Karpas       כרפס

Green Leafy Resources for Your Seder Table

Sara Shapiro-Plevan  [email protected]

Every year you grow. Begin your seder with a reminder that we are all growing. Begin your seder with a reminder that in this season, the world is beginning again, renewing, and starting fresh.

What is Karpas כרפס? 

Karpas is a springtime or leafy vegetable that is dipped during the early stages of the Passover seder. It comes 3rd in the order of the seder, after Kiddush (Kadesh) and Urchatz (the first washing of hands).

What are the requirements for karpas?

Any vegetable that can have the blessing האדמה פרי  בורא /borei pri haadamah/fruit of the earth.  This means any vegetable that grows from the ground (as distinguished from things that grown on vines or in trees).

Where does it come from?

From the Greek word karpos, meaning fresh raw vegetable. Karpas also comes from similar words for the color green in a number of different ancient languages. For example, karpas was the denotation for the color green in Farsi, and was the name for the color green according to Rashi (old French).

Karpos was one of the original courses in the Greek symposium that many consider to be an influence on the shape and format of the seder. Even today, in Italy, there is a tradition of starting a meal with pizimonio, a raw vegetable antipasti course.

How else is it connected to the seder?  Karpas is mentioned in the Four Questions as well, in question number 3. That in all other nights we do not dip vegetables even once, on this night, we dip twice?   She-b'khol ha-leylot 'eyn 'anu matbilin 'afilu pa`am 'achat, ha-laylah ha-zeh, shtey fe`amim?

שבכל הלילות אין אנו מטבילין אפילו פעם אחת? הלילה הזה שתי פעמים  

This first dipping is karpas, and the other is dipping maror in charoset.

So what are some different traditions, old and new, for karpas?

Parsley: typical in many N. American families. Also used in families of Southern European, N. African and Middle Eastern decent.

Other herbs (cilantro, basil): families of Southern European, N. African and Middle Eastern decent.

Celery:  Families of Mediterranean descent

Potato & Turnip: families of Central, Northern and Eastern European descent

Other options: radishes, carrots, cucumbers, rutabagas or beets. Some use scallions and onion. In fact, you can use anything with tender young leaves.

Why so many variations? 

Where fresh greens were available, fresh greens were used. This was typically in the countries of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, where the climate was warmer around the time of Pesach. In northern, colder climates, root vegetables were used, and sometimes, their leaves too. The Babylonian Talmud teaches us that we can use any vegetable other than what would be used for maror, and doesn’t specify ANY kind of vegetable.

And what about the dipping?

Many use saltwater for dipping. This is thought to represent the tears that the Israelites cried when they were enslaved in Egypt. However, many other liquids can be used to represent that bitterness, including lemon juice and balsamic or red wine vinegar.

What’s the dipping for?

Precisely. It is meant to arouse the curiosity of the children, so they’ll ask questions. It’s also to provide an opportunity to note the location of Pesach in the springtime and as a spring celebration, as well as to note the connection with the tears of the Israelites as slaves.  As we see in the 3rd of the 4 Questions, we don’t usually do this, so it inspires a question!

Are there other stories about the dipping? Some explain the dipping of the karpas to symbolize Joseph’s tunic being dipped into blood by his brothers. Karpas found at the beginning of the seder, just like Joseph's tunic dipped in blood was the first step to the descent of the Israelites into Egypt. Also, water plays a prominent role in the birth of Moses and the story of the exodus from Egypt. You can invite your guests, after the dipping of the karpas, to tell stories connected to Pesach that involve water!

Into what can you dip?

Any kind of spread or dip. Salad dressing, guacamole, mayonnaise based dips, Turkish salad, ground carrot salad or other pureed dips. Be creative! Some Sephardim even use hummus!

So how might you spice up your karpas at your seder?

  • Make it a full salad or hors d’oeuvres course.  Your guests are hungry and it will be a long time till dinner! 
  • What can you serve? 
    • French fries and ketchup (regular or sweet potato)
    • Potato salad
    • Roasted potatoes or a root vegetable medley
    • Coleslaw
    • Spring vegetable soup (think potato leek) or borscht
    • Steamed artichokes and dip (lemon garlic mayonnaise)
    • Unusual salads made with spinach, beet greens, leeks, scapes, watercress or other sweet lettuces.
  • Leave the karpas on the table. That way your guests can munch until Shulchan Orech (the main meal).
  • Make time for a rich discussion about karpas, don’t just skip over it. Each section of the seder is fascinating on its own, and this is a chance to explore and deepen an experience we often “pass over”!

Really go crazy. 

Use strawberries or bananas (yes, both have the blessing borei pri haadamah)!  Dip in melted chocolate chips, chocolate spread or chocolate sauce.  Think of it as karpas fondue. Or, if you’d like to think of the adult version, check out this recipe for a Karpas Cocktail!

Questions for discussion while you’re eating:

  • Karpas symbolizes the beginning of spring. What’s something you’re looking forward to this spring? What’s something new you’ll try this year?
  • What kind of karpas did your family use when you were growing up? Where is your family from? When members of your family married and started their own families, how did your karpas change?
  • Try something new for karpas, a new flavor. What does the change feel like? How does it feel to try something new at our seders when we often celebrate family traditions and our Jewish traditions as well?

Did you try something new at your seder this year? Share your ideas and new traditions with us! Would you like to add more to your seder? Try out some new tricks?

Visit this collaboration about the seder, get some ideas and share yours as well.


haggadah Section: Karpas