More Seder Symbolism
regarding Passover and Exodus

The wine that is drunk at the Seder table has different symbolic meanings. At first it represents sanctification (making holy). The second cup represents history. The third cup is about thanksgiving and the fourth is hope. There is an extra cup of wine laid out for Elijah, the great prophet.

An alternative to wine is grape juice.

The wine is about everyone present, being together, belonging together, and the generations, and enjoying freedom. A kiddush goblet may be used.

Three Matzahs are required to be covered by a napkin. Like the wine, Matzahs have an important place in the Seder Meal.

The Matzah is flat and tasteless but represents eating in a hurry. Yet the twist is when the last part becomes an Afikomen, and is traded by the children who find it for their own benefit, knowing the service cannot proceed without it. So this is a statement of freedom now. The Afikomen is greater than the part first eaten, indicating a bigger, better future.

Blessings over the wine and the bread are for produce that have come from God but also have been processed by human hands.

The foods used are:

Bitter herbs, Maror, of about a teaspoonful for everyone. The horseradish is the most common. Bitter herbs are cleansing foods that open the sinuses and tear ducts and so they purify.

Parsley is the most obvious choice for a non-bitter vegetable but others can be used, like lettuce, celery, peppers. Green vegetables represent the newness of spring. The strength of the green colour is also important. In Eastern Europe a boiled potato may be the only vegetable for karpas (non-bitter vegetables). Karpas represent the simplicity of life.

Salt water is needed. This represents tears of slavery and also a purpose to the universe as all things will grow for the best.

Apples, nuts and sweet wine are again used to provide at least a tablespoonful for everyone. This charoset is sweetness emphasised set against the maror. Ashkenazi charoset uses apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine. Sephardi charoset can involve dates, almonds, sesame seeds, raisins and apricots.

Any roasted bone can be found, but it does not contain a lot of meat. It is called Z'roah. It is like an outstretched arm from slavery. It can represent Moses and his judgment. It is also about the Passover celebration in the Temple that is now gone. Ashkenazis do not eat roasted lamb on Passover because of this, but many Sephardim do. Chicken is a post-Temple alternative. There is also a vegetarian alternative of roasted beet (it is in the Talmud!).

A roasted egg baytza is needed too. The baytza can represent Aaron and his kindness. It was the second sacrifice at the Temple. It may represent fate and loss, as it was used in mourning at the Temple, but there is also birth and rebirth.

Some Sephardic Jews do eat the hard boiled then roasted egg. However a firstborn person may at the end of the meal and then behind a door. The inference is gratitude that the first born of the Jews were saved, unlike the Egyptians. Some people nevertheless start a first course Seder Meal by dipping a hard boiled egg into salt water. The roasted egg may be given to an unmarried woman to eat help her get a husband.

Some people may add dag, a fish, to the seder plate to represent Miriam and her modesty.

The first part of the meal is mainly historical, and the second part is about hope for the community as well as individuals.

Vivid symbolic re-enactment is the intention.

Candles are lit, which almost represent the creation, saying "Let there be light", meaning let darkness of ignorance and pain be overcome by compassion and knowledge until the perfect time comes.

Washing that is done first is symbolic of having the time to do it. Washing is also being able to reflect on what is important. This is what free people do rather than those enslaved who have no time.

Being a slave is contrasted with freedom, and that freedom is to be fulfilled in Jerusalem. So much though is about self reliance as a community, and this means assisting the poor to share in the food.

There are new foods added to the sedar plate. One is an orange. It is a feminist act. A man in an audience with theologian Susannah Heschel said that women had as much place on the raised platform in the front of sanctuary in a synagogue as an orange on the seder plate. Thus Heschel's family added an orange to their sedar plate and this caught on. Incidentally women are honoured for creating spaces of holiness in the home through the plagues in Egypt (especially the last) and this is part of Passover. They were also practical in their cooking (matzah) and faithful in adversity (bitter herbs).

What about the Seder plate? They can be elaborate, but they can be simple.


1 What do the words Seder and Haggadah mean, briefly describing what is involved in them, and so what do they mean when used together? Why are these textual meanings needed with the foods? 4 marks
2 Use the Jewish terms for two foods in the Seder meal (excluding bread and wine) and give their meaning. 2 marks
3 Referring to one other Jewish festival, and Passover, discuss which might be the most important and give your reasons why. 6 marks
4 "Symbols are past and present." Discuss this with reference to the Seder meal. You may want to consider how slavery and exodus are realised in the Seder Meal (past), and how it contributes to family life, especially children, identifying the wider community and marking the year (present). 6 marks
5 In Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth is remembered for conducting the Last Supper which it is very likely was a Passover meal. He symbolised the wine to mean his blood, and the bread to be his body and that this would not be celebrated again until the Kingdom of God had come. Christians now directly associate the bread and wine with Christ's body an blood.
a In what ways are wine and unleavened bread understood in the Passover Meal? 2 marks
b Suggest and discuss the nature, strength and weakness of any connections bridging the understanding in this religion (of which Jesus was a part) regarding bread and wine to the understanding in the religion that emerged from it? 8 marks