Passover: The Mystery of Maror-Lettuce-Horseradish-Whatever

This or this?

Ever get confused about the two elements of the Passover Seder plate called maror and chazeret? Ever wonder why some use prepared horseradish as maror and yet the haggadah calls for dipping the maror in the charoset (apple mixture)? How do you “dip” grated horseradish into anything? I’m not even beginning to get into all the combinations and confusions and variations in the vegetables of the Seder plate. Is it lettuce? Prepared horseradish? Sliced horseradish root? Parsley? Onion? What combination?

Is lettuce the karpas (greens) or the maror (bitter herbs)? Can it be both or either? When did horseradish get introduced into Passover Seders and why isn’t it shown or listed in many haggadahs? How is lettuce even a bitter herb, something that would make us think of the bitterness and tears of slavery?

Yeah, it’s all kind of mysterious. I like David Arnow’s discussion of the matter in his article, “The Seder Plate,” in My People’s Passover Haggadah, Vol. 1.

Some Seder plates have a place for both maror (bitter herbs) and chazeret (a word that probably means “greens”). Some only have a space for maror. The Mishnah is no help. It omits the word maror and says chazeret twice (m. Pesahim 10:3).

It is actually possible to use lettuce for all three (karpas, maror, and chazeret).

Maybe it will help to separate out all four of the rituals and the possible vegetables:

(1) Karpas is dipped in salt water. Could be parsley or lettuce (or other greens).

(2) Maror is dipped in charoset (the apple mixture). Could be slices of horseradish or lettuce or other greens. Can’t exactly do this with prepared horseradish unless you use a piece of matzah to hold the horseradish (that is what I have done in the past, but see below).

(3) The chazeret just kind sits there (if your Seder plate has a place for it). I usually say something about it (“the root of life is bitter . . . without redemption”). You could use a horseradish root, a piece of lettuce, or an onion (I use an onion or a green onion).

(4) The Hillel sandwich (korech) is matzah with some maror and charoset (it used to have lamb on it). If you use slices of horseradish root for the maror, this part is weird. How do you put “half an egg’s volume” of sliced root on a matzah and eat it? You’d have to be a termite! David Arnow says there is a debate about whether you should use prepared horseradish or slices of the root. The Hillel sandwich only makes sense, it seems to me, with prepared horseradish.

What I Am Going to Do This Year
I’d be interested to hear your custom for the four rituals mentioned above. Here is what I will do this year:

(1) Karpas is parsley and we will dip it in saltwater.

(2) Maror for dipping in charoset will be thin slices of horseradish root.

(3) Chazeret will be a green onion and I will continue with my ad-lib explanation (“the root of life is bitter . . . without redemption”).

(4) The maror for the Hillel sandwich (korech) will be prepared horseradish.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
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3 Responses to Passover: The Mystery of Maror-Lettuce-Horseradish-Whatever

  1. Pingback: The 2011 Passover Palooza of Information! | Messianic Jewish Musings

  2. thanks – in studying more in depth this year, I was really getting confused. I am glad you are too – haha :)

  3. I always use parsley for Karpas, Romain lettuce for Chazeret and this year will go for the thinly sliced horseradish root for Maror (thanks for the idea; I think it will look very nice; people who will want to do the Hillel sandwich will have to use a couple of them), and my Charoset will be made of dates with cinnamon, sugar, Manishevitz, walnuts and orange (including the skin for a bit of a bitter kick among all the sweetness).

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