Brief Guide to the Seder

OU Kosher Staff

There are two Torah obligations and five rabbinical obligations performed during the seder.

TORAH MITZVOT:

  1. Relating the story of the exodus (Maggid – reading from the Haggadah)
  2. Eating matzot

RABBINICAL MITZVOT:

  1. Drinking four cups of wine (arbah kosot)
  2. Eating bitter herbs (maror)
  3. Reciting Psalms of praise (Hallel)
  4. Eating the afikoman (an extra piece of matza for dessert as a reminder of the Passover offering)
  5. Demonstrating acts of freedom (such as sitting with a pillow cushion, and leaning to the left as we eat matza and drink wine)

SEDER PLATE

A special seder plate is arranged with symbolic foods to follow the order of the Haggadah. The prepared plate should be placed before the head of the household, or the one conducting the seder, who dispenses the various foods to each participant. The seder plate contains:

Three whole matzot: either on the plate or next to it;

  1. Charoset: mixture of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon, symbolizing the bricks and mortar of ancient Egypt;
  2. Karpas: a vegetable (preferably parsley, potato or celery);
  3. Maror: bitter herbs (may consist of romaine lettuce, endives or pure horseradish);
  4. Beitzah: a roasted or boiled egg;
  5. Zeroa: a piece of roasted or boiled meat or poultry;

Also: a bowl of salt water should be placed near the seder plate.

MATZA

We are commanded to eat matza three times during the seder:

  1. At the beginning of the seder (with a special blessing);
  2. For Korech (Hillel sandwich) together with the maror;
  3. For the afikoman (at the end of the meal)

For details on the specific amounts and requirements, see below.

FOUR CUPS OF WINE

Red wine is preferred for use during the seder. Each Jew is obligated to drink four cups of wine at these specific times during each seder:

  1. Start of the seder, following Kiddush;
  2. Before the meal (after reciting the Haggadah story);
  3. Following the Birkat Hamazon (Grace After the Meal);
  4. Following completion of Hallel.

For details on the specific amounts and requirements, see below.

BITTER HERBS (MAROR)

Everyone is obligated to eat bitter herbs twice at each seder:

  1. Dipped in charoset;
  2. Immediately thereafter, a second, smaller volume of maror is eaten with matza in Korech (the Hillel sandwich).

Cooked or preserved vegetables are not suitable for maror; therefore commercially prepared grated horseradish, which is packed in vinegar, may not be used for the mitzva.

For directions to properly clean and prepare romaine lettuce for use as maror.

RELATING THE STORY OF THE EXODUS AND HALLEL

Young children are encouraged to participate in the seder to the extent of their ability. It is customary for the youngest person at the seder to ask the Four Questions.

The formal part of the seder closes with Hallel, which praises God and His special relationship with the people of Israel.

The seder traditionally concludes with the singing of several lively songs celebrating the relationship between God and the Jewish people.