Sunday, April 13, 2014

Passover Seder

Passover Seder is a Jewish ritual feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover, which lasts for 7 days.  It is conducted on the evening of the 15th day of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar1

The Passover Seder is performed with partaking of symbolic foods and drinks, and telling2 and discussing the story of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery.


Matzot is an unleavened bread traditionally eaten by Jews during the Passover festival3,4.  The matzah for Passover seder is made with only flour and water.  Eggs, oil, milk, wine or fruit
juice are not allowed to be added during the making of matzot.  The flour can be of wheat, barley, spelt, rye or oats.  The matzah dough is quickly mixed and rolled, usually within minutes, as dough is considered to begin the leavening process 18 minutes from the time it gets wet, sooner if any other ingredients are added.  As the matzot is being heated, they are pricked with a fork to prevent them from puffing up.  The finished matzah are thus flat, thin with dark spots, hard and crisp when cooled.

There are 2 major forms of matza.  The Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews use harden matzot, while the Yemenites and Iraqi Jews use soft matzot similar of a pita bread. 

Three matzot are place on top of each other.  3 matzot symbolize the 3 castes of Jews : Priest, Levites and Israelites.  They also commemorate the 3 measures of fine flour that Abraham told Sarah to bake when they were visited by the 3 angels. ( Genesis 18 )

The Passover Seder Plate contains 6 symbolic foods, namely maror, chazeret, charoset, karpas, zeroa and beitzah.
Maror and Charezet

Maror and Charezet 3,4 refer to the bitter herbs.  Apparently, in the Jewish Shemot as well as Christian Bible, the ‘bitter herbs3,4 was plural and thus interpreted into two different types of bitter vegetables. 

The Mishnah listed 5 vegetables that are acceptable as bitter herbs6
chazeret - prickly lettuce ( Lactuca serriola ), 
olshin - endive ( Cichorium endivia ), 
tamchah - chervil ( Anthriscus cerefolium), 
charchavinah – snakeroot/sea holly (  ???/Eryngium maritimum ), and 
maror - horseradish ( Armoracia rusticana ).

Due to availability of the vegetables, alternative replacement were used over time : 
curled parsley ( Petroselinum crispum crispum),  
onion ( Allium cepa ),
romaine lettuce ( Lactuca sativa longifolia ), etc

However, not all Jewish have the custom to include a second bitter herbs on the Seder plate.  

Both the maror and charezet symbolize the bitterness of slavery in Egypt.


Charoset is a sweet, brown, pebbly paste of fruits and nuts, representing the mortar used by the Jewish slaves in the construction of buildings in Egypt. 

There are many recipes for charoset.  The Ashkenazi Jews use chopped walnuts, apple, cinnamon, honey and sweet wine.  Sephardi Jews use raisins, figs, and date.  Egyptian Jews use dates, raisins, walnuts, cinnamon and sweet wine. 


Karpas is a vegetable other than bitter herbs, usually : 
parsley ( Petroselinum crispum neopolitanum ), 
celery ( Apium graveolens dulce ) , or 
carrot ( Daucus carota sativus ).   

The vegetable is dipped into salt water ( Askenazi Jews ), vinegar ( Sephardi Jews ) or charoset ( Yemenite Jews ). 

The use of salt water is to symbolize the salty tears that the Hebrews shed in their slavery in Egypt.


Zeroa is a roasted lamb3,4 shank bone symbolize the outstretched arm of God in delivering the Hebrews from Egypt.  It also symbolize the Korban Pesach5  during Passover sacrifice.


Beitzah is a hard-boiled or roasted egg symbolizing the festival sacrifice in the Temple of Jerusalem.  It also to remember the destruction of the Temple by the Romans.

1. Exodus 12:6. “Take care of them (the lamb) until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.”
2. Exodus 13:8.  “On the day tell you son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’”
3. Exodus 12:8 & 18.  [Matzah], [Maror]
4. Deuteronomy 16:3&8.  [Matzah], [Maror]
5. Deuteronomy 16:2. [Passover Sacrifice]
6. Mishnah 6. “And the following are vegetables with which a person can fulfill their duty on Pesach: lettuce, endive, chervil, sea-holly and horseradish. The duty is fulfilled whether they are fresh or dried, but not if they have been pickled, stewed or boiled. They may be combined to reach an olive's bulk. A person fulfills their duty with their stalks. [One can use] Demai, the First Tithe from which Terumah has been taken, and the Second Tithe and Dedications which have been redeemed.”