Where should the seder plate symbols go? Every year I have to look it up, and every year I can’t seem to find a handy-dandy reference. I make seder plates with students—real plates and “enrichment” types with funky materials like LEGO or candy—so proper placement matters. I want to be consistent, and I like to know what tradition says and why. Store-bought seder plates and the pictures in my haggadah collection vary so wildly it seems as if placement doesn’t matter. Who cares where the shankbone sits, as long it’s there, right?
Wrong. There truly is an order to the order.
Why all the variations, then? Well, some are kosher. For example, we can use 5 or 6 symbols (the 6th is Chazeret, discussed below) and still be correct. And with the addition of any decoration on the plate—say, an emblem or the word Pesach in Hebrew—the symbols shift to accommodate.
Some variations are not traditional. Google image “seder plate” and you’ll get a bewildering variety, whether in bone china or sterling silver or printable coloring page. Anything goes. I see plates with labelled places for salt water, matzah, an orange. Whom to trust?
Trust Blu Greenberg and trust Rabbi Isaac Klein. I’ve got her How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household (p.428) and his Guide to Jewish Religious Practice (p.121) right here on the table. Both books agree:
Top right, Zeroa / Shankbone
Top left, Beitzah / Egg
Center, Maror / Bitter Herbs
Lower right, Charoset
Lower left, Karpas / Spring Vegetable
(as viewed by the leader of the seder)
Neither book mentions Chazeret*, but traditional placement for this second bitter herb (used in the Korech step of the seder) is at the bottom of the plate—6 o’clock—between Karpas on the left and Charoset on the right.
The placement isn’t random, it is practical: designed for the seder leader to reach for the closest things first at the appointed moment in the Haggadah. The leader holds up several things in turn, and in the case of the Zeroa, just points.
Here’s Blu Greenberg:
“This arrangement is of both practical and theological significance. They are arranged in order of use. The vegetable is used first, maror and charoset next; the roasted egg and zeroah are not eaten at all at the seder. The religious principle is that one does not bypass (reach over) one mitzvah in order to perform another.”
The plates below can serve as visual references:
Okay, but what about when a design hogs the center of the plate—like the letters pey-samech-chet—exactly where Maror is supposed to hang out? Maror then gets bumped to top center.
And, if a design hogs the top center of the plate:
All the plates above are considered correct.
Keep these guidelines in mind when making real plates with kids, but also when re-creating seder plates in other materials, like LEGO (here and here), polymer clay miniatures (here), and when upcycling (here).
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*Chazeret is usually grated horseradish or romaine lettuce, which are both convenient forms for slipping into the Hillel sandwich during Korech.
MyJewishLearning “Seder Plate” article by Rabbi Jill Jacobs is a good guide. “Placement” is about halfway down. MyJewishLearning is an excellent trans-denominational site for info.
Missionaries for whom the world-to-come is at stake tend to be very serious about details—including seder plate symbols—so here is a clear, visual guide to the placement for kids. You can slide the image and print as a classroom reference. (Note the pic uses an onion as Karpas /Spring Veg instead of parsley.)
Don’t go to “Symbolic Foods for a Passover Seder for Dummies” because they’ve labelled the diagram incorrectly. (The book is correct, but the online version isn’t. I left a comment.)
Many thanks for this traditional commentary and a set of directions for proper placement and various content options. As you know I recently made a ceramic set of seder plate inclusions. Shall make you and family another plate for future times.
Thank you, Ryda. Your questions about your lovely clay project helped prompt this post.