Passover Foods: Foods That Tell the Seder Story
"Dessert" in Greek, it refers to the matzah that is hidden at the beginning of the Passover seder and which, customarily, children look for and ransom back to the adults before the conclusion.
The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach."
Hebrew for "telling," the text that outlines the order of the Passover seder. There are many, many versions of this book, which dates back almost 2,000 years. Because we are commanded to expand upon the story, the Haggadah contains ancient interpretations, as well as stage directions and explanations, for the Passover meal.
Derived from the Hebrew word "cheres," which means clay, it's a mixture of fruit, nuts, and wine eaten as part of the Passover seder. Symbolizing the mortar that the Hebrew slaves used to build the cities for Pharaoh in Egypt, it's one of the symbolic food items on the seder plate.
Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE.
Hebrew word for an unleavened bread, traditionally eaten during the holiday of Passover.
Hebrew for "bitter," one of the ritual food items on the Passover seder plate. Commonly represented by horseradish or romaine lettuce.
Hebrew for "order," refers to the traditional course of events, or service, surrounding the Passover and Tu Bishvat meals.
The ritual foods of Passover tell the biblical story of the Exodus from Egypt and the story of the rabbis who wrote the haggadah.
- Matzah is the primary story-telling food at Passover. It represents our fleeing Egypt and having to make bread in haste, without time to rise, and it represents affliction and the poverty of slavery in its flat, tasteless, dry form filled with holes. There are three matzot on the seder plate, piled on top of each other. The middle matzah is broken at the beginning of the meal; half is hidden at the beginning of the meal and searched for at the conclusion of the meal. It is called the Afikoman (see below). Matzah is the only bread that is eaten with a Passover seder meal.
- Haroset is a sweet thick or chunky fruit and nut dip that is meant to symbolize the mortar that Jewish slaves built Egyptian buildings with. Jews of European descent usually make it with apples, nuts, honey, sweet wine and cinnamon. Jews from other lands have other ingredients, but it is always ground or chopped to resemble mortar, and is usually brown in overall color.
- Salt water represents the tears of slaves and the water of the sea that parted so the Jews could cross into freedom.
- Parsley represents the rebirth of spring and the hope for the harvest that happens in late spring in the Middle East, at the end of the rainy season.
- A roasted egg represents rebirth, and the roasting reminds us of the Passover sacrifice brought to the Temple in Jerusalem in ancient times.
- A shank bone of a lamb also represents the Pascal offering made at the temple in Jerusalem in the early spring. Sometimes a chicken neck is substituted for the bone, and in vegetarian homes, a beet or a carrot may be substituted.
- Maror is any bitter herb, often horseradish or bitter greens like chicory or endive, and represents the bitterness of slavery.
- Hillel sandwich is a sandwich made of matzah, maror and haroset. Its combination of sweet and bitter tastes reminds us that life is a combination of joy and pain. Hillel is known as one of the greatest rabbis of all time, and he is the leader of the primary school of Jewish thought at the beginning of the first millennium.
- Afikoman, the Greek word for dessert, is a piece of the middle matzah on the seder plate, and is hidden at the beginning of the seder and hunted at the end of the seder to keep the children engaged. In some households, the seder is not finished until the afikoman is ransomed back to the family and a little piece is eaten by everyone.
- An orange is added by some Jews. Today, many believe the orange on a seder plate to represent the inclusion of women, specifically women's leadership roles and full empowerment in Jewish life. However, the tradition was actually started to symbolize the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the Jewish community. The orange represented the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life.
- Olives are sometimes included as a call for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Other symbolic foods have been added to the seder plate over the years--Passover is a very flexible holiday, and different families and communities adapt it to their concerns and passions.
Also see our Passover Recipes index.
The Guide to Passover for Interfaith Families is also available in PDF and Word formats.