THE SEDER.

CONTENTS
ANIMATION OF SEDER.
THE APHIKOMEN.
BACKGROUND NOTE.
BETSAH, THE EGG.
BREAD OF AFLICTION.
CHAROSET (+ RECIPE).
CHAZERET.
A CHILD-CENTRED SERVICE.
DOOR OPENING
ELIJAH'S CUP.
FOUR CHILDREN.
FOUR CUPS OF WINE.
FOUR QUESTIONS.
FREEDOM.
HILLEL'S SANDWICH.
HISTORY OF THE SEDER.
NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM.
KARPAS.
LEANING.
MAROR (BITTER HERB).
BLESSINGS OVER MATSAH.
MATSAH CLOTH.
3 PIECES OF MATSAH.
ORDER OF SEDER.
THE SEDER.
THE SEDER PLATE.
SONGS.
THE TEN PLAGUES.
UNUSUAL CUSTOMS.
WASHING HANDS.
WHY SO MANY 4s?
Z'RO'A (LAMB BONE).
OTHER PASSOVER CUSTOMS.

FOR FULL INDEX OF ALL PAGES

THE SEDER.

Seder, Venice, 1609.

The service in the home on the first night of PESACH. (Passover) is called the Seder. Seder means order, because great care is taken to carry out the various practices at this service in the right order. The prayer book used on this evening is called an Haggadah which means narration or telling of a story. The main part of this service tells the story of the exodus from Egypt in a way that can be understood by the children present. The story is made more dramatic by the eating of certain symbolic foods, which serve as gastronomic and visual aids for teaching our history. The Seder service takes place in the home and is a happy family gathering at which we celebrate our freedom.

The Seder is a happy religious family celebration. Because it takes place in the home it is a unique mixture of serious commemoration of an historical event and a joyful celebration of deliverance from slavery. The various traditional foods and rituals were designed to make both children and parents feel the suffering of slavery and the importance of freedom. As the Haggadah says In every generation people must feel as if they personally came out of Egypt as it is said "You shall tell your child on that day it is because of what the Lord did for me when I went out from Egypt"1.

(1.) The Haggadah is quoting from Exodus 13, 8.

HISTORY OF THE SEDER.

The origins of the Seder go back to the description of the first Passover in Egypt, 2. but the tradition was not continuous as there was a long period when Pesach was not observed at all and had to be reintroduced by King Josiah. 3. In Temple times the first night of Passover was observed in family groups by the roasting and eating of a lamb. This took place in the courts of the Temple in Jerusalem and was observed in this way until the temple was destroyed in 70CE. Jerusalem was crowded at Passover by Jews from distant places.4. The home Seder presumably dates from the time of Yohanan ben Zakkai (late 1st. Century CE) who said that as long as the Temple stood, the altar atoned for Israel, but now a man's table atones for him,5. meaning that Judaism had to carry on by religious observances in the home.

Much of the ritual and prayers of the Seder were already in existence by about 210 CE. For there was a detailed description of these written in the Mishnah.6. Most of the present day seder is defined in the Mishnah. However during Talmudic times the text was not completely fixed, as it was still being discussed by Rav and Samuel.7. Additions and alterations were being made to the "traditional" Haggadah until 16th. century when Chad Gadya was included in the songs at the end. More recently, the Yiddish song Almachtiger Got has virtually disappeared from printed Haggadot in the last century.

(See also ORIGIN OF PASSOVER and THE HISTORY OF PASSOVER.)

(2.) Exodus 12, 1-20. (3.) 2 Kings 23, 22. (4.) Josephus: War, 6, 9, 3. (5.) Ber. 55a, Men. 97a, Chag. 27a. (6.) Pes. ch. 10. (7.) Pes. 116a.



THE ORDER OF THE SEDER.


1. KADESH
Kiddush (Sanctification).

2. R'CHATS.
Washing

3. KARPAS.
1st. Dipping.

4. YACHATS.
Dividing Matsah.

5. MAGID.
The Story of the Exodus.

6. RACHTSAH.
Washing Hands.

7. MOTSI.
Grace Before Meal.

8. MATSAH.
Blessings Over Matsah.

9. MAROR.
Bitter Herb.

10. KORECH.
Hillel's Sandwich.

11. SHULCHAN ORECH.
The Meal.

12. TSAFUN.
Eating Aphikomen.

13. BARECH.
Grace after Meal.

14. HALLEL.
2nd. Half of the Hallel.

15. NIRTSACH.
Concluding Parts.

The numbers in this
Animation correspond
with those in the
table above.

