the vegetarian “shankbone”

What do vegetarians use for the zeroa (shankbone) on the seder plate during pesach?


Dr. Naomi G. Cohen of Haifa University reports (1997)

Her husband’s fam­i­ly has been veg­e­tar­i­an for over 70 years and that their Seder plate con­tains two hard eggs. “The log­ic of this: the bone on the usu­al plate stands for the Kor­ban Pesach, and the egg for the Kor­ban Hagi­gah which was eat­en BEFORE the lit­tle piece of the Kor­ban Pesach in order to get one’s fill of food first. Well, if the Kor­ban Hagi­gah can be sym­bol­ized by an egg, than why not the Kor­ban Pesach as well?!”

This is an unusu­al and idio­syn­crat­ic solu­tion.

Robert and Roberta Kalechofsky Haggadot

Many veg­e­tar­i­ans, those who use the Hag­gadot of Robert and Rober­ta Kale­chof­sky, use a com­bi­na­tion of “dry” bar­ley or wheat (wrapped in plas­tic wrap) along with olives and grapes. This sec­ond option comes with a mod­ern midrash as its proof­text.

As veg­e­tar­i­ans, in place of the shankbone, we place olives, grapes, and grains of unfer­ment­ed bar­ley which sym­bol­ize the com­mand­ments of com­pas­sion for the oppressed, to be found in the Bible. We use olives to com­mem­o­rate the com­mand­ment to leave the sec­ond shak­ing of the olive trees for the poor, we use grapes to com­mem­o­rate the com­mand­ment to leave the sec­ond shak­ing of the grapevines for the poor, (Deut. 24:20) and we use grains of unfer­ment­ed bar­ley (or oth­er unleav­ened or unfer­ment­ed grains), to com­mem­o­rate the com­mand­ment not to muz­zle the ox when it treads out the corn in the fields (Deut. 25:4), in oth­er words, to rec­og­nize the nat­ur­al appetites of the ani­mal and not inter­fere with them. This com­mand­ment is con­sid­ered to be the old­est extant con­cept of “ani­mal rights,” and enshrines the dig­ni­ty and rights of the ani­mal.

Hag­gadah for the Lib­er­at­ed Lamb (1985 [the next to last unnum­bered page before the Seder begins], 1988, page x) and Hag­gadah for the Veg­e­tar­i­an Fam­i­ly (1993).

This is tru­ly “lib­er­at­ing” the lamb as it makes no men­tion of the lamb and has noth­ing at all to do with the role the lamb played in the Passover sto­ry nor the ancient bib­li­cal world.

The (first) Jewish Catalog

A more com­mon prac­tice referred to among veg­e­tar­i­ans is the use of a beet on their Seder plate in place of a Zeroa. The ear­li­est ref­er­ence to this I have found is in The Jew­ish Cat­a­log (1973), page 142 in the side­bar:

For veg­e­tar­i­ans, who may object to using a lamb bone on the Seder plate (as a remem­brance of the pas­cal sac­ri­fice): it is halakhi­cal­ly accept­able to use a broiled beet as a replace­ment.

Those who use a beet refer to Pesachim 114b as their proof­text. I have read this pas­sage numer­ous times. The only ref­er­ence to a beet is:

What are the two dish­es? –Said R. Huna: Beet and rice. Raba used to be par­tic­u­lar for beet and rice, since it had [thus] issued from the mouth of R. Huna. R. Ashi said: From R. Huna you may infer that none pay heed to the fol­low­ing [rul­ing] of R. Johanan b. Nuri. For it was taught, R. Johanan b. Nuri said: Rice is a species of corn and kareth is incurred for [eat­ing it in] its leav­ened state, and a man dis­charges his duty with it on Passover. Hezekia said: Even a fish and the egg on it. R. Joseph said: Two kinds of meat are nec­es­sary, one in mem­o­ry of the Passover-offer­ing and the sec­ond in mem­o­ry of the Hagi­gah. Rabi­na said: Even a bone and [its] broth.

The only infer­ence I see that this has to do with the Zeroa appears at the very end where the text states that “Two kinds of meat are nec­es­sary, one in mem­o­ry of the Passover offer­ing [the Zeroa] and the sec­ond in mem­o­ry of the Hagi­gah [the Beitzah].”

Rab­bi Scott Aaron offers this expla­na­tion (slight­ly edit­ed):

Those who are ref­er­enc­ing Pesachim 114b as the source are mix­ing issues. Pesachim 114b’s cit­ing of the beet and rice are to the two extra dish­es on the table that are men­tioned in the pre­ced­ing Mish­na as being required at a Seder table with matzah, maror and charoset. This was proof of the ear­ly prac­tice that a seder should be a veg­e­tar­i­an meal so as not to give any appear­ance in a post-Tem­ple world that we were attempt­ing to replace or offer our own Zeroa with­out the Tem­ple. The lat­er addi­tions of meat dish­es as rep­re­sent­ing the Paschal sac­ri­fice and the Hagi­gah in the Gemara are just that, lat­er addi­tions from a dif­fer­ing and appar­ent­ly per­sua­sive tra­di­tion. This is also where the addi­tion of the Zeroa on our plate come from.

The Beet used today in veg­gie seders is actu­al­ly meant to replace the Zeroa due to its blood-red col­or which also reminds us of the Paschal sac­ri­fice. To my knowl­edge, it is not con­nect­ed to Pesachim 114b but rather an inno­va­tion for mod­ern-day veg­e­tar­i­ans who may or may not have real­ized how con­nect­ed to tra­di­tion they actu­al­ly are through a veg­gie seder.

