recipes, and what are the reasons for them? What can we learn from Jewish communities from this diversity? Ask the students to invent their own charoset recipe to remind us of slavery in Egypt. They should concentrate on local products. You could expand this activity using a kind of “Master Chef” format – the students will bring different ingredients to class, and each group has to make charoset that meets various predetermined criteria, for example: it reminds us of builder’s plaster but it tastes good!
Central European Charoset
5 cups grated apple
2.5 cups ground almonds
5 teaspoons cinnamon
Red wine (not sweet)
Mix all the ingredients together
15 chopped dates
1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds
10 chopped dried figs
4 teaspoons ginger
Red wine (not sweet)
Mix all the ingredients together
Read the story “A Brick Instead of Charoset”, which tells the story of a group of Jewish soldiers during the American Civil War who wanted to celebrate Seder Night properly.
A Brick Instead of Charoset
In 1862, during the American Civil War, a group of Jewish soldiers served in one of the battalions. When Seder Night came around, the soldiers decided to hold a proper Seder, even though they were far away from any Jewish community. And the unbelievable happened: The soldiers managed to get matzah and Haggadot. They found a plant nearby that one of the soldiers, Joel Joseph, described as “more bitter than the bitterness that was the fate of our ancestors.” So that solved the problem of maror. They had lamb, chicken, and eggs. The only thing they didn’t manage to find were the ingredients to make charoset. However much they searched they couldn’t find the right fruit to make a mortar-like paste recalling the enslavement of their ancestors “in clay and bricks.” Eventually the soldiers came up with a creative solution. They put a brick on the Seder plate. “The brick was tough to digest,” Joseph admitted, “but as we looked at it, it reminded us of its purpose.”
– “As we looked at it [the brick], it reminded us of its purpose” – what was the purpose of placing the brick on the Seder plate?
– What can we learn from the fact that it was so important to the soldiers to hold a Seder despite the unusual circumstances?