Kaufman Haggadah
Spain c. 1300.

FOUR CUPS OF WINE.

During the Seder everyone should drink at least four cups of wine. This custom dates back at least to the time of the Mishnah, c. 210 CE, which says: They should give him not less than four cups of wine to drink, even if he receives relief from charity.8. Meaning that even the poorest person should have this number.

See also ELIJAH'S CUP.

What are the reasons for the 4 glasses?

  1. Because the Mishnah says so.
  2. To symbolise freedom. 9.
  3. Remembering the four promises that God gave in the book of Exodus: I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their slavery, and I will redeem you with a outstretched arm, and with great judgments; And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God.10.
  4. Symbolising the four great empires mentioned in the book of Daniel that will fall before we are finally redeemed.11.
  5. The four cups are to fulfil the requirements of the liturgy. So the first cup is for Kiddush and the third is required for saying grace after meals. The second and the fourth are required either for the two halves of the Hallel or some say for the blessings which are said at the end each half of the Hallel.

(8.) Pes 10, 1. (9.) Pes. 109b and 117b. (10.) Exodus 6, 6-7. (11.) Daniel 2, 39.

THE SEDER PLATE.

The symbolic foods eaten at the Seder are usually put on a special dish. The exact arrangement of these symbols has varied from place to place and from age to age. Specially designed Seder plates have existed for several centuries and were used by the more affluent Jews, while the less well off used a large dish and arranged the foods on it. Some silver Seder dishes were made with a tray at the top with the symbols and three lower levels underneath where the three pieces of matsah can be placed. It is more usual for families to have two dishes one for THREE PIECES OF MATSAH, which are placed in a matsah cloth with three pockets, and the other for the remaining symbolic foods.

DIFERENT PLATE ARRANGEMENTS

According to Isaac Luria.
According to the Vilna Gaon.

There was some disagreement as to precisely which foods were on the dish and how each was placed. So some dishes were made which had a special smaller dish for salt water. But it is more usual to have six foods on the dish.

  1. Z'RO'A, A bone (lamb or chicken.)
  2. BETSAH, A roasted Egg.
  3. MAROR, The bitter herb
  4. CHAZERET, a second bitter Herb.
  5. CHAROSET, a sweet mixture.
  6. KARPAS, a vegetable for the first dipping.

The general rule for arranging them on the plate is to put them in such a way, that those symbols which are used earlier in the Seder are nearest to the person leading the service. This based on the saying that one is forbidden la'avor al ha-mitsvah,12. (to pass over a mitsvah). The original meaning was probably that one should not gloss over and not carry out a mitsvah, but here it was taken to mean to stretch ones hand over a mitsvah that has not yet been carried out as if ignoring it.

(12.) S.A. Orach Chayim 673, 4.

BREAD OF AFLICTION.

Poor man knocking on door
for Seder, Mantua, . 1560.

THREE PIECES OF MATSAH are placed on the Seder Table and are covered by a MATSAH CLOTH. Near the beginning of the Seder the middle piece of the three broken in half. One piece is wrapped in a cloth and put aside and the other is put back between the two whole ones. The wrapping in the cloth is sometimes thought of a remind us of how the Israelites wrapped their unbaked dough in cloths when they left Egypt.13. The broken piece is called THE APHIKOMEN. The dish with the two and a half pieces of matsah is then raised and we say This is the bread of affliction, let all who are hungry come and eat´┐Ż The affliction mentioned was our slavery in Egypt. The mention of the hungry refers to the fact that it has been our custom to invite any Jewish strangers or students to join us for the Seder. It is a time for hospitality, and you never know whether one of them may not be Elijah in disguise.

This declaration, the Ha Lachma Anya, is in Aramaic and not Hebrew. Aramaic was the spoken language of the Jews for several centuries. This reminds us that it is important to convey the message of Passover in any language that the people understand. 14. Until recently Ashkenazi children often used to ask the four questions in Yiddish.

(13.) Exodus 12, 34. (14.) S.A. Orach Chayim 473, 6.

