Symbolism of the Passover Seder Plate

The Seder Plate

Set your table with your finest dishes, and lots of them, because the Passover Seder is truly a feast. With course after course of wonderful delicacies that many families only get a few times a year, for the bigger holidays. Traditional Jews keep two extra sets of dishes that they only use during Passover - one set of milchik dishes (for dairy dishes) and one set of flaishek dishes (for use with meat). It is increasingly rare for any but the Orthodox to have four sets of dishes.

In addition to the usual place settings, you will need additional wine glasses and saucers at every place, plus a special wine glass for Elijah and possibly one for Miriam. (See our Elijah's Cup and Miriam's Cup collection.)

And, at the center of the table, the most important piece on the table - the Seder Plate. The Seder Plate is the symbolic heart of the Seder. The foods we place on it are integral to the telling of the story of Passover. The Seder Plate has spaces set aside for six special and symbolic foods that are used as part of the Seder to tell the story of the Exodus. They are arranged on the Seder Plate in the order they are used during the Seder, with the first closest to the leader of the Seder.

There are no specific rules about how a Seder plate should look. It can be traditional or contemporary, round or square, flat or architectural. It can be as simple as you wish or ornate and festive. Generally, each of the six sections are decorated with the Hebrew words for what goes in them, often in fanciful writing. The six special, ceremonial foods are:

Bitter Herbs

There are two kinds of bitter herbs on the Seder plate. The first is called Maror and we use freshly-grated horseradish root. The bitter herbs symbolize the bitterness of the Jews' slavery in Egypt. If you use horseradish, be aware that it is very potent and whoever grates it is in for some serious crying. The second bitter herb is called Chazeret, and is usually carefully cleaned and washed endive or romaine lettuce.

The Maror is eaten near the end of the Seder after the washing of the hands. It is eaten alone and as a sandwich with Matzoh.

Lamb Shankbone

The lamb shankbone (also called Z'roa) is symbolic of the Paschal sacrifice made immediately before the Jews left Egypt and during Passover Seders celebrated in the Temple, in those years before it was destroyed. Ion order to protect their houses from the tenth plague against the Egyptians, Jews smeared lamb's blood on their doorposts. The Angel of Death, seeing the blood, would pass over those houses.

It is solely symbolic and is not actually eaten. In place of the lamb shank, many people use a broiled chicken wing.

Hard-Boiled Egg

While there are many interpretations of why we use the hard-boiled egg (called Beitzah) in the Passover Seder the dominant explanation is that it symbolizes our mourning of the loss of the two Temples (the first destroyed by the Babylonians in about 586 BCE and the second by the Romans in 70 CE.

Traditionally, sacrifices made in the Temple were meat, but the egg serves as a reminder that since the destruction of the Temple we are unable to offer Passover sacrifices there. It is not eaten as part of the Seder, but many people dip it in saltwater and eat it as a first course of the Passover meal.


Traditionally, we use a boiled potato, parsley or celery as Karpas, a vegetable other than the bitter herbs. Dipped in salt water, it represents the tears shed by the Jews during their enslavement by the Egyptians. As slaves, they were only able to eat simple foods, so a simple vegetable is used during the Seder.

In a typical Sabbath or Holiday meal, the first food we eat after the blessing of the wine is bread. During the Seder, the first one we eat is the vegetable. This is a natural transition to one of the best-know parts of the Passover Seder - the Four Questions. Mah Neeshtanah Ha Layla HaZeh Mi kohl HaLaylot? Why is this night different from all other nights?


The Hebrew word Charoset comes from the word "cheres" meaning clay. Charoset represents the mortar used by the Jews to hold together the bricks they made for their Egyptian masters. Depending on whether we are Ashkenazi or Sephardic Jews, we make Charoset out of different ingredients, but we use it the same way.

Charoset can be made from nuts, dates, apples cinnamon and other delicious ingredients and is a favorite of pretty much everyone either by itself or on Matzoh. Expect it to go and go quickly.

Passover is an important holiday because it enables us to pass the history of our people from one generation to the next. A gift of a Seder Plate is a wonderful way to help a family start their own, new holiday traditions.

Read all of the articles in our Jewish Passover Traditions series:

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