פסח Pesach (Passover)

By Levi Clancy for לוי on

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This holiday has three names: פסח pesach; Passover; and feast of matzo.

The customary greeting is (חנ שמח?) Chag Sameach -- Good Yom Tov!

Passover may have had roots with harvest festivals, perhaps even before the Exodus.

The original, mysterious word for Passover, pesach, also refers to the sacrificial lamb, in some archaic rite of spring that preceded the Exodus, the bondage in Egypt, perhaps even preceded the time of Abraham, in the cultish spring festivals of primitive man. Early Zionist settlers, in their determined effort to create a new Jewish return to the soil, harked back to the agricultural nature of the feast, introducing sheep-shearing festivals, and reviving the ceremony of the cutting of the first grain, the omer, accompanied by dancing in the fields. Levin 1969, p 14

Passover is one of three pilgrimage festivals: during the Temple eras, the holiday centered around the pilgrimage to the Temple.

The Temple was the beating heart of Judaism. It was where sacrifice were offered, which were integral to Judaism.

In the time of the Temples, this rite of spring was combined with the Passover celebration of the Exodus from Egypt. Devout Jews from all over the country made the pilgrimage to the Holy Place in Jerusalem for the freedom festival, each bringing his sheep into the Temple courtyard and awaiting his turn in the throng, as the priests, intoning psalms in praise of the Lord, performed the sacrifice. The sanctified meat was roasted that night for the family Seder, when the freedom tale was retold. Levin 1969, p 15

Pilgrims to Jerusalem spent Passover eve consuming the paschal lamb which they had sacrificed in the Temple that afternoon and recounting the tale of the Exodus in what must have been a night of celebration unstructured by any elaborate order of prayer. New Union Haggadah, p 9

Probably the closest approximation of a Temple-era סדר seder is the ceremony held by Samaritans on Mount Gerizim, which the Samaritans consider to be the Holy Place (not Jerusalem). Samaritans are a group that broke from Judaism in ancient times, but which is often considered part of the Jewish family.

For their Seder, the Samaritan families assemble on their mountaintop. Selected sheep are sacrificed by the sacerdotal leaders, and then baked in a covered pit. The pit is opened to the chanting of psalms, and each family then holds its feast, eating the offering on pieces of matzah while standing, in literal re-enactment of the hasty departure and flight from Egypt. Levin 1969, p 18

maggidChildren were encouraged to ask questions (the origin of the mah nishtanah, four questions) and the history was discussed.
The Temple was destroyed in 70 CE and could not longer be the center for Passover festivities.
Thus emerged the first non-sacrificial home-based סדר seder.

Ancient Judaism was focused on the Temple in Jerusalem, but the temple was destroyed by Romans in 70 CE. The Roman emperor commemorated this with the Triumphal Arch of Titus. Today you see Jewish synagogues that are called temples, but they are not actually temples. They are assemblies (after the Greek word synagoge) for worship, study and preservation; they are not at all like the historical temple, which was a hierarchical sacrifice institution. In fact, synagogues are clearly distinguished from the temple. They are forbidden from even resembling the temple in form or contents. For example, notice that the temple menorah depicted in the Arch holds seven candles. The chanukah menorah holds eight candles so as to not imitate the true menorah, the temple menorah.

In the absence of the temple, Judaism metamorphosed into a religion principally centered around the home. Indeed, all Jewish practices as we know them today developed in the post-temple era. Temple practices were translated into family home practices. However, there are reminders. Notice the lamb bone.

A format for the annual event was adapted from the surrounding culture. There existed a Hellenistic custom of holding sumptuous banquets accompanied by a philosophic conversation. Such feasts were familiar features of Greco-Roman society, and were easily adaptable for the Seder. The usual food and practice -- such as reclining at the table -- were imbued with Jewish symbolic value, and the philosophical discourse was transformed into the Haggadah. New Union Haggadah, p 9

Composed at the turn of the 3rd century CE, the mishnah describes the traditional סדר seder of that time.

