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Seder - 1. The Passover Seder (Hebrew: סֵדֶר, seder, "order") (full name Seder Haggadah) including a meal and recital of the Haggadah prayer book, which is the central part of the celebration of the holiday of  Passover.

2. Seder simply means order. In the Jewish religion, it can refer to the order of prayer for any ritual observance such as Sabbath eve or Yom Kippur.

The Passover holiday begins on the evening prior to the 15th day of Hebrew month of Nisan, in the spring. The ancient Hebrew and Jewish ritual day begins at sundown of the prior day in secular reckoning. Outside of Israel the Seder is supposed to be celebrated on the first and second nights of Passover.  In the Solar Gregorian calendar, the holiday is celebrated in late March or in April. The Christian celebration of Easter in Western Christianity is dated according to Passover, since the Passover meal was Jesus's last supper. However, the calculation of this date is often confused because Jewish days are dated from the previous evening and for other reasons.

The Passover holiday celebrates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in ancient Egypt. Jews have celebrated the Passover holiday since ancient times according to the commandment of the Book of Exodus, Chapter 12. Originally, it was celebrated by the sacrifice of a lamb to commemorate the lamb that Jews slaughtered in order to signal to the angel of the Lord to pass over the houses of Jews in inflicting the plague of the first born son on the Egyptian people. Originally, the holiday was observed by sacrificing the lamb and by refraining from eating leavened bread for eight days. The unleavened bread (Matza) signifies that the Jews had no time to allow dough to rise before leaving Egypt in haste.

The Passover holiday includes a ritual meal that is a family gathering and an educational, didactic vehicle for inculcating a significant part of Jewish national history into the young of the family. This is shown by the ordinances of  Book of Exodus, Chapter 12: And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation. and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you (Ex 12:16) and

EXODUS 12:26 And it shall come to pass. when your children shall say unto you. What mean ye by this service?

EXODUS 12:27 That ye shall say. It is the sacrifice of the LORD's passover. who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt. when he smote the Egyptians. and delivered our houses. And the people bowed the head and worshipped.

Exodus 13:8 And thou shalt shew thy son in that day. saying. This is done because of that which the LORD did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt.

The word "shew" is a mistranslation in the King James bible. The Hebrew reads, "Vehigadeta" - thou shalt tell, or recite or say.

The full verse being:

"Vehigadeta levincha bayom hahu lemor: Beavur zeh asah adonai li betzeiti memizrayim"

והיגדת לבינך ביום ההוא לאמור: בעבור זה עשה יהוה לי בצאתי ממיצרים.

The Seder meal was apparently formalized gradually and was a ritual observance in the time of Jesus. According to Luke 22 and other New Testament references, Jesus and his disciples ate the Passover meal, which was the last supper. Christians were supposed to have celebrated this Seder, and some still do, though they often give it a different meaning and a different date. (see here for example)

After the destruction of the temple and exile by the Romans, the Seder ritual was further codified by the Mishnah into a Haggadah, which became a vehicle not only for educating the young, and for commemorating the exodus from Egypt, but for transmitting major principles of the Jewish tradition and attachment to the land of Isael in the Diaspora and it has remained so. The Seder was probably codified by the end of the Mishnaic period (about 200 CE).

According to various surveys ( The NATIONAL JEWISH POPULATION SURVEY 2000-01 (NJPS)  American Jewish Identity Survey )  Passover and Hanukkah are celebrated by nearly all American Jews, including the members of intermarried families. Because of their nationalist content, these two holidays were given new emphasis by Zionists.  The ritual has not changed in essence since that time, though various songs and customs have been added very gradually over the centuries. Because it is a vehicle for national and religious traditions, it is important to observe the Seder as closely as possible following the traditional rituals.

The Seder is open to all. Traditionally, indigent persons are invited to celebrate the Passover with the family. Evidently this stems from Exodus 12:4:

And if the household be too little for the lamb. let him and his neighbour next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb

The The Kimcha DiPascha (Flour for Passover) charity is also part of the Passover observance and is rooted in Jewish law and customs. Money is collected to ensure that the poor have the resources to celebrate Passover.

Modern Jews often invite non-Jews to the Seder, though this is strictly forbidden by Exodus, unless they are slaves who are circumcised and join the Jewish people:

EXODUS 12:43 And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron. This is the ordinance of the passover: There shall no stranger eat thereof:

EXODUS 12:44 But every man's servant that is bought for money. when thou hast circumcised him. then shall he eat thereof.

