1. Must one have a shank bone on the Seder Plate in the first place? (This is a question not just for dairy seders, but also for vegans)
2. If one were to have a shank bone, how would one avoid the mixing of meat and milk with the dairy served at the seder?
Regarding the first question, many vegans cite the Talmud in Pesachim 114b to claim that one may use a roasted beet on the Seder Plate instead of a shank bone. The Talmud there states that the following foods should be brought before the leader of the seder: charoset, lettuce (marror) and two cooked items. The Talmud asks what are the two cooked items? It answers its question saying beets and rice (there is then a discussion about rice on Pesach). Rashi comments that all the more so two pieces of meat would work.
Since in this age, after the destruction of the Temple, we do not eat roasted lamb in the manner the Passover offering was eaten, and there is no requirement to eat meat at all, it is certainly permissible to use the roasted beet on the Seder Plate instead of the Shank Bone.
The question of whether we will be obligated to eat the Passover offering again when the Temple is rebuilt is an oft debated one. Most Rabbis assume that we will. Others argue (often citing Rav Kook) that there will be no animal sacrifices in the times of the Messiah as animals will have reconciled with humans and attained a higher spiritual living. Still others say that all animal sacrifices will not exist with the exception of the Passover offering as that is the only one specifically mandated in the Torah that everyone bring and eat.
Therefore, the placement of the shankbone on a seder plate even at a dairy meal might invite such questions. And what is the Seder for, if not for discussing our own ideas about redemption and what the future might hold in store for us.
If for that reason, one chooses to use a shankbone, the second question comes into play.
Jewish law allows for two people to eat at the same table where one is eating meat and one eating dairy, provided that they place some type of a “heker,” an acknowledgement to keep them separate. The acknowledgement might come in the form of different place mats, a divider on the table, etc.
Presumably one could then put some acknowledgement on the table to indicate that the seder plate is meat and everything else is dairy. However, this would still be a problem if the leader of the seder eats the seder items (karpas, marror, and charoset) from the seder plate and will be eating dairy as well.
I would, therefore, suggest that if one does have a shankbone at a dairy meal, to first place some acknowledgement on the table that the seder plate is meat (and have the seder plate on some sort of place mat), but then also to remove the seder plate from the table after the necessary seder foods have been eaten and before any dairy is brought to the table.
Your questions raises three issues for me. One is the mixing of milk and meat. Meaning, CAN you have a shank bone with a dairy meal. Second is the value in Judiasm of being a vegetarian. That is, if one is a committed vegetarian is it permissable to omit the bone. And third, is there a requirement to have that bone anyway.
Third issue first. The shank bone or zeroa is placed on the Seder to remind us of the offering of the lamb for Pesach. It is a purely symbolic reminder. It is a minhag, custom, to do this. There is no requirement from Halakhic sources. The closest I am aware is the statement in Pesachim 114b that one should have two meat dishes at seder, one in memory of the Passover lamb and one in memory of the Festival offering. Thus, the zeroa practice evolves as a strong Jewish practice.
Second, there are numerous Biblical sources that support being a vegetarian. Early sources in Genesis and the permission given to Noah to eat meat all imply that being a vegetarian is a meaningful moral committment. Thus if one chooses vegetarianism as a moral practice to elevate oneself spiritually (I say this as a non-vegetarian) then one may refrain from eating meat at holiday or Shabbat meals.
Finally, the shank bone is never eaten. As a result, one could easily segregate it out so that it didnt contact the other food at the Seder and so COULD be present even at a dairy meal.
I would therefore suggest as follows. If you are not a vegetarian, you should follow the general practice mentioned in the Talmud and practiced through to the present day of eating a meat meal and including a shank bone on your Seder table. I would not eat a dairy meal out of convenience or preference. There is the strong sense that for those of us who do eat meat that a meat meal is more joyous and more fitting to the festival.
By contrast, if you are a committed vegetarian, then you can certainly serve a dairy meal and omit the bone if you want. The Jewish Catalog mentions use of a beet in place of the bone since it is red and can symbolize the blood of the offering used to mark the doors of the Israelites in Egypt.
I wish you a truly joyous Pesach filled with feeling of liberation and joy.
I'd have to ask a few questions, why is the seder a dairy seder? Is it because you prefer that food or because you (or some of your guests) are vegetarian? Also, do you normally keep kosher? Do you generally keep meat and milk separate? Do you keep a dairy home or do you generally have meat in the home?
There needs to be a balance between the tradition and your own, personal practice (not just in terms of ritual, but your general life practice). If you are a vegetarian, especially one who is a vegetarian for ethical reasons, and the idea of purchasing meat is offensive, then I'd say that you should consider not using a shank bone. Similarly if any of your guests fall into this category; if they will be bothered enough by the presence of the bone as to detract from their experience of the seder, then you might want to consider an alternative (or, if you do use a shank bone, to seat them on the other side of the table).
On the other hand, is the bone meaningful to you? Do you feel compelled to follow this tradition because it is a significant ritual in your observance of Pesach? If that's the case, you might want to include it. Also, consider what about the tradition speaks to you if you want to consider an alternative (many vegetarian seders use a beet; I have seen people use a picture of a shank bone, also).
Remember, you're not eating the shank bone, so that could also make a difference. Perhaps one solution could be to put the seder plate on some sort of a tray or placemat, so that there is a separation between the table on which you and your guests are eating and the one on which the ritual items sit. Or even to put the seder plate on a small table or tv tray to the side, so that it's not even on the same table. That way, the one meat dish is used as a meat dish, while the meal itself is dairy.
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