Suggestions for the ceremony, including questions such as are asked by the youngest child at each Seder today, were already included in the Mishnah, the part of the Talmud compiled in the second century. The awesome Psalm CXIII, and the wildly jubilant Psalm CXIV, sung by the Temple priests, were now chanted at the meal. Gradually, over the centuries, in Jewish communities dispersed in many lands, various sayings and songs and commentaries on commentaries were added. Levin 1969, p 18

The Kiddush (announcing the sanctity of the day) inaugurated the festivity. Children were urged to ask questions about the uniqueness of the meal. Their queries were answered with a description of the Exodus and a commentary relating that description to the present. The symbolism of the Seder was explained; Hallel psalms (Psalms 113-118), sung originally by the p 9 → p 10 Levites at the Temple, were chanted; and a few final prayers brought the Seder to a close. ... Opening with the Kiddush and questions, then, and moving through the narrative from degradation to glory, the Seder service continued with the interpretation of the symbols and the Hallel. Midway in the Hallel the meal was served, and the Haggadah was completed thereafter. New Union Haggadah, p 9 - 10

MidrashChildren were encouraged to ask questions (the origin of the mah nishtanah, four questions) and the history was discussed. Narrative from degradation to glory.
Passover symbolsPerhaps the tremendous importance of recounting these (especially before the meal) was that Christians holidng Sedeers would have re-interpreted the symbols; this was a way of ensuring the proper understanding of the meal, in advance.
Hallel pt I
MealMidway in the Hallel the meal was served. It is believed that the meal may have been moved toward the end of the evening to that the meal followed the explanation of the symbols. No one was to eat the ritually significant food without first attesting to the proper interpreation of its symbolism, especially in light of the various sects Of Judaism including Christians.
Hallel pt II

Explanation was in the form of a midrash, that is, a running interpretation of the pertinent Biblical narrative, as understood by rabbinic oral tradition. It was constructed to satisfy a basic principle: the Haggadah was to begin with a picture of degradation and to conclude with a portrayal of glory. The Jew at the Seder was to experience the depths of depression in which his ancestors had agonized, and to travel vicariously with them along the historical road leading to the heights of dignity. So the midrash began with Jacob's descent into Egypt and the enslavement of his descendants, and concluded with God's entry into history to save his people. New Union Haggadah, p 9

The next big shift in the סדר seder was the emergence of written הגדה haggadah.

Haggadah means "what is said." Seder means the order of events, or, if one wishes, the program. The Passover Haggadah is what is said, sung, recited, and enacted each year at the family feast called the Seder, a joyous celebration and something of a rite, but not a sacerdotal ritual, held in remembrance of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. Levin 1969, p 13

The original prototype הגדה haggadah was likely conceived during the tumultuous events of the first century of the common era. There is no official הגדה haggadah. There are several traditional ones that are acceptable to Orthodox sensibilities. What he consider Orthodox is actually euro-orthodox. An orthodox family from, for example, Iran, Yemen, Ethiopia or other parts of the world would have a different הגדה haggadah.

Since not every family head thought himself capable of remembering "what is said," the Seder began to be written out. The oldest Haggadah as yet discovered is a parchment from before the eighth century C.E., found in an ancient Cairo synagogue, in the genizah, or repository for worn-out scriptures. In basic form, including the drinking of the four cups of wine, the observance is like today's. But the opening of the door for Elijah, and some of the involved commentaries, were interjected later. By the Middle Ages the Haggadah was what it is now, with variations in different lands. Levin 1969, p 18

Famous old הגדות haggadot include the 10th/11th century Cairo Geniza (in which the four questions are only two) and the 14th century Sarajevo Haggadah.

The סדר seder familiar to modern Jews first emerged in medieval Europe.

The traditional Haggadah today is the legacy of our Ashkenazic forebears. Like Israelites in Egypt and Jews in first-century Palestine, Rhineland Jewry, too, suffered: in their case, from marauding bands of Crusaders. These same generations that were moved to remember their dead through the innovations of yizkor and yahrzeit must have met on Passover eve dreaming of deliverance and even revenge. They expressed these emotions by imploring God to pour out p 11 → p 12 vengeance on their persecutors. It was Ashkenazic Jewry, also, that adopted the many songs that we sing at our Seder. Some songs, like "Dayenu," had been optional elements in previous Haggadahs, but were now incorporated as integral parts of the service. Other songs were newly apprehended to the service and remain with us today. The familiar "Had Gadya," for example, based on a secular folk song, was introduced as a parable of Israel's history. "Adir Hu" also was a popular song at first. In fact, it was probably composed in the vernacular and sung on all holidays before it was translated into Hebrew and reserved for the Haggadah. And even after newly written prayers ceased being introduced into the Haggadah text, Jews everywhere saw themselves as if they personally had been delivered from Egypt. Conversely, as if impervious to the artificial limitations imposed by the logic of the time, they brought the Exodus of history up to date by writing marginal commentaries which extracted veiled allusions to the present from the Haggadah's description of the past. New Union Haggadah, p 11 - 12

Many different הגדות haggadot have emerged.

