Seder Plate 101

The Seder plate is the centerpiece of every table at any Passover celebration. Whether it’s your first Passover or you already forgot everything you learned in Hebrew school, you might be wondering: What goes on a Seder plate? What does the food on the Seder plate symbolize? Why is the Seder plate important? How do I choose a Seder plate?

Don’t worry — there is still time to learn the answers to all of these great questions before Passover 2021 begins on the evening of March 27. If you don’t want to be the Simple Son at Seder this year, keep reading to find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Seder plates!

What goes on the Seder plate?

There are five types of foods that go on the Seder plate:

  • Zeroa (Shankbone):
  • Beitza (Egg):
  • Maror (Bitter Herbs):
  • Chazeret (Second type of Bitter Herbs):
  • Charoset (Fruit and Nut Paste)
  • Karpas (Parsley)

What does each item symbolize?

The Shankbone symbolizes the sacrifice (also known as the Paschal Lamb) that Jews previously brought to the Temple on the first night of Passover. Since the Temple was destructed and Jews can no longer bring sacrifices and fulfill that commandment, the shankbone on the plate serves as a visual reminder of the sacrifice, while the Egg symbolizes our deep sadness that the Temple no longer stands. Eggs are used because they were traditionally the first food served to mourners after a funeral.

The Bitter Herbs represent the bitterness of slavery endured by the Israelites in Egypt. Horseradish and lettuce are most frequently used by Jews who follow Ashkenazi customs. Jews around the world can use any bitter herb that is available to them.

Charoset also widely varies depending on your family’s custom and heritage. The most common charoset recipe includes red wine, chopped nuts, diced apples and cinnamon. The charoset represents the mortar and brick that the Israelites labored with while they were enslaved.

Karpas is the vegetable we use to dip into saltwater (or vinegar, in some customs). Parsley is most often used for karpas, although potatoes, celery or other fresh vegetables can be used. The fresh vegetable symbolizes the coming spring season, while the saltwater reminds us of the tears and pain of our enslaved ancestors.

Where do Seder plates originate from?

Some aspects of Passover come from the Torah, like eating matzah and retelling the story, while other customs can be traced back to the Mishnah. However, it is unclear exactly when Jews started using Seder plates. The only hint we have is a Seder plate from 1480, which is currently part of the Israel Museum’s collection. The plate, considered to be the oldest one found by historians, belonged to a Jewish community in Spain circa 1480, just before their expulsion in 1492.

Does it matter how I arrange the food on my Seder plate?

The order and arrangement of the six traditional foods on the Seder plate varies. Most plates feature the name of each item, in Hebrew and/or English, so you know exactly where to put what.

Do we eat off the Seder plate?

Traditionally, no. While we do eat karpas, charoset and maror throughout the Seder, hosts often prepare a separate bowl of each for participants to take from. The Seder plate is meant to stay intact throughout the night.

Can I substitute or include additions on my Seder plate?

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, the idea of putting a shankbone or egg on your dinner table might be less than ideal. Maybe you have friends who put fair-trade chocolate on the Seder plate to symbolize modern day slavery, an olive for Middle East peace, or an orange for feminism. Regardless of how you seek to customize your Seder plate, considering that each Jewish movement has its own traditions and guidelines for Passover, this question is best reserved for a rabbi you trust.

What do I do with a Seder plate the rest of the year?

Even though Seder plates aren’t associated with any other Jewish holidays, that doesn’t mean you have to keep it stashed away in your attic until spring rolls around. Like Kiddush cups and menorahs, Seder plates can be displayed year-round in your home like a piece of décor to remind you and your family of our people’s incredible and meaningful traditions.

Where can I buy a Seder plate?

There are plenty of places to buy a Seder plate, including Judaica Webstore! All of our Seder plates are created by top Israeli designers and artists and sent to your doorstep straight from the Land of Israel. With more than 70 Seder plates to choose from, we offer something for every aesthetic and budget. Be sure to check out our guide to buying a Seder plate for ideas and inspiration.

Thanks for reading and Chag Sameach to you and your loved ones, from the Judaica Webstore team!