Cynthia Baker of the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Cornell University

Offers a dif­fer­ent expla­na­tion for the beet:

What is the mean­ing of the beet? It is here to remind us of an inci­dent which occurred in 1945, when women slave labor­ers in Buchen­wald con­cen­tra­tion camp changed a neg­a­tive def­i­n­i­tion to a pos­i­tive one:

It hit me sud­den­ly that the Hag­gadah could have been writ­ten for us. If I only changed the tense from past to present, it was writ­ten about us…. At this time, the scene in the bar­racks was bad, there was real­ly fight­ing, curs­ing, and yelling… so when I asked the women to be qui­et it was like a mir­a­cle, this absolute silence in the bar­racks. I start­ed the Seder by ask­ing why is this night dif­fer­ent. And I said that every night we quar­rel and we fight and tonight we remem­ber. There were close to a thou­sand women there. I picked up the slice of sug­ar beet and I said, this is the bread of our suf­fer­ing…. And then we made a vow that if we sur­vived, a beet was going to be on our Seder table.’ ”

I don’t know where the account comes from, but it’s the one I’ve seen and heard most often. Does any­one have more info on this?

While doing a bit of research to update this page I learned that the above mate­r­i­al is avail­able (with ref­er­ence to the ear­li­er, orig­i­nal “.html” ver­sion of this page at My Jew­ish Learn­ing:
A Veg­e­tar­i­an Shankbone; How the beet end­ed up on the seder plate

In addi­tion, the Buchen­wald sto­ry was also picked up by Alli­son Jones in her blog Lemon­Basil in March of 2010: My Idio­sync­trat­ic Seder Table


At least since Pesach of 20005760 I have had a slight vari­ant of the fol­low­ing para­graphs in my own Hag­gadah. In the body of the nar­ra­tive, I explain the impor­tance of the shankbone itself:

Young Jesse sat in the full moon­lit, cloud­less night. The plen­ti­ful rains had turned the slop­ing hill­sides a ver­dant green. The pleas­ant fra­grance of the grass­es and flow­ers min­gled with the pun­gent flock around him. Kids snug­gled near their moth­ers beside the still waters at the foot of the hills, some still suck­ling, most asleep.
Once the days got sig­nif­i­cant­ly longer than the nights he would have to move the flocks to the sum­mer pas­tures. Jesse had already used his staff to sep­a­rate some of the new males he’d seen butting against each oth­er, test­ing their strength. He could imag­ine and did not look for­ward to their fights if too many came along to the north. Behind him Jesse smelled the sweet aro­ma of roast­ing meat. He would soon share in the feast of the year­lings. He felt a pang of remorse that so many of these lit­tle ones, who had been in his care, could not live. So much of his life depend­ed on them: for milk and cheese and for the wool gar­ment he wore. But to let them join in the trek would only cause greater trou­bles as the grass­es dimin­ished.

and:
Joshua con­tact­ed his most trust­ed fight­ers. They called them­selves (cryp­ti­cal­ly) the “What” or “Mah” after their acronym the מ“ה or מלאך המות, the Angel of Death (Malakh haMavet). “Every first-born of the Egyp­tians would die, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the first-born of the slave girl who is behind the mill­stones; and the first-born of the cap­tive that is in the dun­geon; and all the first- born of the cat­tle.” Tonight this group would act as the “Arm of God” and strike ter­ror into the hearts and souls of their Egypt­ian tor­men­tors. Moses had already instruct­ed the Hebrews to smear the blood of the year­lings on their door­posts.
The full moon­light would show which hous­es to avoid and pass over. They had to move swift­ly and silent­ly through the city in order to return to their fam­i­lies before dawn. Then they would leave their hov­els as the redemp­tion occurred. As the howl of Egypt­ian par­ents rose.

At the begin­ning of the Hag­gadah, where I explain what goes on the seder table (and plate) I share:

Zeroa זרוע

(shankbone), rep­re­sents the Passover offer­ing made in Tem­ple times. It will be explained dur­ing the
Seder (page 27 in the 2010 edi­tion of the PDF ver­sion of Hag­gadah). At veg­e­tar­i­an Seders it has become cus­tom­ary to use a red beet instead. No clas­sic proof­text exists for the use of a beet. Some peo­ple refer to Tal­mud Bavli Pesachim 114b. How­ev­er, this com­ment actu­al­ly deals with rice (!) and beets as addi­tion­al foods at the meal itself—not a sym­bol­ic food on the Seder Plate. Nonethe­less, the blood-red col­or of the beet serves as a metaphor­ic stand-in for the blood of the lamb shank. I sug­gest scor­ing and roast­ing a beet with its greens.

I smear olive oil over the entire root and on the greens, score the root, sprin­kle cin­na­mon and nut­meg on the root, then wrap it all in a large sheet of tin foil (with the greens fold­ed in, but not ful­ly closed), add a bit of water to the bot­tom and then roast it all for an hour or two at 400º. We don’t gen­er­al­ly eat the beet, but we cer­tain­ly could.

first post­ed cir­ca March 14, 1999
updat­ed Sun­day, Octo­ber 17, 2010updat­ed Sun­day, March 25, 2012
The Hag­gadah