According to the historian Cecil Roth, there are thousands of הגדות haggadot in various languages; in general, these follow the contours of the midieval editions Levin 1969, p 20. Beautifully illustrated editions from modern-times include those by Arthur Szyk and Ben Shahn.

The Enlightenment sparked the Reform movement, which caused the spread of new forms.

A Reform version was offered in Germany by Leopold Stein in 1841, and this was adapted in America, in the Union Prayer Book of 1892. The current revision, published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, is dated 1923. It is brief and more readily followed than the Orthodox version. The Reconstructionist New Haggadah, first issued in 1941, stresses the social relevance and universality of Passover. Maurice Samuel has published his version of the Haggadah, and revisions by individual rabbis are numerous. There is even a "radical" Seder offered by the New Left, with special pleadings on current political issues. Levin 1969, p 20

In the diaspore, mass marketing in the 20th century gave rise to the world's most widespread haggadah, the Maxwell House Haggadah. This coincided simultaneously with a decline in religious Judaism in the diaspora.

Excellent chronology: link Maxwell House הגדה haggadah (interesting tumblr site) percolated into many Jewish homes. There are entertaining editions like the Facebook הגדה haggadah.

Our most commonly available Haggadah, often handed out with packaged Passover products, contains a text with so many accretions, such clumsy English locutions, and such complex directions, as to discourage many from holding the Passover. Children, for whom the occasion is intended, become bored. If there is an elder present who "knows how" to conduct the Seder in "the old way," he often drones out the words in Hebrew, unfortunately understood by few. (He himself may know only how to read the sounds by alphabet, without understanding the words.) He skips, and jumps back and forth to different pages. People give up trying to follow, they are getting hungry, the recital turns into a rapid gibberish, bringing a general sigh of relief when it is finally announced that eating can begin. The freedom festival itself has become slavishly imprisoned in rigid form. Levin 1969, p 20

I took a fresh look at the Haggadah. A child asks the Four Questions. Is he answered? All sorts of dissertations intervene, so that when the answers do come, they can scarcely be connected with the questions. And by then the child is probably half-asleep. A Biblical narration begins, with the story of Abraham, but becomes entangled in rabbinical word-play. And the English! While the archaic locutions offered for the American generation have a certain charm, the effect is of ritualistic incantation rather than of clear meaning. No wonder observance declined. Levin 1969, p 21

Many use King James translations of the biblical verses.

In many non-religious households, the seder has become rigid corpse, before disintegrating altogether.

Judaism is so distant in most Jews' lives, that performing the seder is something done only with a very detailed guidebook elaborating each and every step. To abide by a guidebook becomes a sign of virtue: the task was accomplished, and the guidebook is tucked away for another one or many years. Rather than undertake the intellectually challenging task of developing one's own knowledge and perspective on Jewish identity, the participants depend entirely on the guidebook and it becomes a gold standard. In this manner, to deviate from the guidebook is a mistake. Why would you know enough to make up your own? Let's just use what's tried and true. But this is to forget that it would be altogether better to dispense with the haggadah entirely and strip it to the bare essentals than to transform it into a rigid service. Genuinely well-intentioned devotion to getting it right has backfired.

This view of the Seder as an untouchable ritual may be seen, psychologically, as perhaps a result of the link between the Passover Seder and a Christian rite. Almost everyone knows that the Last Supper was a Seder, and most Jews vaguely understand that the Catholic communion, using the wafer and the wine, transforms elements of the Passover -- the matzah and the wine. By reversal, this gives Jews the impression that just as a Catholic communion is a fixed ritual, so too must be the Seder! Levin 1969, p 20

In America, the sense of rigidity in the service, and of strictly orthodox observances that were increasingly distant from the ways of many modern, less attached Jews, led to widespread abandonment of the Seder. ... Some years ago I asked a good friend of mine, a liberal, intelligent young family man, what he was doing for Passover. "We used to have a big family Seder with my parents," he said, "but since my father died, and I really can't follow those complicated instructions in the Haggadah, we just have a big meal." Levin 1969, p 21

While diaspora Jewry faced these challenges, the seder was revitalized by Israel's Jewish settlers.