EXODUS 12:45 A foreigner and an hired servant shall not eat thereof.

The Seder is integral and central to the Jewish faith and to Jewish national identity. It inculcates secular progressive values more than religious ones: national liberation and abhorrence of slavery. 

The Seder is composed of several essential observances including the eating of certain foods in a certain order and the recitation of key parts of the Haggadah. 

Seder Foods

There are several essential symbolic foods of the Seder, most of which are displayed in a ritual plate, except for the Matzah, which has its own plate. Passover is celebrated at the vernal equinox and was evidently merged with an even more ancient spring holiday. It is probable that some of the foods like the baytzah (egg) and the karpas are eaten because they were part of the spring ritual. Of these foods, three are central to the Passover Seder. One must not only eat them, but say them as well, to commemorate the Exodus. These are Pesach (Passover) , another name for the shank bone that symbolizes the lamb that was slaughtered, Matzah, to commemorate the unleavened bread, and Maror, to commemorate the bitterness of life in Egypt. 

  • Matzah: מצה Unleavened bread similar to a cracker. 

  • 'Haroseth: חרוסת A sweet mixture of crushed nuts, apples, cinnamon, and honey, which symbolizes the mortar the Hebrew slaves in Egypt used in constructing buildings for the Pharaoh. The initial 'H is glotteal, like the "H" in "Pesah."  Anyone can prepare this simple and delicious food. 

  • Seder Plate

    Passover plate - One version

  • Baytzah בצה (Egg) : A hard-boiled egg is used to symbolize life and rebirth.

  • Maror: מרור This is usually very bitter horse-radish that symbolizes the hardships of slavery (sometimes lettuce is substituted). The most commonly used vegetables are romaine lettuce and horseradish. Other suitable vegetables mentioned in the  include endive and dandelion, both of which are mentioned explicitly in the Mishna.

  • Karpas: קרפס Any vegetable: lettuce or celery by preference, but a potato may be used. Of course, the potato is a new world food and was therefore not part of any ancient tradition. The Sephardic custom is evidently to use celery.  The symbolic meaning of this vegetable is unclear. Some say it symbolizes the lowly origins of the Jewish people. Others believe that it is an hors d'ouvre after the fashion of rich people, to show that Jews are now free and prosperous.

  • Z'ro'a: זרוע (meaning "arm") - This meat, sometimes represented as a shank bone, symbolizes the Paschal lamb (Pessach) that was sacrificed.

  • Salt Water: מי מלח The egg and the potato (if used for Karpas) are dipped in salt water, symbolizing both the tears of oppression as well as of joy in freedom. If lettuce is used as Karpas, it is generally dipped in Haroseth.

  • Hazeret חזרת - Hazeret in Mishnaic times was evidently lettuce, though in modern Hebrew it refers to horseradish. Sephardic Jews include "Hazeret" in the Seder plate, which is lettuce that is used in the sandwich of Matzah and Maror of Rabbi Hillel. Some Ashkenazic Jews include horseradish as Maror.


    The Seder Service and Meal

    Prior to the Passover Seder, the entire house must be cleansed of all Hametz - unleavened bread. The Biur Hametz (removal of leavened bread and other items not kosher for Passover) is a part of the Haggadah and actually part of the Seder. It takes place before the Seder meal itself. All utensils must be cleaned and purified, and if that cannot be done because they are porous, they must put away during Passover. All Hametz that cannot be destroyed can be sold to a non-Jew for the duration of Passover. In Israel this is done for the entire state by the chief rabbinate.

    The head of the household, generally the oldest male, leads the Seder and provides guidance to the other invited guests.

    The participants in the Seder should be "reclining" on comfortable chairs with cushions. In addition to the meal, it is incumbent on participants to drink four cups of wine during the Seder.  Following is an outline of the Seder service and meal. Some of the customs are explained differently in different traditions, but all of them are part of the Haggadah for all Jews.

    Kaddesh: קדש Sanctification - This is a blessing over wine in honor of the holiday. The wine is drunk, and a second cup is poured.

    Rechatz: רחץ Washing - Ritual washing of the hands without a blessing.

    Karpas: קרפס Vegetable - A vegetable is dipped in salt water and eaten. The vegetable symbolizes the lowly origins of the Jewish people; the salt water symbolizes the tears shed as a result of our slavery.

    Yachatz: יחץ Halving  One of the three matzoth on the table is broken. Part is returned to the pile, the other part is set aside for the afikomen (see below).

