New Rituals for your seder

By Greg Weitzman

Every spring the celebration of Pesach enters the homes of Jews around the world. The observance of the Pesach seder, originally commanded in Exodus 12:14, for many Jews is a highlight of their year as families and friends come together around the table to commemorate the Exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. For many reasons, the dramatic themes in the observance of Pesach resonate with Jews around the world, making it one of the most widely observed holidays in the Jewish calendar. According to the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS), 67% of Jews routinely hold or attend a Pesach seder, while only 46% belong to a synagogue.

What is it about the Passover seder that makes so many Jews want to observe its rituals? In my house, the seder offers our family the opportunity to come together and sit around one table. Some may be forced to come, others look forward to it, but all enjoy their time when we are there. Passover is a holiday that simply brings families together.

Around the world, observance of Pesach is as diverse and unique as the Jewish communities—every one observes the Pesach seder differently. The Reform movement has welcomed Miriam’s cup into its seder to represent the role that she played in the Exodus. Hasidic Jews in Poland reenact the crossing of the Red Sea in their livings rooms by spilling cups of water on the floor and reciting the names of towns they would be passing in a symbolic crossing. In the territory of Gibraltar on the coast of Spain, Jews mix little pieces of brick into their charoset as a symbol of the bricks that the Jews created before the Exodus. Communities of Ethiopian Jews have been known to break all of their old dishes to symbolize a complete break from the past and a new beginning. A little closer to home, my family looks forward to the new song parodies that my father, who has recently discovered Google, will ask us to sing.

It seems like the ritual observance of Pesach can be as creative and unique as the mind can imagine. Each family that comes together this year for a seder puts their own twist on the observance of the holiday. While I doubt that this year my mother will place fragments of brick into her charoset, I look forward to the taste of her homemade gefilte fish. Pesach is observed each spring and each spring Jews realize that while many new things have happened in their lives, inevitably not much has really changed.

Shanah Haba’ah b’Yerushalayim.

Greg Weitzman is a second-year rabbinic student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York campus.

Originally published in Ten Minutes of Torah.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email
Guest Blogger

About Guest Blogger accepts submissions for consideration. Send your posts to Please include biographical information, including your affiliation with any Reform congregation or institution.

6 Responses to “New Rituals for your seder”

  1. avatar

    We have been compiling our own Haggadah for years, and have such fun coming up with new ways to engage our guests. You may want to check out the book: 300 Ways to Ask The Four Questions: From Zulu to Abkhaz by Murray Spiegel and Rickey Stein. (Now includes Na’avi, the Avatar language!) I highly recommend their web site:
    which is filled with creative, unique ideas. You can sign up for their Passover Alerts (e-mails) which are filled with ideas and recipes and songs and games.
    It’s our favorite holiday and we do our best to make each Seder memorable. Thanks for your essay – happy holiday to all!

  2. avatar

    Dear Friends

    There FREE downloads to augment, supplement and complement your Seder with hundreds of ideas and comments to engage everyone of all ages. New reader-friendly translation about to appear. Haggadot in various lengths. The World’s Largest Seder Songbook – which just received new material today – will be enlarged by Wednesday 3-14-12.

    No registration, no cookies, used by more than 70 countries around the world for a decade as it continues to GROW and is always FREE.

    All non-profit organizations, synagogues, schools, etc. and for individual family Sedarim may make unlimited copies for Passover use. (Copyright is only to prevent use for profit and publishers.)

    Hag Sameah

    Rabbi Dov

  3. avatar

    Our family celebrates a second Seder on the second night of Passover. This challenges us to make the the second night as unique as possible to keep the experience both interesting and educational.

    Last year we hit a home run. After the four questions, we substituted for the narrative of the Exodus a press conference with Moses. as the oldest in the family, I dressed in a robe and wore and white beard that came from an old costume I had. I used a broom as a staff. I gave each child a question and answered each in my best Mel Brooks 2000 year old man voice.


    Child: How was it being the leader of the Jewish People?

    Moses: Oy!! what a group of stubborn people! I said lets go in the sea, they said no, we can’t swim. I had to hold up my staff and walk into the water up to my neck to get them to follow. Of course, when the water split they believed me. Another time they were so stubborn that I lost my temper and had to hit a rock to try to get them water faster. Boy, was God angry.

    In 10 questions during the press conference we “lived” the spirit and details of the exodus.

    After the press conference we resumed the Seder songs.

    It ended with a Rap version of Chad Gadya by my son-in-law who is a great rapper.

    • avatar

      Love the idea of the press conference; do you have a prepared script you might be willing to share or was this all impromptu. Thank you.

  4. Larry Kaufman

    Although Reform Judaism recognizes only the first night of Passover as Yom Tov, there are a lot of us Reform Jews who participate in a Seder the second night as well. What is the Reform justification for a second seder?

    I came to this question “by the back door” some 37 years ago. We invited my wife’s aunt and uncle to our first second seder, after having been hosted by them the previous night. They used the old gray Union Haggadah, mostly in English, and we were planning a seder with a more traditional Haggadah, more Hebrew,more discussion, etc. But I didn’t want Uncle Lloyd and Aunt Judy to think we were in any way “putting down” their seder.

    Accordingly, I began our proceedings by asking the question I asked above — why should we, as Reform Jews, observe two seders — and I answered my own question:
    the first night is for worship, the second is for study. The answer solved my social quandary, but it works for me as a rationale for what might otherwise seem an irrational practice.

    P.S. This year, we will be “sedering” three nights. Don’t ask me for a religious justification for that!

    • avatar

      As I believe I’ve already told Larry in private correspondence, I very much like and respect his concept of the two seder nights–one for worship and one for study. Of course, I would insist that the seder for worship should be primarily in the vernacular, which is easy to do with the 1923 Union Haggadah (still, in my opinion, the best around). Yet, traditional texts are useful for study, since study lends itself to explanation of the texts as you go along–something which ruins the flow of worship. Actually, flow is a very good word to describe what is so great about the old Union Haggadah–and what many modern Haggadot lack.

      My point is, older texts like the Union Prayer Book and Union Haggadah have a flow and an accessibility that lends itself to meaningful worship, while more “modern” yet traditional versions are more fragmented and anthological, which is less ideal for worship but a wonderful resource for text study.

Leave a Reply