While many of the early settlers were rather hostile to formal religious worship, an urge to celebrate the Passover with something more than a p 21 → p 22 field ceremony remained. The Counting of the Omer would be followed by a group Seder, using a new Haggadah with avowals expressing the ideals of the kibbutz, and with modern variations of the Four Questions, on social issues, recited by the children in chorus. The kibbutz Seder became a favorite with visitors, who might find themselves at the same table with a cabinet member or a premier, for many members of the government, when israel attained nationhood, were old-time kibbutzniks who always went back home for Passover, and others -- like Golda Meir -- had grown children in the kibbutzim. Levin 1969, p 21 - 22

Over the years, I saw the kibbutz Seder returning somewhat toward the traditional. In Meshek Yagur, where I repeatedly visited, the composer Yehuda Sharett -- my roommate in 1929 -- eventually created a complete Seder setting, with choral music, orchestra, and recitations from amongst the members. Yagur is now one of the largest kibbutzim, and in its vast hall over fifteen hundred people partake each year in this inspired ceremony. Levin 1969, p 23

פסח Pesach calendar

Passover spans the third week of the month נִיסָן‎ nisan; it begins on the fourteenth day of the month.

נִיסָן nisan, 30 days
אייר iyyar, 29 days
סיוון sivan, 30 days
תמוז tammuz, 29 days
אָב av, 30 days
אֱלוּל elul, 29 days

תִּשְׁרִי tishri, 30 days
מרחשוון marcheshvan, 29 days
כסליו kislev, 30 days
טֵבֵת tevet, 29 days
שְׁבָט shvat, 30 days
אֲדָר adar, 29 days

The Hebrew calendar contains twelve months (thirteen months in leap years). There are four annual cycles: the first of תִּשְׁרִי tishri marks year numbers and kings' reigns, and is celebrated with ראש השנה‎ rosh hashanah (forefront of the year); the first of אֱלוּל elul for cycles in animal husbandry and the fifteenth of שְׁבָט shvat for cycles in agriculture; and the first of נִיסָן nisan, which marks some very important annual religious cycles (sabbatical and jubilee years) and also is used to calculate leap years. Passover spans the entire third week of נִיסָן nisan, thus beginning on a full moon in spring. This time of abundance is perfect to commemorate the principles embodied in Passover. (The Gregorian date varies for Passover, usually falling in March or April).

סדר seder

The principal imperative of the סדר seder is the telling of the Jewish foundational story to one’s children.

Around the structure of the סדר seder is lots of room for question and discussion, depending upon the interests, knowledge (and hunger) of the individuals around the table. A typical Jewish dinner has a blessing then eating. Central themes are liberation, and the movement from degradation to glory. An authentic סדר seder will regenerate values and provide the experience of redemption. The ceremony is child-oritened, per instructions in Exodus: Exodus 13:8 and Exodus 12:26, 27. There are certain hallowed texts, but much of the explanation is a personal enactment.

It is at one and the same time a play for young children, with songs and games to keep them awake, a teach-in, a solemn religious occasion, an archaic rite of spring, a wine-bibbing, a dedication. The Seder harmoniously puts together such wondrously diverse elements as exalted hymns, nursery rhymes, historical recitations, a treasure hunt (for the hidden half of the ritual matzah), an apparition (Elijah's visit), a feat of magic (the emptying of Elijah's wine cup), and a philosophical ditty, Chad Gadya. Levin 1969, p 14

The סדר seder has a general outline in present day.

The Seder begins with an open call of the most resounding universality, "Let all who are hungered, come and eat!" A child asks Four Questions, about just those things a child would notice -- a different way of sitting, and an odd assortment of foods. The answers tell him the meaning of slavery and freedom. Then everyone at the table makes an astounding avowal -- each person present must regard himself as though he, personally, was brought forth from slavery!

