Pesach (Passover) Seder

The Traditional Jewish Seder Table and Passover Meal

Frequently Asked Questions (and Answers!)

The Jewish Seder retells the ancient story of Israel’s redemption from bondage in Egypt. This guide answers Frequently Asked Questions about the Passover Seder to help you put together an appropriate table setting and traditional meal for your family’s next Seder ceremony.

1. What is a ‘Seder’?

  • A Jewish Seder is a religious ceremony which celebrates the liberation of the Hebrews from servitude in Egypt. The word “seder” means “order” in Hebrew, referring to the 15 parts of the Seder ritual which are observed in a specific sequence during the ceremony and centers around the Passover Seder meal.

2. What time of day is the Seder observed?

  • Like all Jewish holidays, they start and finish at sunset — nobody had clocks 5000 years ago so they used the sun as the start and end of a holiday.

3. Who prepares the Seder meal?

  • Generally the family who is hosting the Seder prepares the Seder meal. This can be a very intensive process. The most observant use a completely separate set of cookware, utensils and dishes (Kosher for Passover) for preparation and serving the Passover Seder meal.

4. What items are on the Seder table?

  • There are several traditional items on the Jewish Seder table:
    • Three Matzohs

      Seder Plate

      A festive Seder Plate with traditional Passover foods
    • The Seder Plate
    • Roasted Shankbone
    • Roasted Egg
    • Bitter Herbs
    • Charoses
    • Parsley, Lettuce or Watercress
    • A wine goblet for each participant
    • Wine, or grape juice
    • A large goblet filled with wine at the center of the table (“Cup of Elijah”)
    • A pillow or cushion placed on the left arm of the chair used by the Leader, or close to it
    • Dishes of Salt Water
    • Extra Bitter Herbs and Charoses

5. Are special table settings required for the Seder?

Cup of Elijah
  • Passover is a joyous occasion! It celebrates the liberation of the Jewish people and as such is a time for giving thanks. Make your Seder table festive and beautiful! It is considered to be a very family oriented and an uplifting occasion. Be sure to include a wine glass for all participants, the Seder plate with its ceremonial foods and the special wine goblet for Elijah.
    “Elijah’s Cup” is an integral part of the Seder.

6. Who is in charge of the Seder ceremony?

  • The leader or host for the evening — really anyone. The leader is usually chosen by the host family. A good Seder leader should have the ability to encourage participation from everyone at the Seder and allow each participant to share the spotlight.

7. Are special foods required for the Seder?

Seder Plate

Matzoh
  • The correct observance of the holiday requires eating only unleavened bread (Matzo) during the week-long Passover holiday, which includes the Seder. Other foods traditionally found at the Seder table are a roasted shank bone; a roasted egg; bitter herbs; charoses; parsley, lettuce or watercress; and wine or grape juice.

8. Are the Seder foods religiously significant?

  • All the traditional items on the Seder table are symbolic and are included to represent specific parts of the story of the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt.
    • Matzos: Three Matzos are required for the Seder. Matzo is unleavened bread, typically hard and cracker-like. The Jews left Egypt in such a rush they did not have time to wait for their bread dough to rise. Thus considered a ‘poor man’s bread’ it is also a reminder of Jewish life under slavery. We use three Matzos to represent the three religious groupings of the Jewish people — Kohen, Levi and Yisroayl. They are placed together to indicate the unity of the Jewish people.
    • Roasted Shankbone: The Roasted Shankbone represents the Paschal Lamb, which was sacrificed on the altar of the great Temple in Jerusalem, on Passover.
    • Roasted Egg: The Roasted Egg represents a second offering, known as the “Festival Offering,” for it was brought to each of the three Festivals — Pesach, Shavuos and Succos.
    • Bitter Herbs: Also known as “Moror”, Bitter Herbs represent the bitterness of slavery which our ancestors were compelled to endure.
    • Charoses: Charoses is a paste made of fruits and nuts which represents the mortar with which our forefathers made bricks for the building of Egyptian cities.
    • Parsley, Lettuce or Watercress: Also known as “Karpas”, this green vegetable represents the fruit of the earth, the arrival of Spring and the gathering of the Spring harvest. In partaking of the Karpas, the vegetable is dipped into the dish of salt water before being consumed. In tasting the salt water, we are asked to remember the tears our ancestors shed while suffering the tortures of slavery.

9. Who sits at each place at the Seder table?

  • Family members and friends or invited guests sit at the Seder table. As the Seder is a family oriented ceremony, it is helpful to have families sit together to enable parents to support their children’s participation, if a large number of guests have been invited. With large groups it is also helpful to have the leader (or leaders) all sit at the ‘leaders table’ (the head table) to better maintain order in the multi-step Passover ceremony.

10. How many people can take part in the Seder?

  • Any number of participants may take part in a Seder. Often I get orders for hundreds of books where a condo or country club is putting on a Seder — people like it this way because they don’t have to go through the work of preparation and cost.

11. Do I have to be Jewish to participate in the Seder?

  • No, anybody can be invited to a Seder; in fact, inviting friends and casual acquaintances is fulfilling the passage in the Haggadah which suggests the Passover Seder should be shared with others — “let all who are hungry come and eat”.

12. Do I need to memorize the Seder text?

  • No, that is the purpose of the Haggadah — to retell the story about the redemption of the Jewish people from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. It is common to have a copy of the Haggadah at each place setting so each guest may participate fully in the Seder ceremony.

13. What if I can’t read Hebrew?

  • If you look in the English section you will find transliterated Hebrew, thus permitting you to read English but be speaking authentic Hebrew words.