3 PIECES OF MATSAH.

The traditional reasons for these three pieces are:

  • A piece of matsah is equivalent to a loaf of bread. On a Friday night we have two Challot. But tonight we have to cater for all who are hungry (see section above) so we have an extra piece for them.
  • The Matsah is called the Bread of Affliction and is broken. Poor people if given a loaf do not eat it all at once. They break it into pieces saving some for a later time. But we will need two whole loaves for saying the blessing over bread (Matsah is unleavened bread) later in the service.
  • In remembrance of the three measures of corn that Abraham asked Sarah to bake into cakes for his three visitors.15.
  • To remember the three types of meal offering: baked in an oven, baked on a griddle or made in a stewing pan. 16. and were not made with leaven.17.
  • A later explanation is that the three pieces represent the Cohanim (priests), Levites and other Israelites. These are three tribal groupings which Jews are sometimes divided into.
(See also SH'MURAH MATSAH.)

(15.) Sherira Gaon citing Genesis 18, 6. (16.) Leviticus 2, 4 - 7. (See Kasher: Haggadah Sh'lemah, p. 62.) (17.) Leviticus 2, 11.

MATSAH CLOTH.

The Matsah like the Challah on a Shabbat eve is covered with a cloth. Examples can be seen in two of the illustrations on this site see FOUR QUESTIONS and BREAD OF AFLICTION. During the Seder this cloth is removed and put back at different times. The purpose is to concentrate the attention on the food over which the blessing is said. In the Talmud the example is given concerning bread when making Kiddush.18.

(18.) Pes. 100 a and b.

THE APHIKOMEN.

Hiding Afikoman under cloth.
Germany c. 1300.

Aphikomen is the name for the piece of matsah put aside. Aphikomen is the Greek word , the meaning of which is not clear. It is thought either to be the name for the entertainment at the end of the meal or else it was the last course.19. The Rabbis were discussing the Mishnah which says After the Seder meal they should not disperse to the Aphikomen20. The present practice follows both interpretations. The half matsah in the cloth is usually hidden and the children then search for it at the end of the meal and are usually rewarded for finding it. This provides the entertainment, which we are not to disperse for. The Aphikomen is then broken into small pieces and everyone eats a piece before saying grace and so this becomes the last course and the taste remains after the Seder.21. The illustration shows that the custom of hiding the Aphikomen is of considerable age. Hiding the Aphikomen also helps to keep the children awake and interested.

(SEE also A CHILD-CENTRED SERVICE.)

(19.) Pes. 119b. (20.) Pes. 10, 8. (21.) Maimonides Chamets Umatsah 6, 11.

Dipping Karpas, Venice, 1609.
Celery is being used.

KARPAS.

Karpas is the salad vegetable used for the first dipping. It is first mentioned in the Mishnah where lettuce was used.22. Rav Amram says the species to be used are radish, rocket, celery, parsley or coriander.23. Other suggestions were carrot tops or boiled potatos24. Various dips have been used. At one time it was common to use Charoset,25. but now it is usual to use either salt water or vinegar. Karpas is not considered a bitter herb and the blessing said over it is for green vegetables rather than for maror. Various reasons for eating it have been suggested:

  • It was one of the actions used to try to make the children ask the FOUR QUESTIONS.
  • It was a form of hors d'oeuvre to stimulate the appetite before a meal.
  • It was a green vegetable used to symbolise the renewal of greenery at this season.
  • The word Karpas can mean fine linen 26. and was linked with the special coat given to Joseph which aroused his brother's jealousy and led to the chain of events ending with the slavery in Egypt.
  • The word Karpas written backwards can be read as the letter samech (= 60) with perech meaning rigour or harshness. So it is taken to refer to the 60 myriads of Israelites who served in harsh slavery.

Remembering that the Karpas is dipped in salt water, we may take the last explanation with a large pinch of salt.

(22.) Pes. 10, 3. (23.) Using Jastrow's identification. (24.) Cecil Roth Haggadah p. 8, and Art Scroll Haggadah p. l. respectively. (25.) eg. Sarajevo Haggadah, c. 1350, Kaufmann Haggadah, c. 1370 and Rylands Haggadah, c.1380.. (26.) Esther 1, 6.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS.

Mah Nishtanah, The Four Questions that a child asks on Seder night are concerned with:

    1. Unleavened bread.
    2. Bitter Herbs.
    3. Dipping food.
    4. Leaning while eating.
These questions are already mentioned in the Mishnah. 27. Or rather three of them are. The fourth question about leaning does not appear. Instead there is a question about why on other nights we eat meat that is roast, boiled or stewed but on this night only roast? This question dates back to Temple times when everyone ate roast lamb. Later when it became the practice not to eat roast lamb in case one might think we had sacrificed at a place not permitted, the question about leaning replaced it.

