Simanei HaSeder – Components and Mnemonics

This topic is still being developed and updated


The Seder opens with a table of contents for the evening in the form of "סימני הסדר".  There are many variations of this list with the earliest attributed to R. Yosef Tuv Elem of the eleventh century.1 The most familiar version2 contains fourteen or fifteen3 sections:

קַדֵשׁ | וּרְחַץ | כַּרְפַּס | יַחַץ | מַגִּיד | רָחְצָה | מוֹצִיא-מַצָּה | מָרוֹר | כּוֹרֵךְ | שֻׁלְחָן עוֹרֵךְ | צָפוּן | בָּרֵךְ | הַלֵּל | נִרְצָה

Others versions are quite verbose, containing explicit directions and halakhot for each component,4 while several are concise mnemonics containing just a few words,5 enigmatic to those unfamiliar with the rites.  The differences between the lists often reflect varying customs of the Seder.  For a comparison of three of the different versions, click on the table and see the analysis below.

Open Comparison Table

Simanim of the Maharam

R. Meir of Rothenburg's listSeder Maharam in Hagahot Maimoniyot Chametz UMatzah varies in several respects from today's standard list:

  • Legal instructions and stage directions
    • As opposed to the above, the Maharam's signs incorporate legal rulings.  Thus, for example, he explains the order of blessings when one must incorporate the Havdalah service into the Kiddush, directs one when to say certain blessings, and includes the obligatory measurements for Maror and Koreich.
    • The Maharam also adds more explicit directions such as when to lift the Seder plate or pour the wine.  He spells out that one must not only break the matzah, but keep part of it for later.
  • Varying customs
    • After-blessing after Kiddush – The Maharam directs one to say a blessing (ברכה אחרונה) after Kiddush.  This reflects an understanding that each of the four cups of wine constitutes its own individual obligation, requiring its own blessing both before and after.6  For elaboration, see Four Cups.
    • Blessing after first hand-washing – Today most people7 do not make a blessing over the washing of hands before the dipping of Karpas, but the earlier practice, attested to by the Talmud, Geonim, and early Rishonim, was to recite one. It is first in the twelfth century that authorities raise the idea that the blessing should be eliminated since the laws of impurities are no longer kept.8
    • Pouring of second cup – The Maharam notes that one pours the second cup after saying "הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא" (rather than beforehand).  This might reflect an understanding that the passage is connected to Yachatz rather than an introduction to Maggid. See Yachatz and Ha Lachma Anya for more.

Simanim of the Maharshal

The Maharshal's signs Teshuvot Maharshal 88are more elaborate than either of the above:

  • Legal instructions and stage directions - Like the Maharam, the Maharshal also adds directions, mentioning the blessings to be recited and assorted measurements, and explaining when to recline, pour the wine or lift the Seder plate.  He also reminds the participants what they should be thinking about when eating matzah or maror, and mentions that one should drink the wine, "דרך חירות".
  • Varying customs
    • Washing before Kiddush – Like other Ashkenazic authorities, Maharshal generally washed for bread before Kiddush.  At the Seder this is not necessary since one is to do this closer to the eating of bread, but so as to maintain the custom, Maharshal suggests doing something that would obligate one to wash hands.9 Such a washing, though, would not entail a blessing.
    • The After-blessing for Karpas – Maharshal states that one should make an after-blessing after eating Karpas.  This assumes that people would have eaten an olive's worth of vegetables.  Though today many eat only a small portion, eliminating the obligation for a final blessing,originally many ate a significant amount. See Karpas for a discussion of the evolution of the custom.
    • Pouring the second cup – Like the Maharam above, Maharshal also mentions pouring the second cup only after "הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא".
    • Removing and replacing the Matzot – The Maharshal speaks of "distancing" the matzot and then returning them to the table, a reference to the idea of "עקירת השולחן" mentioned in the Bavli Pesachim.  Today, this is replaced by covering or uncovering the matzot.
    • Nirtzah – The added songs of Nirtzah are alluded to in the words "ותנעים מזמורים".
    • Fifth cup – Maharshal suggests that if one is still thirsty, he might drink a fourth cup after the regular Hallel and a fifth cup after Hallel HaGadol (Tehillim 136).