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Passover

Answer By: 
Rabbi Richard N. Levy

At the end of the week of Passover, a fifth question arises as we look at the Torah portion for this week: 

Why is this week different from all other weeks? On all other weeks we read one parashah (Torah portion) each week; on this week we read only half the portion, postponing the second half to the following week. Why do we do this? 

It is one of the rare examples where the lectionary (cycle of Torah readings) in the Reform Movement in the Diaspora differs from that of the rest of the Jewish world in the Diaspora. In the rest of the Diaspora, festivals are observed for two days (stemming from the time before the calendar was fixed), so some years Shabbat is considered to be the eighth day of Passover (that is, the second day of the conclusion of the festival), on which a special Torah portion is read (Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17). But because the calendar has been fixed for millennia, the Reform Movement has never observed the second day of festivals. So for us, even if the day considered to be the eighth day is Shabbat, we do not read the special portion.  The problem is that if on the following week we were to read the next portion, we would be completely out of sync with the rest of the Jewish world. 

Striving to balance Reform festival practice with our simultaneous commitment to K'lal Yisrael, "the whole community of Israel," the Reform Movement decided when this happens to split the portion read on the first week into two and read it for two weeks.  It means that by the next week the Diaspora Reform Movement  joins the rest of the Diaspora community  with the same Torah reading. 

The splitting of a portion over two weeks would be required in any year when the first seder falls on a Friday evening.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor S. Appell

When the seder falls on Friday evening, we acknowledge both Shabbat and the holiday of Passover. We recite a slightly different candle blessing that includes the words “yom tov” (festival). The Kiddush too, is different, and is sung to a special melody. The Kiddush sung when the seder falls on Saturday night includes a special addition for Havdalah.

See: Passover Evening Blessings: Friday Night

See: Passover Evening Blessings - Saturday Night

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Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor S. Appell

Many have incorporated new rituals as part of the Passover  seder. Many seder plates include an orange, which is attributed to Susannah Heschel, professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College. Heschel included an orange in recognition of gay and lesbian Jews, and others who are marginalized in the Jewish community. In her ritual, each person takes a segment of the orange, and before eating it, says a blessing over the fruit. The seeds are spit out as a rejection of homophobia.

Urban legend, while including Heschel in the story, has radically altered it. The story that many have heard is that Heschel, while lecturing in Florida, was denounced by a man who said a woman belongs on the bimah as much as an orange belongs on the seder plate.

Not only had the ritual been attributed to a man, but the inclusion of gays and lesbians was erased from the story. While there are now many female rabbis, and Reform Judaism has made inclusion of the LGBTQ community a priority, this story reminds us that there is still much work to be done so that the stories of both women and gays and lesbians are told and heard. Indeed, an orange still belongs on a seder plate.

See also: 
Do We Still Need an Orange on the Seder Plate?
Yes, We Still Need an Orange on Our Seder Plate

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor S. Appell
Seder plate for the prayers and rituals of the Jewish holiday of Passover or Pesach

The Passover seder plate traditionally features two items that are not vegetarian or vegan. The roasted shankbone represents the sacrifice brought to the Temple in Jerusalem in ancient days. Even though its use is symbolic and it is not eaten, many vegetarians may prefer not to prepare a roasted shankbone or to have one on their seder plate. A common substitution is a roasted beet. The red color of the beet is considered reminiscent of the Passover sacrifice.

Those who are vegan may wish to replace the roasted egg commonly found on the seder plate. In addition to representing new life and the new season, the roasted egg is a reminder of the special festival offering brought to the Temple. Some substitute a decorative wood egg or an egg-shaped shaker or other object. A small flower can be a reminder of renewal and the spring season.

A shankbone and an egg are just two of the symbolic foods found on a seder plate. Our Passover Checklist will help insure that you have everything you need for your seder.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor S. Appell

The Torah tells us (Exodus 12:15-16) to observe Passover for seven days and that the first day and seventh days will be a "sacred occasion." (Yom Tov) Because of this text, on the first day, the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, we hold a seder.