Putting Seder Plate on son's
head. Barcelona, 1350.

CLICK on picture to ENLARGE

Before we can tell the story of the Exodus it is thought necessary that a child should ask a question about it? This is based on the verse And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, What is this? that you shall say to him, By strength of hand the Lord brought us out from Egypt, from the house of slavery.28. It is therefore necessary to provoke the questions. That is why we have the rather odd procedures of dipping the Karpas and of breaking the Matsah but not eating it. And it is why they come so early in the Seder. For some this was not sufficient and they resorted to the custom of placing the tray with the Passover symbols on the head of the child. (see illustration) It is also good pedagogic practice to get a child to ask questions for they are more likely to remember the answer than when they just listen passively.

(SEE ALSO A CHILD-CENTRED SERVICE.)

(27.) Pes. 10, 4. (28.) Exodus 13, 14 etc.

THE FOUR CHILDREN.

The Mishnah says According to the son's intelligence his father instructs him.29. This lead to the classification of four types of children. Using the method of the Midrash (drawing meanings from Biblical text) they found four occasions where the father is told to instruct his child about the Exodus.30. For example Exodus 13, 8 says And you shall tell your son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the Lord did to me when I came forth out of Egypt Because the son does not ask a question, the Haggadah assumes that he was unable to ask. It is of course sad that in the distant past they referred only to sons, as very little effort was made to give girls a Jewish education.

The Haggadah illustrations of the four sons is very interesting. The Hacham, Wise Son is usually shown with his head in a book and with a long beard as if he were an octogenarian. The Rasha, Wicked Son was usually shown as a soldier often in the military dress of the period. In more recent times various other kinds of wickedness have been shown. (See below).

(SEE ALSO A CHILD-CENTRED SERVICE.)

WICKED SONS

Hunting,
Poland, 1939.
Drinking,
London, 1937.
Fighting,
USA, 1920.
Smoking and
Tilting chair.
Chicago.1883.
Soldiering,
Mantua, 1560.

(29.) Pes. 10, 4. (30.) Deut. 6, 20; Exodus 12, 26-7; Exodus 13, 14; Exodus 13, 8 (in this order).

WHY SO MANY FOURS ?

WHY does the number four occur so many times in the Seder ritual? We have:

  • FOUR CUPS OF WINE.
  • FOUR QUESTIONS.
  • FOUR TYPES OF CHILD.

The answer is that it is probably pure chance. Each four has an explanation of its own and they are not interconnected. It is possible to make almost as good a case for the number three. For we have:

  • THREE SPECIAL PIECES OF MATSAH.
  • RABBI GAMALIEL'S THREE REQUIRED EXPLANATIONS.
  • THREE LOTS OF FOUR LISTED ABOVE.

LEANING.

Leaning to left
on yellow cushion.
South Spain, c. 1350.

The custom of leaning at the Seder is symbolic of freedom which dates back to Roman times. At that time it was the custom at banquets for freemen to recline on couches to eat, while their slaves stood in the background serving the food. Leaning is mentioned in the Mishnah. Even the poorest man in Israel must not eat [on the night of Passover] until he reclines31.

The Talmud gives more details and says that we should lean on the left side32. because it aids digestion. However the reason was probably because most Jews were right-handed. Leaning to the left meant that the right hand was free to feed with. The Talmud33. links leaning with freedom. This is the basis for the present custom where we lean for those foods which symbolise freedom eg. Wine but not for those concerning slavery eg. Maror. We lean for eating Matsah because although the dough was made while in slavery, it was not finally baked until they were on the journey out of Egypt.34.

(31.) Pes. 10, 1. (32.) Pes. 108a. (33.) Pes. 108a. (34.) Exodus 12, 39.

Z'RO'A (LAMB BONE)

Paschal Lamb
Kaufmann Haggadah. c. 1370.
(Note the wrong vowel)

Z'ro'a, the lamb bone, goes back about 3,270 years to THE FIRST PASSOVER in Egypt when a lamb was killed, roasted and eaten.35. For the development of this practice see HISTORY OF THE SEDER. Since the destruction of the temple in 70 CE no sacrifices have taken place but a lamb bone was placed on the table as a reminder of the old practice. The bone used is usually the shank bone from the shoulder of the lamb. For this reminds us of the Z'ro'a n'tuyah the outstretched arm of God with which he was said to have brought us out of slavery.36. The origin of the lamb was probably the thank offering of our nomadic shepherd ancestors, which they made even longer than 3,270 years ago, at the lambing season which falls at Passover.

