Monday, 14 April 2014

What's the point of the Passover Seder?

In a few hours’ time the Festival of Passover will begin. Tonight Jewish families across the world will have discarded their bread and anything that has come into contact with bread. They will have replaced bread with matzo and will be sitting around their tables with family and friends for a special Seder service and meal. The main reason for the service is to retell the story of the Exodus, how Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and away from slavery.

A traditional Passover Seder plate from Italy 17th Century

We have to tell it every year to help us remember. We eat bitter herbs so that we never forget the bitter times of slavery. We dip parsley in salt water so that we never forget the tears.
Does it make it easier to bear knowing that this happened not today but thousands of years ago? Maybe.

Today is the anniversary of the liberation of Belsen in 1945. When the soldiers arrived they were horrified to see piles of dead and rotting corpses and thousands of sick and starving prisoners.
Does it make it easier to bear knowing that this happened not today but 69 years ago? Not really.

Today in 1994 Rwandans were being massacred, not by the thousands but by the hundred thousands. The massacre continued until mid-July.
Does it make it easier to bear knowing that this happened not today but 20 years ago. No.

At this moment, as you’re reading this, people are being murdered in Syria.
Does it make it easier to bear knowing that this is in a far-away land?
Recent news reports told of the liberation of sex slaves locked in rooms in the UK. From where I'm sitting it doesn't get any closer to home than that.

So is there any point in retelling the story of the injustices of long ago? Yes. If it makes just one person stop and think about how they should treat other human beings then it's worth the retelling.

And on a lighter note it is a much-enjoyed tradition and a great excuse for a slap up meal!

Happy Passover

14th Century painting of Pharaoh's army and chariots


  1. If we do not tell the tales of our ancestors we lose the sense of who we are and where we came from. The loss of 'Jewishness'' in the Christian Easter story (Jesus - a Jew- was at the Seder meal - the Last Supper - ...with all that meant about sacrifice and the links to ''the lamb'' in Isiah and the minor prophets of the Old Testament) is such a loss!BTW my daughter can still recite the MaNishtanah...... and so can I. We forget our heritage at our peril...xx

    1. You're quite right that it helps us to remember our heritage and I can still recite the Mah Nishtanah too. Once learned, never forgotten!

  2. These traditions remind us of what makes us human and connects us all. I remember growing up in the Methodist Church and having a traditional Passover meal each year at the church. It helped me understand so much and appreciate the Jewish perspective as well as the Christian.

    1. I didn't know the Methodist Church celebrated the Passover meal. Fascinating.

  3. Oh yes, these stories must be told. They should horrify us - I just wish those with power learned some of these lessons. But we should never stop being appalled at the harm we can do to each other.

    Enjoy your Passover, Ros - I have no faith, but will take this opportunity to light a candle and remember how so many have died in such terrible circumstances.

    thanks for writing about this.

  4. Hi Ros .. I learn from you here about some of your Jewish roots ... then your notes about this day .. and murder is occurring in Ukraine - it's a crazy horrid world we seem to live in - yet there's so much light to be had and love to be had ..

    I'm glad you get your slap up meal though .. I went to a Russian Orthodox Passover celebration years and years ago .. the food was delicious - but I was completely lost as I was so naive then ... Interesting that Karen experienced a Passover meal at her Methodist Church ..

    I feel for all those in dire times in their life ..

    But enjoy the meal and spending time with family and friends .. Hilary

  5. Happy Passover to you. I think it is important for the story to be told, and I know here in America with so much diversity, people can still be so insulated from other cultures and religions. If folks could learn the story and hang out with others, barriers can be broken (at least it's a worthy dream). Keep telling us the story, Ros. Thanks

  6. An interesting way of telling history Rosalind. Really effective. Thank you for the reminders. And happy Passover.

  7. The telling of the Pesach story passes it from one generation to the other. The Seder gives a forum for debate, catching up with the extended family and forging family traditions and the family which eats together stays together.
    Seriously though, we cannot forget the oppression which still exists in our world.
    Chag Sameach

  8. I agree that with so much loss and devastation in the world, it is important to continue reading the story of Passover. It is sad that there's still so much violence and hatred in the world.Thanks for providing plenty of food for thought. Happy Pesach Rosalind!


  9. Firstly I send you my very best wishes for a happy and holy Passover Rosalind. It is important to remember. It is only in remembrance is the hope in changing the ways of the would be oppressors. Confronting the injustice and cruelty man inflicts on humanity. We live in hope.

  10. The world never seems to learn from the mistakes of the past. Happy Passover Ros.

  11. A thought-provoking post. Isn't it strange that the world has changed so little? Happy Passover to you and your family.

  12. When I look at what's going on in the world today, I wonder how much we have learned. We remember, lest we forget, but why do so many ignore the lessons. I hope you have a lovely, peaceful Passover, Ros.

  13. Hope you had a wonderful Passover.
    My family did.