After this come various psalms, wisdom-sayings, symbolic displays, tastings of symbolic foods, then songs, riddles, pledges. ... [The הגדה haggadah] quotes an early sage, Rabbi Gamaliel, who cautioned that whoever does not deal with the meaning of these three things, pesach (the Passover lamb), matzah, and maror (the bitter herb), has not truly celebrated this festival. Levin 1969, p 14


Memorial prayers are recited in the synagogue on the last morning of Passover. An affirmation of the triumph of the spirit over death is a hallmark of our major holidays. By all means, take your children to the Yizkor service, which enlarges our love as well as our vision. New Union Haggadah, p 16

Preparing for פסח pesach

The Seder is our festive introduction to a full week of sacred observance celebrating a number of events and ideas: the birth of the Jewish people, its struggle for freedom, God's role in the history of the people of Israel, and its role in God's purposes. ... The home is the center of the Jewish way of life. The household must be prepared for this week of fuller Jewish observance. Whether or not the Seder itself takes places in your home, the household should reflect the special nature of the Passover week. New Union Haggadah, p 13

In a household where Orthodox rules are followed, the separation of Passover from the rest of the year is even more notable than the separation of Sabbath from the rest of the week. For Passover, the entire household is purified. The dwelling is truly made "kosher for Pesach." Levin 1969, p 26

Minimal observance would consist of not eating bread either at home or elsewhere. More religious observance would consist of not eating any hametz. For lunch, it may be convenient to bring fod to work or school. ... The Bible prescribes that no work is done on the first and seventh days of Passover. A lovely Seder, family worship the following morning, and a festival day together add immeasurably to Passover obserance. New Union Haggadah, p 16

Separate dishware

Get the necessary tools ready in advance. Get the children excited, and aware that this is a special time.

The different foods, dishes, and utensils that should be set aside and used only during Passover, will recall the special sanctity of the time, and impress themselves especially upon the imagination of our children, heightening the fascination of the festival. New Union Haggadah, p 13

A household will usually possess a totally separate supply of Passover dishware and utensils, and not one of these articles may come into contact with anything used during the rest of the year. THe Passover dishes will be brought out after the non-Passover plates are stored away for the duration of the holiday. If the family does not possess separate dishware, pots, and utensils for Passover, an established ritual of purification involving boiling water, and burial in the ground, must be followed. Levin 1969, p 26

Perform ביעור חםצ b'dikat chametz even if you are not hosting the סדר seder.
Leave work early before the סדר seder.

Arrange to leave your place of work a little earlier than usual, so that you may properly prepare yourself for the arrival of the holy day. New Union Haggadah, p 14

חמץ Chametz

חמץ Chametz is any food that has leavened, or contacted food that has leavened.

Hametz is that food which has been or could become subject to a leavening process, or food that has come in contact with leavened foods. Matzah is a bread baked without leavening. Prime examples of hametz are ordinary bread and crackers and cakes; breakfast cereals and pies made from leavened flour; and whisky. The common means of Passover baking are matzah meal (made from ground matzah) and potato flour. It is suggested that the family make a common decision as to what practice they will adhere to in their home. The hametz can be stored in an out-of-the-way place during the week. New Union Haggadah, p 13

מצה Matzah

מצה Matzah is the unleavened bread.

If the hametz has been removed, then one cannot eat bread the day before the Seder meal. The natural temptation is to replace the bread with matzah. However, to heighten the anticipation and the meaning of eating matzah at the Seder itself, no matzah is eaten at least a full day before the Seder (some say two weeks prior). Breakfast and lunch on the day of the Seder then would include neither bread nor breadstuffs nor matzah, but Passover foods other than matzah can be eaten. New Union Haggadah, p 13

ביעור חםצ b'dikat chametz

ביעור חםצ B'dikat chametz is the removal of all חמץ chametz.

The ceremony of B'dikat Hametz, the searching for leaven, signifies that the home has been made into a Passover sanctuary. By the morning of the Seder, the house must be ready for the Passover week and hametz removed from use. Thus, for the rite of "searching for the hametz" (a dramatic and even compelling experience, particularly for children) takes place on the night before the first Seder night. At various places in the home, a parent hides pieces of bread wrapped in paper. In the dark, the children, with flashlights or other illumination, search them out. They are gathered in a bag or paper container and are disposed of. Some follow the literal practice of burning hametz in the fireplace or outside. New Union Haggadah, p 13

A final ceremony is the search for leftover chametz, or leavened bread, that takes place in each Orthodox home on the night before the Seder. This is done in a family procession, led by the father holding a candle. A few crumbs, purposely left by the wife after an intensive Passover housecleaning, are carefully swept up with a feather into a wooden scoop, and taken out to be burned, feather, scoop, and all. Levin 1969, p 28

The disposal of the חםצ chametz is accompanied with the ביעור חםצ b'dikat chametz prayer.


