How can I host my first Seder?
Though it may seem daunting to organize your own Seder, it is a wonderfully satisfying experience. And the best part is, if you host a Seder, you get to decide what type of Seder you would like to have, from the texts you use and the songs you sing, to the food you serve and the customs you follow. Hosting a Seder is a great way to meld creativity with a moral purpose, and you can even hold a themed Seder according to where your heart lies, be it feminist, kid-friendly, human rights focused, or anything else.
As the Seder touches on themes of universal relevance, chiefly freedom and slavery, it is a great medium through which to channel your own passions and interests. Take advantage of all the great resources we have at Haggadot.com and elsewhere on the web or within your local Jewish community to arm yourself with information and ideas.
What can I do to prepare for the Seder?
It is a great idea to try to tap someone who has already been to and preferably hosted or helped to run a Seder so you have some guidance and support. But even if you don’t have access to direct help, remember that the real key to a successful Seder is preparation. It doesn’t have to include dress rehearsals, but it is a good idea to decide who is going to do what and when. Invite your invitees to participate, even giving them open assignments, such as talking about what different aspects of the Exodus story mean to them.
Finally, make sure you have enough copies ready of any texts you want your guests to see or read, especially Haggadot. And don’t forget to take any language barriers into account. There are free translations of all of the traditional texts and lyrics and many newer ones used at the Seder in many different languages, along with transliterations of the Hebrew and Aramaic texts, if you are going to be asking your guests to read along with these.
Can I invite non-Jewish friends to my Passover Seder?
This is rather a tricky question in the sense that it really depends on who you ask. Some Orthodox Jews will have halachik (Jewish legal) issues with non-Jews attending their Seder due to various prohibitions dating from earlier eras where intermingling between Jews and non-Jews was fairly uncommon outside of business interactions, and thus looked upon with suspicion and discouraged. For example, while Jews are allowed to cook on Jewish holidays (unlike on Shabbat, when all cooking is prohibited), only Jews may partake of the food cooked during these days of the year. There are also several halachik complications regarding the teaching of Torah to non-Jews. This is somewhat akin to the Catholic Church’s official restriction of anyone who is not a confirmed Catholic from taking Communion, though some churches do allow non-Catholics to attend services.
All that being said, outside of strictly Orthodox communities, it is very common for people of all walks of life to attend and participate in more liberal Sdarim (the plural of Seder). Indeed, in the context of the 21st century, so radically evolved as it is from the medieval context in which much Jewish law was codified, there are no shortage of rabbinic authorities who not only approve of but even encourage opening our doors to the broader community. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that more traditional communities tend to insulate themselves in this regard, keeping their religious rites and rituals to themselves. However, rather than taking offense to this phenomenon, we should strive to understand that this is probably more of a defensive stance stemming from thousands of years of religious persecution against Jews from the communities in which they lived, rather than a discriminatory stance designed to ban non-Jews from Jewish festivals.
It’s Up To You!
In any case, in today’s modern age, there are at least two strong arguments in favor of inviting non-Jews to a Seder. Firstly, we live in a world that is more interconnected than ever, and where there is hopefully more contact and mutual understanding, and less paranoia and suspicion, than in eras past. Thus, it could justly be argued that we should all aim to do our part toward promoting and expanding inter-community dialogue and seeking the many ways in which we can relate to one another as fellow human beings. In this way, we can better fulfill the Bible’s most important injunction to love our neighbors as ourselves. What better way to accomplish this than to engage in open discussion about the human right to freedom, something all people everywhere value, long for, and uphold?
Secondly, the very Exodus story is itself about the treating of the “other” as an outsider, a lesser being, someone who can justifiably be subjected to a second set of rules to their detriment, effectively ending in his/her loss of freedom. Just as we thank God at the Seder for freeing us from Egyptian bondage and delivering us to freedom in the Land of Israel, we can also identify in the Seder a chance to celebrate not just our own freedom but freedom in a broader sense, extending an invitation to all our family and friends, Jewish or not, and celebrating our common liberty as citizens of democratic nations where our rights derive from our basic humanity, rather than from any particular racial, religious, political or other affiliation. If we are to be a light unto the nations, we must share what we have learned from our so often harsh experience throughout the millennia, shining the wisdom we have gleaned outward so that anyone with open eyes and an open mind might benefit from it.