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March 2008
Rabbi Monique Susskind Goldberg


Dear Rabbi,

I am creating my own Haggadah and after doing some research. I came up with 2 questions on Ur'chatz and Karpas . I wanted to know if you would be able to answer them for me.

Ur'chatz :
I learned that Ur'chatz was instituted to teach the children that there was a time in Jewish history, when people were able to purify themselves from every type of Tumah , that washing the hands was required for food that was dipped in one of the 7 liquids ( shulchan Aruch 158:4). (This question is based on what the Kol Dodi Haggadah by Rabbi David Feinstein says about Ur'chatz ) My question is why did the Rabbis feel the need to have the children become curious and ask questions at the Seder about this particular topic and not pick some other topic? Why this specific issue of washing for food dipped in 7 liquids? What does that have to do with the Seder?

Karpas :
According to Rashi, the Karpas we use at the seder corresponds to the coat that Yaakov gave to his son Yosef. Rashi says that Yosef's coat was similar to the Karpas mentioned in Esther. My question is how did our Karpas go from a coat to a vegetable? When and why was this switch made?


Here are some answers to your Seder questions:

U'rechatz: washing hands before eating the Karpas
At the Seder night, many things are done in an unusual way in order for children to ask: "why is this night different from any other night?" The answer of course should be "because on this night we celebrate the fact that the people of Israel went out of Egypt".
In the time of the Talmud, when the Seder Night ritual was created, a festive meal (like the Roman symposium) always began with "appetizers", vegetables dipped in liquid (salted water, vinegar...). This is the origin of our custom to begin the Seder with Karpas . The dipping, as you have correctly explained, required washing the hands to avoid Tumah .  I don't believe that the point in this part of the Seder is to teach children about the laws of purity, but rather to attract the children's attention to the dipping. Not only do we do this dipping ritual, which is unusual for a normal meal, but at the Seder we do a second dipping - the maror in the harosset which is unusual even for a festive meal.   This second dipping is intended to raise the question about the dipping. "Why do we dip twice on this night" and on this question you can answer " Avadim hayinu ..."

Karpas and Joseph's coat
According to the site Balashon, the word karpas comes probably from the Persian word karafs meaning "parsley", or from the Greek karpos "fruit of the soil". According to the same source, the word karpas that appears in the book of Esther has another etymology which means "fine cotton". This is the connection to Joseph's coat, and explains Rashi's comment. It is very symbolic to begin the Seder celebrating leaving Egypt with a reference to Joseph's coat dipped in blood which was connected to the descent of the Israelites to Egypt. But there are many more midrashim about the why we eat Karpas.

I hope I answered your questions,


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