The history of the Jews of Spain is one of glory and fear. By the end of the 15th century, Jewish life was something celebrated in dark cellars with the ever-present fear of discovery. Before the Inquisition, however, the Jews had a beautiful and unique culture, remnants of which are found in the shared customs of Sephardic Jewry around the world.
One poignant Passover custom that can be found among Jews descended from the dispersed Spanish community is tapping the seder plate. The seder leader takes the seder plate and taps it or passes it over the head of the each seder participant. In some places, the custom is to do so three times for each participant. References to this custom have been found as early as the mid-fourteenth century.
While many attribute luck-for-the-year-to come to this custom, this is a superstition that becomes associated with an already established custom. Like so many traditions of the Passover seder, the root of the custom of tapping participants’ heads with the seder plate is rooted in the desire to cause the children to ask questions. The seder plate is the equivalent to the table mentioned in Talmud Pesachim 115b: “Why do we remove the table (a custom noted earlier in the text)? The school of Rabbi Yannai said: So that the children will see and inquire.” As the table was removed, it was lifted over the heads of the participants or the children, and thus the custom evolved.
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