After 70 CE we were not permitted to eat roast lamb at the Seder meal lest someone might think that it had been sacrificed. There are some families who for the same reason use a chicken bone. Some vegetarians do not have a bone at all and fill the empty space on the plate with some notice or symbol to remind the family of the past practice. For it can not be ignored completely as Rabbi Gamaliel said unless one has explained three things at the Seder (the Paschal Lamb, the Matsah and the Maror) one has not fulfilled ones duties on Seder night.37.

(35.) Exodus 12, 3 - 14. (36.) Exodus 6, 6. And Deut. 26, 8. (37.) Pes. 10, 5.

BETSAH, THE EGG.

Betsah, the egg as a symbol is not as old as the others on the Seder plate. It is not mentioned in the Mishnah or the Talmud. The custom appears later than 1000 CE. (Maimonides did not know of it.) The explanations given for it are:
The mythical beasts. Left to
right: Wild ox, Ziz and Leviathan
Ulm,Germany . 1238.

  1. There were two sacrifices offered and eaten on Passover which were the Paschal lamb and the Chagigah.38. The bone reminds us of the lamb and the egg links to the Chagigah.
  2. The egg symbolises freedom from slavery. This explanation uses a pun on be'a, the Aramaic equivalent of betsah (egg) and quotes the saying It pleased (be'a) the All-Merciful One to redeem us.39.
  3. A symbol of redemption. An old Jewish legend says that at the end of time the righteous will be summoned to a feast when they will eat from the mythical beasts Leviathan (fish) and Ziz (bird).40. The lamb symbolises Leviathan and the egg, the bird called Ziz.41.

It is the custom in some Ashkenazi families to serve a hard-boiled egg in salt water as the first course of the Seder meal. Strictly speaking it is not one of the required symbols of the Seder, but only a culinary custom introduced at a later date. The reasons given for this custom are the three mentioned above, to which they added:

    4. A sign of mourning (as served in a house of mourning) and therefore symbolises grief at the loss of the Temple and the ability to make the Paschal sacrifices. Many modern Jews no longer regret that animal sacrifices have stopped. If you cut an egg length-wise, it looks like an eye and the salt water provides the tears.

The egg, like the KARPAS and the CHAZERET, may also symbolise the renewal of nature in the spring. In this it may be linked to the Christian Easter egg, with both coming from the same nature symbolism.

(38.) Pes. 114b. (39.) Jacob Moelin (40.) Apocalypse of Baruch 29, 4. (41.) Kasher: Haggadah Shlemah p.65.

MAROR (BITTER HERB)

Maror, Bitter Herb is eaten at the Seder to remember the bitterness of the lives of the Israelites when they were slaves in Egypt. The custom of eating these is derived from the biblical verse concerning the eating of lamb on the first Passover in Egypt: And they shall eat the meat in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.42. By the time of the Mishnah and Talmud 43., the Rabbis were already discussing what plants qualified as bitter herbs. It is often difficult to know precisely which modern species corresponds to the original Hebrew or Aramaic names. Danby's translation of the Mishnah lists 44. the plants as lettuce, chicory, pepperwort, snakeroot or dandelion while the Soncino Talmud 45. adds to this list endives, chervil, thistles, various species of ivy, and plants with silvery leaves and a bitter sap. There were several other named species which are not identifiable with any certainty. The Kitsur Shulchan Aruch says horse radish is usually used. 46.

The amount of Maror which is required to be eaten is an olive's bulk. Do not cheat on this. Remember that olives in Israel grow large. The herbs used have varied in different communities and in different ages. For those with botanical knowledge may like to try to identify the pictures below.

(42.) Exodus 12, 8. See also Numbers 9, 11. (43.) Pes. 39a. (44.) Pes 2, 5. (45.) Pes. 39a. (46.) Book 3, 118, #3.

CAN YOU IDENTIFY THESE BITTER HERBS ?

 
1. Southern Spain c. 1350.
2. Germany, c. 1450. 
4. Venice, 1609.
6. Leghorn c. 1800.
3. Mantua, 1560   5. Copenhagen, 1739. 
ANSWERS SUGGESTED (Proposer)
1.

2.