עִבְרִית ha'ivriTransliterationenglish
ברוך אתה ה' א‑לוהינו מלך העולםbarukh attah adonai eloheinu melekh ha'olamnow bless our blessed lord, our god, majesty of the universe
אשר קדשנו במצותיוasher qiddeshanu b'mitzvotavwho has sanctified us with His commandments
וציוונו על ביעור חמץv'tzivanu al b'dikat chametzand commanded us on burning chametz

The סדר seder table

To set the table for this most meaningful of holiday feasts, the best that the household has to offer is put to use. ... The polished candlesticks are centered, with the candles ready for the blessing and lighting. Flowers and blossoms provide a springtime air. Plates piled with matzoh, wine-filled decanters, bowls of fruit, dishes of confections, nuts, and raisins give the table an additional festive allure. Beside each setting is a Haggadah. Levin 1969, p 21


And get candles, too.

Covered matzah (מצה matzah tosh?)

Three separate pieces of matzah.

Symbolizing or replacing the lamb, some say, is the ceremonial matzah, the middle one of the three that are placed at the head of the table. This matzah is broken in half, with one part hidden, to be found and brought back by the children at the end of the meal, when it is shared and eaten -- some say as dessert, some say in place of the lamb. Others say the hiding is a device to keep the children awake and alert throughout the Seder. This custom, incidentally, is not found in early Haggadoth of the Middle East Jewish communities. Levin 1969, p 17

Use three whole (unbroken) pieces of מצה matzah. Place them either in a special cloth matzoh holder, which will have three sections; or place them in a napkin folder over twice. These three matzoh represent the two loaves set out in the ancient Temple during the festival day, plus the extra matzah symbolic of Passover. Not on the seder plate, but next to it at the head of the table. This is the bread of affliction, which reminds us that the Hebrews left Egypt in such haste that they didn't even have time to allow their bread to rise, and so it was flat and crispy.

קערה ke'ara (סדר seder plate)

The קערה ke'ara goes on the table, in front of the leader.

It is a lovely tradition for family members to prepare the various items for the קערה ke'ara prior to the סדר seder.

זרוע zeroa

With the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E., there was no Holy Place, and the offerings could no longer be sanctified. And so the Jews from then on, wherever they found themselves, conducted their Pesach without the central object, the sanctified lamb. Only a symbol of the sacrifice was displayed at the feast: the shank bone. Levin 1969, p 17

זרוע Zeroa means arm in Hebrew. For the סדר seder, the זרוע zeroa is a meatless, burned or scorched shank bone. of poultry. The זרוע zeroa represents God's mighty arm when he freed the jews from slavery in Egypt. The זרוע zeroa is also symbolic of the Paschal lamb offered as the Passover sacrifice in the Jerusalem Temple. Roast the shankbone in the oven for about 30 minutes. It is normally of poultry or lamb. The lamb in particular represents the lamb's blood used to mark the doors so the angel of death would Pass Over the houses of the Hebrews.

כרפס karpas

כרפס Karpas is the green herb. It can be any leafy green vegetable, but usually celery (sephardim) or parsley (less often lettuce) (ashkenazim). It represents renewal and freedom and all that. The כרפס karpas reminds the participants that Passover corresponds with Spring and the harvest, which, in ancient times was a cause for celebration by itself. כרפס Karpas is dipped in salt water to represent tears; there should be enough for each participant to have a sprig.

מרור maror

מרור Maror is the bitter herb. It represent the bitterness of our ancestor's time in Egypt; it has come to represent the lot of all who are enslaved. The word מרור maror comes from the Hebrew word מר mar, which means bitter. Only certain specific herbs are acceptable for maror. The most commonly used are romaine lettuce (so long as it is not also being used for כרפס karpas) or the top part of the horseradish root; however, the mishna also explicitly mentions endive or dandelion. Radish is also common. When using horseradish, one may only use freshly grated raw horseradish. No flavorings of any kind may be added. The ordinary jarred horseradish, whether red or white, is not acceptable (though many people do use those). Generally, this horseradish is for display; there is horseradish to eat, provided at each place setting or in dispersed serving dishes.

(חזרת?) chazeret

The קערה ke'ara usually has two places for מרור maror, called מרור maror and chazeret. Thus, chazeret is a second מרור maror in addition to the first. The authorities are divided on the requirement of chazeret, so not all communities use it. Since the commandment (in Numbers 9:11) to eat the paschal lamb "with unleavened bread and bitter herbs" uses the plural ("bitter herbs") most סדר seder plates have a place for chazeret. The Chazeret is eaten between two Matzot to follow the practice of Hillel, from the time when the Temple stood. He combined the Matzah and the horseradish and ate them together. If you use horseradish and romaine lettuce as your two מרור maror, then the horserashish should be placed in the chazeret position.