The question of holding one or two seders has to do with timing from when the Torah was written. When the Torah was written, the beginning of the new month was determined by observing the moon. This was done in Jerusalem. Word of the new moon did not always arrive in other cities outside of Israel in time to observe the holiday. For communities outside of Israel, the practice developed of observing an extra day of Yom Tov on major holidays to be sure those communities were in sync with Jerusalem. This led to holding two seders in the Diaspora. While Reform Jews observe the first day of Passover as a Yom Tov, some do not observe the second day as a Yom Tov as well. However, even if people do not observe the second day, because of family tradition they may still have a second seder.  And while we should conduct or attend at least one seder during Passover, there is no maximum to the number of seders we can hold.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Daniel B. Syme
  1. A roasted shank bone.
    The shank bone symbolizes the paschal offering brought to the Temple in Jerusalem in ancient times. Many Jews also see the shank bone as a symbol of God's "outstretched arm," helping the Jewish people in times of trouble.
     
  2. Maror, or bitter herbs.
    Usually a horseradish root or romaine lettuce, maror is symbolic of the bitterness our ancestors experienced as slaves in Egypt.
     
  3. Karpas.
    A vegetable, usually parsley, karpas symbolizes spring and its spirit of hope, as well as the Jew's undying faith in the future.
     
  4. A roasted egg.
    Traditionally a symbol of the continuing cycle of life, the roasted egg also reminds us of the special festival offering brought to the Temple in Jerusalem in ancient times. In addition, some see the egg as a symbol of the Jewish people's will to survive. Just as an egg becomes harder the longer it cooks, so the Jewish people have emerged from the crucible of persecution as a strong and living people.
     
  5. Charoset.
    Usually a combination of apples, wine, walnuts, and cinnamon, charoset symbolizes the mortar that our ancestors used to make bricks in Egypt.
     
  6. A dish of salt water.
    This water is symbolic of the tears our ancestors shed in Egypt.

Tradition does not dictate the shape or size of the seder plate. Many families purchase one of the beautifully artistic seder plates made in Israel, but it may be round or square, plain or ornate.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Daniel B. Syme

The Hebrew word seder means “order” and refers to the religious service and festive meal observed in Jewish households on Pesach. Seder derives from the same root as the Hebrew word siddur (prayer book). Just as the siddur contains the order of prayers for daily, Shabbat, and festival services, so is the seder a prescribed order of prayers, readings, symbolic explanations, and songs related to Pesach. The Pesach seder is the only ritual meal in the Jewish calendar year for which such an order is prescribed, hence its name.

Don’t forget a seder can and should be interactive – encourage questioning, fun, and learning to ensure everyone from the youngest to the oldest at your table comes away with something new!

 

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor Appell
Quinoa during the Jewish Holiday of Passover or Pesach

Once again, the debate over quinoa, the darling of health-conscious Jews, has risen to the top of our "Is it kosher for Passover?" list of questions. Just Google this question, and you will see that everyone is talking about quinoa!

Quinoa, a grain-like crop grown in South America, is not one of the grains considered chametz (wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt, or their derivatives). Some medieval Ashkenazi rabbis ruled that kitniyot (legumes) could not be eaten during Passover because they could be confused with chametz products. Some authorities consider quinoa to be kitniyot, while others do not.

But there's more. In order for quinoa to be Kosher for Passover, it seems to hinge on how the quinoa is grown. Some authorities have expressed concern because quinoa is processed in factories along with grains that are not kosher for Passover. In addition, kashrut authorities have learned that some farmers use barley or oats as a protective covering over their quinoa crops to prevent birds from eating it. According to an article in the New York Times, the debate is not likely to be resolved until one of the major kashrut certification companies can send a rabbi to the mountain region of Bolivia to inspect some of these factories.

Even Chabad does not have a definite answer and recommends consulting your community rabbi. So what is a Reform Jew to do? If you are going to eat quinoa this Passover, make sure the package says it is Kosher for Passover; there are several brands available. And though Gourmet Magazine is no longer published, be sure to check their online archive to some great quinoa recipes.

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