3.
4.
5.
6.
Globe Artichoke
Cos Lettuce
leaves
(Cedric R)
Lettuce gone
to seed
Ivy
Horse Radish
Tulips !
- ? -
- ? -
Borage
(S. Wilson)
Lovage
(SuzanneF)
Celery
(SuzanneF)
Lovage
(SuzanneF)
- ? -
- ? -
Lovage
(SuzanneF)
- ? -
- ? -
- ? -
- ? -
- ? -
- ? -
- ? -
- ? -
- ? -

CHAROSET.

Charoset is the name a brown paste made of fruits and nuts which is used to temper the taste of the bitter herb. The usual explanation is that it reminds us of the clay from which the Hebrew slaves made bricks. This is the explanation of Rabbi Jochanan which is found in the Talmud.47. While Rabbi Levi linked it to the apple tree in Egypt under which the Hebrew women gave birth.48.

Slaves making bricks, Egyptian wall painting, Thebes, c. 15th Cent. BCE.

Charoset was used for a dip in the times of the Mishnah.49. It is not a food that has to be eaten like the Matsah or the Maror, but it is a long standing custom. Rabbi Levi's explanation implies that about 300 CE apples were used in making Charoset. Amongst Ashkenazi Jews the most usual recipe is Apples, Chopped nuts, Cinnamon, red wine and sugar. Some purists do not use cinnamon powder instead they grate cinnamon sticks so that the slivers of cinnamon remind them of the straw that was mixed into the bricks.50. Various recipes are used throughout the Jewish world. I recommend an Israeli recipe 51. which consists of:

  • 3 apples. (peeled and grated)
  • 6 bananas. (mashed)
  • Juice and rind of one lemon.
  • juice and rind of one orange.
  • 8 oz. Ground peanuts (or other nuts)
  • 200cc. Dry red wine.
  • Matsah meal as required.
  • Candied peel, if desired.
  • 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • Sugar to taste.

This mixture produces a brown sticky muddy clay which is delicious. The quantities given provide the family with a dessert as well.

(47.) Pes. 116a. (48.) Pes. 116a. and for the apple tree Sot. 11b. (49.) Pes. 10, 3. (50.) S. A. Orach Chayim 473, 5. (51.) Jewish Cooking for Pleasure, Molly Lyons Bar-David p. 146.

Removing drops of
wine, Based on
Mantua, 1560.

THE TEN PLAGUES.

During the telling of the story of the exodus, we name each of the ten plagues. As we do so we dip a finger into our cup of wine and remove one drop for each plague. The reason for this is that in order that we should be free others (the Egyptians) had to suffer. Wine is the symbol of joy and so their suffering reduces our joy.52.

Sometimes the drops of wine are poured out, but most usually a finger is used. Some link this to the phrase the finger of God53. which was used to describe the plagues.

(52.) Abarbanel's commentary. (53.) Exodus, 8, 15.

CHAZERET.

Chazeret, lettuce is mentioned in the Mishnah.54. But there, it appears to have been used for the first dipping that of KARPAS. The description of the first Passover said of the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs shall you eat it.55. The fact that it speaks of herbs in the plural implies that more than one type of herb is required. And so the Chazeret is the second bitter herb.

(54.) Pes. 10, 3. (55.) Exodus 12, 8. & Numbers 9, 11.

WASHING HANDS.

Washing hands, Venice, 1609.

On two occasions during the Seder hands are washed, but neither of them is a special custom for Passover. It is the custom before saying grace before meals to wash one's hands. This is partly for ritual purposes and partly for hygiene. As this was seen as a commandment, a blessing is said concerning the action. The other occasion is before dipping food into liquid (in this case dipping Karpas.) This is seen as a custom rather than a commandment and no blessing is required. Many authorities say that only the person leading the Seder is required to wash on this occasion.

BLESSINGS OVER MATSAH.

Two blessings are necessary over the Matsah. The first, the Motsi, is the grace before a meal. It speaks of lechem, bread, for Matsah is unleavened bread. The second blessing is to show that we are aware that eating of Matsah on the first eve of Pesach is a positive commandment.

HILLEL'S SANDWICH.

After having saying two blessings over the Matsah and eating it, and having said one over the Maror and eaten it dipped in Charoset, then we eat bitter herb with two pieces of Matsah. We say:56. Thus Hillel used to do when the Temple was still standing, he would put together some Paschal lamb, some Matsah and some Maror and the eat them together to fulfil what it says "With unleavened bread and bitter herbs shall you eat it (the Paschal Lamb)57."

