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What is the difference between the "bitter herbs" and the "greens" on the seder plate?

What is the difference between the "bitter herbs" and the "greens" on the seder plate?


Many have the custom of using both horseradish and romaine lettuce to fulfill the obligation to consume maror (bitter herbs) on Passover night.

The sages of the Mishna1 list five vegetables which may be used for maror. Unfortunately, it is difficult to be certain as to the identity of these five vegetables mentioned in the Mishna by their ancient Hebrew names. Two of them, however, we have a clear tradition regarding their identity: horseradish and lettuce.2

The Talmud3 says that of the five species mentioned in the Mishna, the preferred one for use is the lettuce — which is surprising, considering that it is not bitter. The reason for this is its symbolism. If lettuce isn't harvested, its stem hardens and becomes very bitter. i.e. it starts off sweet, and its end is bitter. This is a perfect metaphor for our ancestors' slavery in Egypt. Originally they were enticed to work with promises of full wages, and they were sweet-talked into joining the work campaign; their patriotism to the Egyptian homeland was invoked. Eventually, however, this led to full-fledged bitter enslavement.

Nevertheless, many have the custom of having horseradish as well, apparently this stems from a desire to consume actual "bitter" herbs, to recall the great pain that the Jewish nation endured for the duration of their slavery.

Click here for more about maror.

Have a Kosher and happy Passover!

Rabbi Dovid Zaklikowski,


Pesachim 39a.


Many use endives for maror, understanding them to be "olshin," one of the five prescribed maror species. Others, however, express doubt whether endives are indeed olshin.



Dovid Zaklikowski is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn. Dovid and his wife Chana Raizel are the proud parents of four: Motti, Meir, Shaina & Moshe Binyomin.
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Ken Childers Fort Wayne June 8, 2014

LETTUCE IS BITTER Many heirloom lettuces are bitter ... I once bought an heirloom lettuce seed in Italy that turned into a lettuce so bitter you could hardly eat it, though that sort of lettuce can make a nice complement to sweeter greens ... Reply

Anonymous April 16, 2014

Lettuce Metaphor? Slaves were originally "enticed to work with promises of full wages, and they were sweet-talked into joining the work campaign"? Where is this documented?

Slaves were most commonly prisoners of war.

The recordings on the walls of Ancient Egyptians temples display several incidents when the Egyptians captured their enemies and used them as slaves.

Slavery certainly occurred at the beginning of the Eighteenth Dynasty (1550 - 1295 BCE). when the Hyksos (originally Semites-most likely the pre-Moses Jews) conquered Northern Egypt and settled there. Following the defeat of the Hysksos, most of them were captured and used as slaves till they were kicked out to Sinai and settled there for almost 40 years being unable to enter Palestine which was ruled by the Egyptians at that time and till the Egyptian Empire collapsed. Reply

Anonymous April 10, 2014

Wild Lettuce is very bitter Just to let you know that original wild lettuce, which can grow as a weed, are very bitter when consumed. Domesticated Lettuce has most of the bitterness bred out of it. Reply

David de la Fuente London, UK April 6, 2009

Maror Just wanted to thank you for resolving an issue which has been discussed at our Seder for many many years. Our second seder is usually spent with 20 to 30 friends, and this topic always brings out everyone's interpretation from when we were children. So thank you once again.
PS I think your website is very clear and informative especially to us who are not so learned.. Reply

Boris/ Baruch Tuman cleveland, Ohio, USA April 29, 2008

Horse radish in the mishna? i have learned athat the jews in the times of the templbe did not have horse radish and it started to be used in europe due to the inabilty to optain Romaine Letuce Reply

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