14. What are the Four Questions, and why are they important?

  • The Four Questions are traditionally asked by the youngest child at the Seder table. They represent the essence of the Passover holiday in an abbreviated fashion.
    • “Why is this night of Passover different from all other nights of the year?
      (Question #1) On all other nights, we eat either Chomaytz or Matzoh, but on this night we eat only Matzoh.
      (Question #2) On all other nights, we eat all kinds of herbs, but on this night we eat only Moror.
      (Question #3) On all other nights, we do not dip even once, but on this night we dip twice.
      (Question #4) On all other nights, we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we eat reclining.”

    The leader and the assembled guests then answer each of these Four Questions as designated in the Haggadah.

15. Where can I get Haggadah books for the Passover Seder?

We have supplied two examples below. The first is a Messianic themed Haggadah with the focus on how the Passover seder symbols where pointing to Messiah Yeshua and the second is a traditional Jewish seder guide to passover by the Jewish Federation.

Messianic Jewish Haggadah:

Messianic Passover Seder – click here

Traditional Jewish Haggadah:

A Guide to the Seder – click here

3 Comments

  1. In regards to #11 above which states that anyone can come to the Seder because it fulfils a passage from Haggadah, is Seder tradition different from the Passover meal found in Torah. Exodus 12:48 states that if a stranger wants to keep the Passover to YHVH, he must be circumcised and shall be as a native. Doesn’t this mean the stranger should repent and join himself to Israel and the God of Israel before partaking in the Passover of the congregation of Israel (Ex 12:47)?

  2. Great question Heather! It’s not so much that anyone can come to the Seder because it fulfils a passage from Haggadah, but the original thought was does somebody need to be Jewish to take part in the Passover commemoration (as some people erroneously think that God’s holy days are just for those of Jewish descent or a part of Judaism). But you are correct in that the uncircumcised of heart (of which the fulfillment in the fleah is just the outward proof of one’s desire to live out God’s word) should not partake of the pesach Lamb without repentance which would lead one to seek to observe the Commandments of God. But to be specific, the regulation against the uncircumcised in Exodus 12:48 is in regard to eating the sacrifical Pesach lamb (“And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof.”) and since Jews observe the Commandment not to sacrifice the Pesach lamb outside of Jerusalem according to Torah (see Deut. 16:1-2 below), Jewish Passover seders do not have lamb served therefore they feel they can invite others to learn about the beautiful symbolism in the Pesach seder (order) without breaking the mitzvah.

    Although the Passover of Exodus 12 was observed in the wilderness on the way to eretz Israel, God later told Israel that once they enter the land, they could only sacrifice the Passover Lamb at the place He chose to place His name (i.e. Jerusalem). This applies to not only the Passover Lamb, but also to our burnt offerings, food tithes, vows, etc. All these things are to be done in the place YAH chose to place His name.

    Deuteronomy 16:1-2 “Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto Adonai: for in the month of Abib Adonai brought thee forth out of Egypt by night. Thou shalt therefore sacrifice the passover unto Adonai, of the flock and the herd, in the place which Adonai shall choose to place his name there.”

    2 Chronicles 6:6 But I have chosen Jerusalem, that my name might be there; and have chosen David to be over my people Israel.

    God has chosen Jerusalem as the place to put His name. He also told us to keep three feasts a year there… the Passover (Pesach) in the place He chooses along with the week of unleavened bread, the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) and Tabernacle (Sukkot). Yah tells us not to sacrifice the Passover in any of our gates but only do it in Jerusalem.

    Deuteronomy 16:5 “Thou mayest not sacrifice the passover within any of thy gates, which Yah giveth thee:
    6 But at the place which Yah shall choose to place his name in, there thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt.”

    This knowledge of course does not justify promoting that the uncircumcised stay uncircumcised, but hopefully through a knowledge of what God has done in atoning for our sins through the Spotless lamb one’s heart is convicted to enter into the Covenant of Abraham… and be circumcised of heart first and then of the flesh is a byproduct of a changed heart.

    This is what Paul was referring to in Romans 2:25-29. 25For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Torah; but if you are a transgressor of the Torah, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Torah, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Torah, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Torah and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? 28For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

    Thus if we teach the truth about circumcision and the beauty of entering into God’s covenant and a part of His covenant people, it will so woo the heart that the uncircumcised man will desire to be circumcised just to fully partake of the Lamb of God and all its symbolism and fulfill the Torah as he desires to fulfill every other element of God’s instruction in his life. This I have seen on multiple occasions by many men who’s hearts are changed as to the importance of the written Torah through a true knowledge of the living Torah as seen in the beautiful symbolism of the Peasach sacrifice!

    Back to the passage in the Haggadah that begins Hah Lach’ma Ahn’yah. (“This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat…”) is a composite taken from Isaiah 30:20 and Isaiah 55:1 and said in reference to the striped and pierced matzah (unleavened bread) at the time in the Seder that we break the middle piece which is a symbol of Messiah’s flesh which was striped, pierced and whose heart was broken for us. Isaiah 30:20 says, “Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes.” and Isaiah 55:1 says, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”

    It is interesting to note that Yeshua alluded to this “traditonal phrase” at this same place in the seder using it in reference to himself at the Passover seder he held for his disciples before his death saying, “I am the matzah of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” -John 6:35

    Paul said in 1 Cor. 11:23-34
    23For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 24And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. 26For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

    27Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. 31For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. 32But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.

    33Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another. 34And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.”

    Thus we must conclude that all should enter into partaking and observing of the Passover with a repentant contrite heart discerning the depth meaning in every aspect of the seder that symbolizes the sacrifice of the Spotless Lamb of God!

    Hope this helps and is a blessing!

  3. I am so amazed! What a beautiful celebration. Thank you for taking the time to answer my question so thouroughly.

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