The verse quoted does not justify our present practice. So why do we have two pieces of Matsah?

  1. After the Temple was destroyed it was not permitted to eat roast lamb at the Seder lest someone might think we had sacrificed it.
  2. Therefore one piece of Matsah is a substitute for the lamb and the other piece is genuine matsah.
  3. There is another occasion when lamb is replaced by Matsah at the Seder. When we eat the APHIKOMEN. at the end of the meal, originally it was the taste of lamb which was to remain in our mouths now it is matsah.

One might think that the present custom was introduced shortly after 70 CE but it is not mentioned in the Mishnah. In the Talmud differing views were expressed by Rabbi Johanan and Rav Ashi (d. 427 CE) as to whether one had fulfilled ones religious duties by just eating these three foods together or whether one should eat them separately with their own respective blessings. Because the matter was not decided conclusively 58. it was decided to play safe do both. So first we eat them separately and then together in Hillel's sandwich. This custom therefore dates from the 5th century at the earliest.

(56.) Paraphrase of a passage on Pes. 115a. (57.) Numbers 9, 11. (58.) Pes. 115a.

ELIJAH'S CUP.

Elijah announcing the Age of
the Messiah with shofar. Mantua, 1560.

An extra cup is placed on the table and this is set aside for Elijah. Elijah was taken up to heaven alive59. So there is a tradition that he is wandering the earth disguised as a poor beggar and waits to announce the future age of the Messiah, when there will be justice, freedom and peace for all.

There was a debate between Rabbis as to whether we should have four or five cups of wine.60. It has been pointed out that in Exodus there is a fifth promise I will bring you into the land 61. This argument was not decided and in such cases the rabbis waited for it to be ruled on by Elijah. Hence this is called the cup of Elijah. For several centuries some Jews had a fifth cup of wine62. over which they said the Great Hallel (Psalm 136). The fifth cup appears in Haggadot from the time of Rav Amram (9th cent) and of Saadia Ha-Gaon (10th Cent.)

(59.) 2 Kings, 2, 11. (60.) Kasher, Haggadah Shelemah, p. 94f. (61.) Exodus 6, 8. (62.) S.A. Orach Chayim 671, 1 (Isserles); Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Chamets umatsah, 8, 10.

OPENING THE DOOR.

Emptying the cup of wrath.
Kaufmann Haggadah c. 1370.

The custom of opening the door after the third cup of wine has been drunk is probably the last of the customs added to the Seder ritual. The Amsterdam Haggadah of 1695 was probably the earliest to include instructions for doing this. Long before this various verses were included at this point beginning with Pour out Your wrath on the nations which do not know You and the kingdoms which do not call on Your name.63. The number of verses included varied from age to age and from place to place. In the 9th Century the Haggadah of Rav Amram had just two verses.

During the persecutions of the Jews in the middle ages extra verses were added. It is not clear how long before 1695 the custom of opening the door began. The Mantua Haggadah of 1560 at this point has a PICTURE OF ELIJAH welcoming the Messiah to Jerusalem with the gate of Jerusalem open behind them. Was the gate open to show that the Messiah was welcome or because the custom had already started?

The Reasons for opening the door are:

  • It shows our trust in God and such faith will merit God sending the Messiah to redeem us. When the Messiah comes there will be judgement and he will ask God to pour out His wrath.
  • The eve of Passover was called a night of watching64. and we see better with the door open.
  • To show that we are not doing anything at the Seder of which we are ashamed. (In answer to the mediaeval blood libel that often occurred at Easter.)

Liberal and Reform Haggadot have omitted these verses and a few Orthodox Rabbis have also recommended dropping them as inappropriate for our times. Instead the Progressive movements usually refer to:

    A Messianic Age when there will be freedom, justice and peace for all.65.

(63.) Psalm 79, 6. (64.) Exodus 12, 42. (65.) ULPS Haggadah, 1981, p. 48.

SYMBOLS OF FREEDOM..

Passover is described in the Kiddush as z'man cherutenu, the season of our freedom. At the Seder we have various symbols which emphasize our freedom.

Ideal Jerusalem
The dove of peace.
Zim Haggadah, 1952.

NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM.