חֲרֽוֹסֶת charoset

The apple mixture, represents the mortar used by the Jews when bonding bricks while enslaved in Egypt. The חֲרֽוֹסֶת charoset is a sweet, dark-colored, lumpy paste served during the סדר seder. The Charoset is made of chopped apples, nuts, wine and spices. The word חֲרֽוֹסֶת charoset comes from the Hebrew word cheres which means clay. To make חֲרֽוֹסֶת charoset, use at least half an apple per person, peeled and chopped fine or grated. Add chopped walnuts or pecans, then chopped or mashed raisins, dates, prunes or apricots. Add cinnamon and wine until the desired moisture and taste has been reached. The texture of the charoset should remind us of mortar. Usually there is some on display on the קערה ke'ara and some provided for guests, as with the מרור maror,

ביצה baytzah

The hard-boiled egg represents the chagigah -- the second offering, the festival offering -- given at the temple in Jerusalem on Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. It is also a symbol of life itself, representing rebirth and springtime and all that. It is not consumed as part of the סדר seder; it is just for display.

Cup for Elijah

A special and fine cup filled with wine is placed prominently on the table. In parable, the Prophet Elijah (heralf of redemption) at some time during the Seder visits every Jewish home and tastes the cup set aside for him. It is a dramatic moment when a child, or children, open the door for Elijah, and a sense of mystery is always associated with this moment of the Seder. New Union Haggadah, p 15

Place settings

Each person needs their own wine glass.
In individual dishes, or serving plates around the table, there must also be charoset, horseradish, salt water and matzah.


The chair at the head of the table is usually an armchair, provided with pillows, to demonstrate the custom of reclining at ease, like a Roman freeman, during the meal. All who take part in the Seder may use pillows as well. Levin 1969, p 31

Empty chair

It is customary to leave an extra chair at the table denoting those of our people who live in lands where they cannot celebrate the Passover as free men. THey are remembered in the Jewish household on this night. New Union Haggadah, p 15

Hosting a סדר seder

Get the הגדה haggadah ready in advance.

Whoever conducts the Seder sees to it that those who attend are provided with Haggadahs. It is not intended that this Haggadah be used in its entirety at any one Seder. Choose from the Haggadah ahead of time interpretive passages (not part of the basic text) which are suitable for the group and decide which passages to omit. One intepreation may be used one year and another the next. Go over the prayers and readings that you expect to read or sing yourself, and mark those parts that you will assign to others. If possible, let others know of their parts in advance. The children too are given parts in advance, so that they may have ample time to prepare. [Consider using recordings to facilitate the singing.] ... Encourage informal participation, questioning, and spirited discussion. New Union Haggadah, p 14

Choose an ideal location. Consider the outdoors.

A seder on the beach recalls the passage through the Red Sea. Consider roasting the zeroa on a barbeque, and roasting some lamb or sheep.

Plan the timing of the סדר seder.

Plan the overall context and timing of the Seder. It consists of three parts: the service before dinner, dinner, readings and songs afterward. To achiee the fullest religious context, as well as pure enjoyment, scale the duration to the makeup of the group. Each family is different; each leader of a Seder lends his own personality to the observance. The aim is a celebration, serious yet relaxed, and filled with gaiety and drama. By the manner in which you conduct the Seder, invite into your home the presence of the Divine. The joy of a Jew celebrating, in the midst of freedom, the birth of his people, and the greatness of God--what greater ingredients can there be! Make full use of them. New Union Haggadah, p 14

Hors d'oeuvres!

Make sure that hors d'oeuvres are extra plentiful. Do not confuse this with yom kippur. Serve your guests plenty!

פסח pesach recipes

The Seder meal itself, in Biblical times, consisted of roast lamb, but today dishes vary all over the world. In the tradition of East European Jewry, the feast usually begins with gefullte fish, followed by chicken soup with matzah balls. Honey cake, and sponge cake with tea, are customary at Passover. After the meal one should linger, cracking walnuts, eating fruit and macaroons, candies, and Passover honey dips called teiglach. Levin 1969, p 30


  • Levin, Meyer. 1969. An Israel Haggadah for Passover.

  • New Union Haggadah