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When they ask about…Easter eggs

When a child wants a chocolate treat, a Jewish parent must consider a lot more than dental care at this time of the year.
Sidra Kranz Moshinsky
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Published: 20 March 2024

Last updated: 12 April 2024

With their colourful and shiny veneer and promise of highly sought-after sweetness within, Easter eggs are impossible to avoid for weeks and weeks in the lead-up to Easter.

For Jewish parents they present a challenge beyond the universal and personal one of how much sugar and confectionary marketing we are going to let into our homes and our children’s bodies.

While today’s eggs may be secularised, mass-produced and attractively packaged for supermarket shelves, if we buy them, we are buying into the Christian festival of Easter in some small way.

Is it wrong for a Jewish child (or adult) to eat an Easter egg? I don’t believe so. Unlike some other foods, they are not expressly forbidden. So it’s more about identification and protection of distinctiveness amid a dominant culture. Certainly, if an Easter egg were gifted to us, our teachings about respect and dignity mean we should accept and enjoy it.

Educating our children about other cultures inevitably involves a degree of participation, whether it’s observing a dragon parade on Chinese New Year, getting scattered with Holi colours or eating the occasional Easter egg, perhaps even hunting for it on Easter Sunday. We purportedly live in a secular society but Easter (and Christmas) are public holidays, making them impossible to ignore.

Learning about and openness to other cultures and traditions can actually foster pride in our own, while blanket prohibitions often make the forbidden more alluring.

It’s difficult for hard-boiled eggs dipped in salt water to compete with the glitter and allure of the chocolate versions.

But we need to be aware of the deep historical and religiously significant origins of contemporary Easter eggs and can use the treat as an educational and identity opportunity.  One explanation for the empty egg’s association with Easter is that it represents Jesus’s empty tomb from where it is believed he was resurrected. Abstinence from eggs (and sweets) forms part of the observance of Lent preceding Easter, so the custom of enjoying them on Easter is a Christian form of “breaking the fast”.

Eggs are also integral to ancient pagan springtime festivals, with their symbolism of fertility and renewal. The word Easter derives from Eostre (also called Ostara or Eastre), a Germanic goddess associated with spring and the dawn. Pagan practices were amalgamated (or appropriated) into the corresponding Christian spring festival known in most European countries as Pascha (from Pesach) or its variant. For centuries, eggs were hollowed out and their shells decorated for Easter; their chocolate iteration is a more recent addition to the holiday.

In Medieval Europe, Easter was a time of heightened peril for the vulnerable Jewish communities.

Let’s also remember that we have our own eggs that go with our own ancient springtime festival of Pesach (Passover). The first is the roasted egg that sits on the seder plate. It serves as a reminder of the korban chagigah (the festival offering) from Temple times and is different from the Pesach (Paschal) offering represented by the shankbone. The roasted egg symbolises both the animal offering and mourning for the Temple’s loss (an egg is the first food one traditionally eats after a funeral).

Then we have the hard-boiled eggs on the seder table. They were originally placed there as a unit of measure to guide our consumption of the minimum quantity of matzah and maror. We first hear of them being eaten by all in the commentary to the Shulchan Aruch, the guide to Jewish law and practice, published in Europe in the 16th century. One explanation for their eating is their symbolism of spring and the circle of life renewed. Another is that just as an egg hardens when cooked (unlike almost all other foods that soften), so we, the Jewish people, get stronger in difficult circumstances: we became stronger when we were slaves in Egypt; we became stronger at times of intense persecution over history, we strive to be strong now. Eating the egg with salt water represents tears. We may be resilient, but we also grieve deeply and experience profound sadness.

It’s difficult for hard-boiled eggs dipped in salt water to compete with the glitter and allure of the chocolate versions, especially for children. Nevertheless they are a deeply embedded and much loved element of the seder, our most guarded and treasured of ritual story-telling. Seeking to instil our story in the next generation involves, in part, ensuring that our children learn to orient themselves rightly in relation to these various, symbolic eggs.

In Medieval Europe, Easter was a time of heightened peril for the vulnerable Jewish communities. Accusations of deicide that falsely named Jews as the ‘killers’ of Jesus, combined with the blood libel claiming Jews required the blood of Christian children for their matzah, often led to rampage and violence. The idea that in the future Jews would live freely as equal citizens making choices about their identity would have been inconceivable, an impossible dream.

Decisions about eating or not eating Easter eggs are emblematic of how and where we position ourselves as the transmitters of tradition and the navigators of our place in contemporary society.

About the author

Sidra Kranz Moshinsky

Sidra Kranz Moshinsky is a writer, researcher and educational leader. Having taught and led in Jewish education for over fifteen years at a number of schools, she is now working on projects across the community, including the Jewish Museum of Australia. Sidra is also a board member of Stand Up Australia: Jewish commitment to a better world.


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The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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