Towards the end of the Seder we say L'shanah ha-ba'ah birushayim, Next Year in Jerusalem. Some Jews take this literally and think of the geographical Jerusalem where the Paschal sacrifice was originally offered. Other Jews think of the spiritual Jerusalem or the ideal Jerusalem , where all will be free and oppression be no more. (The concept of Blake's Jerusalem) So at the end of the Seder we return to the theme of Passover expressed in the opening prayer of Ha Lachma Anya in which we said This year many are enslaved, Ha-shanah ha-ba'ah b'nei chorin, Next year as free people.

CONCLUDING SONGS.

The Seder concludes with a number of Songs. These were mostly introduced by the Ashkenazi Jews. Some are of a religious nature, while others seem to be little more than children's songs. Some are alphabetically arranged, one is numerical and another is like "The House that Jack Built" or "There Was An Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly". Attempts have been made to interpret them in a Jewish way, so Chad Gadya was taken to refer to the various nations that persecuted the Jews. However, others think that they were included just for the children.

It possible to get some approximate dates for these songs by looking when they were first included into the Haggadah. I have compiled the following table:

DATES of SONGS.
HAGGADAHDATE
VAY'HI
BA-CHATSI
HA-LAILA
AMAR-
TEM
ZEVACH
PESACH
KI LO
NA'EH
ADIR
HU
ALMACH-
TIGER
GOT
ECHAD
MI
YODE'A?
CHAD
GADYA
JOEL ben
SIMEON
1450
Yes
Yes
Yes
      
FARISSOL1480
Yes
Yes
Yes
      
ASHKENAZI1480
Yes
Yes
Yes
 
Yes
   
PRAGUE1526
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
   
MANTUA1560
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
   
VENICE1609
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
AMSTERDAM1695
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes

However, the first time that they appeared in the Haggadah was not always the date of composition, and Idelsohn 66. dates the songs as:

  • Vayhi B'hatsi Ha-Lailah - Yannai in the 7th century.
  • Amartem Zevach Pesach - Eliezer Ha-Kallir c. 700.
  • Ki' Lo Na'eh- Roth suggests France or Germany in the Middle Ages. 67.
  • Adir Hu - Prague 1527.
  • Echad Mi Yode'a? - Southern France, but no date given.
  • Chad Gadya. - the earliest publication was Prague 1590.

(66.) Jewish Liturgy, pp. 185-6. (67.) Haggadah, p.75.

A CHILD-CENTRED SERVICE.

The Seder is very much centred on the children. Two traditional parts put in for their benefit were THE FOUR QUESTIONS. and the search for the THE APHIKOMEN. Some of the CONCLUDING SONGS. were included for children and the use of the gastronomical teaching aids were also introduced for the young. The many illustrations in Haggadot, some of which occur on this web site, were probably included to keep the interest of the children. The following decoration from the Ashkenazi Haggadah of 1480 is not only a work of art but it is also an early example of a child's puzzle. For it could well have been entitled:

CAN YOU FIND THE FIVE LOST SEDER VISITORS?


PUT MOUSE OVER PICTURE TO SEE THE ANSWER.

UNUSUAL SEDER CUSTOMS.

  • Some families from North Africa use spring onions for the Karpas and before they eat it they playfully hit each other with them as if they were Egyptian task-masters.
  • In a family with Chasidic background, after the father breaks the Matsah he put its it in a napkin which he ties on to a stick. Then gets up from the table, puts the stick over his shoulder like Dick Whittington and walks round the table followed by the children and he says Thus did our ancestors when they came out of Egypt.
  • A Sephardi family puts the Aphikomen in the back of their Haggadah and keeps it there till the following Pesach.
  • The Samaritans who separated from Judaism in the 4 century BCE still sacrifice a lamb at Passover.
IMPORTANT NOTICE
1. DO NOT FORGET THAT THE SEDER IS ONLY
THE FIRST EVENING OF PASSOVER AND THAT THE
FESTIVAL LASTS FOR SEVEN DAYS.
2. DO NOT CONCENTRATE SO MUCH ON THE
MINUTE DETAILS OF THE RITUAL THAT YOU
FORGET ABOUT PASSOVER'S CENTRAL MESSAGE
OF FREEDOM.

BACKGROUND NOTE.

The matsah used for the background of this page is genuine and was certified by a Beth Din as being Kasher Lefesach (Kosher for Passover). The piece of matsah was placed directly into the scanner and a portion of the scanned image was tiled. However the scanner was not checked over beforehand to see whether it was free from chamets (leavening).

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