Charoset container Silver Germany, 19th century Gift of Joseph B. and Olyn Horwitz
April brings with it one of the major Jewish spring festivals, Passover, or Pesach. Passover is a seven day festival that marks the beginning of spring and recalls the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. The story of Passover originates in the Bible as the telling of the Exodus from Egypt.
The Torah recounts how the Children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt by a Pharoah who feared them. After many generations of oppression, God speaks to an Israelite man named Moses and instructs him to go to Pharoah and let God's people go free. Pharoah refuses, and Moses, acting as God's messenger brings down a series of 10 plagues on Egypt. The last plague was the Slaying of the Firstborn; God went through Egypt and killed each firstborn, but passed over the houses of the Israelites leaving their children unharmed. This plague was so terrible that Pharoah relented and let the Israelites leave. Pharoah then regretted his decision and chased the Children of Israel until they were trapped at the Sea of Reeds. But God instructed Moses to stretch his staff over the Sea of Reeds and the waters parted, allowing the Children of Israel to walk through on dry land. The waters then closed, drowning Pharoah and his soldiers as they pursued the Israelites.
Many of the foods prepared for Passover are rich in meaning and help to convey the Passover story, which is told at the seder, a ceremonial feast in which the story of the Exodus is told. The seder plate holds symbolic foods for the feast:
- Charoset – A symbol of the mortar the enslaved Jews used for building
- Karpas – Any green vegetable, usually parsley, which symbolizes spring
- Z’roa – The paschal sacrifice, generally represented by a roasted shank bone
- Beitzah – A roasted egg to symbolize the festival sacrifice
- Maror – Bitter herbs, to remember the bitterness of slavery
The miniature wheelbarrow featured here was once a part of a seder set and was designed to hold charoset. Charoset, generally made from wine, fruit, nuts, and cinnamon is meant to represent the mortar used by Jewish slaves to make bricks for Pharoah’s building projects. The wheelbarrow adds to the symbolism of the seder table by reminding those present that we were once slaves, forced to push heavy wheelbarrows filled with mortar.
This charoset container is featured in Skirball’s special exhibition, Eighteen Tiny Treasures from the B’nai B’rith Klutznick Collection, where we explore 18 diverse miniature objects, each of which shows the remarkable artistry that goes into the making of diminutive Judaica.