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Passover

Haggadah on a blue table

The Passover seder is a service, over a dinner meal, that tells the story of the ancient Israelites’ exodus from Egypt through a prescribed order of symbolic foods, stories, songs, and prayers. The Hebrew word Haggadah means “telling,” and it refers to the service or script for the Passover seder table ritual. The Haggadah provides the order and script of the service with step-by-step instructions.

Curious about the history of the Haggadah? Rabbi Barry Shainker shares some of the background. Suffice it to say, though, that today, thousands of different Haggadot (plural of Haggadah) exist, written in many languages and available both in stores and online. Though their content, layout, artwork and language may vary, their overall structure remains the same – and Passover’s themes of liberation and ending oppression even inspired many Haggadot that reflect on these ideas in contemporary contexts.

If you’re invited to attend a friend’s seder or will be attending one at your local synagogue, a Haggadah will likely be provided for you. If, however, you’re asked to bring your own, or you’re hosting a seder for other, try visiting your local bookstore or visiting Reform Jewish publisher CCAR Press online. We highly recommend their Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family and The Open Door: A Passover Haggadah.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Julie Zupan

With the caveat that we are not kombucha experts, we think kombucha is okay for Passover.

Here’s why: Foods that are normally kosher year-round are also kosher for Passover unless they are made (or contaminated in commercial preparation) with wheat, oats, barley, spelt, or rye.  If one or more of those five grains is used, then the food requires special preparation, e.g. matzah. The concern of Passover is not fermentation (wine, cheese, and pickles are all kosher for Passover), but rather fermentation of these five specific grains.

That said, many Jews will eat only those commercially prepared foods that are kosher certified, and our online search did not find a kombucha product with kosher for Passover certification.  

stones on a headstone

We’d like to visit my mother-in-law’s grave on her birthday, but it coincides with the first day of Passover. Is it appropriate to visit her grave on Passover? If we do, should we light a memorial candle? 

In Jewish tradition, it is common to visit the graves of loved ones around Jewish holidays, especially before the Jewish new year. We think of our loved ones often, especially at significant moments in our lives such as holidays, lifecycle celebrations, and whenever something occurs that we wish we could share with them. We feel their physical absence keenly in these moments.

According to Jewish custom, it is preferable to visit graves before a holiday, so that on the day of the holiday, we can focus attention on observing or celebrating.

Judaism does not traditionally memorialize the birthday of loved ones who have died; instead, we mark the anniversary of their death, also called their yahrzeit.

With all that in mind, do what feels right for you and your family. You should check beforehand, however, that the cemetery will be open when you plan to visit because many Jewish cemeteries will be closed on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

Typically, a yahrzeit or memorial candle is not lit at the grave, but rather in mourners’ homes. 

We also light a yahrzeit candle on Yom Kippur and on the final day of PassoverSukkot, and Shavuot. The worship service on Yom Kippur and on the concluding morning of these holidays includes special yizkor memorial prayers that invite worshippers to remember loved ones who have died. Find a congregation near you to attend a yizkor service.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Debbie Stiel
seder table

It is always a good idea to ask your hosts what you can bring for the seder, or the dinner. Your host might ask you to bring the hard boiled eggs, the kosher horseradish, a vegetable dish, grape juice or kosher-for-Passover wine. If they don't specify what to bring, it is still nice to bring kosher-for-Passover candy or chocolates (found in many grocery stores at this time of year), flowers, or wine (the bottle must say it is kosher for Passover). Remember, if you are preparing a dish, it cannot contain any flour or grain (wheat, barley, rye, spelt or oats) or it must say that it is kosher for Passover on the box, and, probably best to check with your host about their level of observance.

See also: What to Expect at a Passover Seder

 

Happy Passover Chalkboard

On Passover, we can greet one another with “Chag Pesach sameach!” which means “Happy Passover!” and some people wish each other a "sweet Pesach," or, in Yiddish, a "ziessen Pesach." We can also say “Chag kasher v’sameach” (Happy and kosher holiday, referring to Passover’s food restrictions).  As on any happy holiday or festival, we can say “Chag sameach!” in Hebrew (“Happy holiday!”) or “Gut yontif!” (“Happy holiday!”) in Yiddish.

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
Shabbat candles

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

Related Links
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
7 Modern Additions to the 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.

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