    Maggid: מגיד The Story - A retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the first Passover. This includes the youngest person asking The Four Questions, a set of questions about the proceedings, answered by the adults.  At the end of the maggid, a blessing is recited over the second cup of wine and it is drunk.

    Ritual eating  - Symbolic foods are eaten with appropriate blessings: Matza, Maror, and a sandwich composed of Matza, Maror and 'Haroset, following the custom of Rabbi Hillel.

    Shulhan Aruh: שלחן ערוך Dinner - The festive meal.

    Tzafun: צפון The Afikomen אפיקומן- The matzah set aside earlier is eaten as "desert," the last food of the meal. Different families have different traditions relating to the afikomen. Some have the children hide it, while the parents have to either find it or ransom it back. Others have the parents hide it. The idea evidently is to keep the children awake and attentive.

    Barech: ברך Grace after Meals - The third cup of wine is poured, and grace after meals is recited. This is similar to the grace that would be said on any day. At the end, a blessing is said over the third cup and it is drunk.

    Elijah's Cup כוס אליהו - The fourth cup is poured, including a cup set aside for the prophet Elijah, who is supposed to arrive on Passover to herald the Messiah. The door is opened for a while at this point. Supposedly, this custom was initiated during the Spanish inquisition, when Jews celebrating Passover in secret opened the door to make sure that spies were not listening.    

    Hallel: הלל Praises - Several psalms are recited. A blessing is said over the last cup of wine and it is drunk.  

    Nirtzah Acceptance - A song or chant stating that the Seder has been executed  and completed properly is recited. It concludes with the wish "Next Year in Jerusalem" or in Jerusalem, "Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem," referring, according to orthodox Jews, to restoration of the temple with the coming of the Messiah, but according to Zionist Jews it is a vow or a wish to return to Israel, rather than a prayer for the Messiah.

    The Nirtzah is actually part of a long poem by 11th century French Rabbi Joseph Bonfils. The poem was to be recited on the "big Sabbath" - Shabbat Hagadol, preceding Passover. It explains all the laws and proper regulations of the Seder. 

    As it originally was meant in the poem of Rabbi Bonfils, the Nirtzah said literally, "We have concluded the arrangement according to  all its Halachot, laws and regulations. As we have been privileged to plan it, may we be privileged to perform it." The text and detailed explanation of the Nirzah are given here: Nirtzah.


    After the Seder

    The evening is ended with a number of songs or chants, modeled on and evidently derived from medieval folk and drinking songs  that were apparently in existence at long ago as the 9th century.

    Seder Songs

    Many parts of the Magid part of the Seder Haggadah have been set to music and became a part of the Seder sung after the Nirtsah. at least from Mishnaic times or were added to the Haggadah since the time of the Mishna.

    Songs of the Magid

    Ha Lachma Aniahh, the invitation to the poor and pledge or wish to return to Israel and be free,  is sung in Aramaic and opens the Magid - the "telling" part of the Seder. 

    Ma Nishtana  - or the four questions - a central part of the Haggadah and the song that is sung in reply - "Avadim Hayinu."

    Dayenu (dah yehnu) - Literally "it would have been enough for us."  A song that condenses the entire history of Exodus from Egypt and the entry into the land of Israel into 15 things that God did for the Jewish people . For each event, we say "Had you done only that, it would have been enough for us."

    Betset Yisrael - When Israel left Egypt.

    Vehih She'amda - That which stood by our fathers in every generation when forces arose to destroy them, and the Lord saved them, will save us as well.

    "Eliyahu HaNavi", Elijah the Prophet is a Hebrew song calling upon the prophet Elijah, , to return soon with the Messiah.

    Transliteration English Translation
    Eliyahu haNavi
    Eliyahu haTishbi,
    Eliyahu haGil'adi -

    Bim'hera yavoh eleinu,
    im mashiach ben David. (x2)
    Elijah the prophet
    Elijah the Tishbite,
    Elijah the Giladite -

    May he soon come to us,
    with the messiah son of David. (x2)

    This is often sung at the opening of the door for Elijah, upon pouring the fourth cup.

    Adir Hu - ("Great is he") Sung toward the end of the Magid. The verses enumerate the virtues of God in alphabetical order format (Aleph, Bet, Gimmel,...), and the refrain expresses hope that God will "rebuild the Holy Temple speedily."

    After the Seder Songs

    A variety of songs are sung after the Seder. In the United States these can include Black spirituals about bondage in Passover and songs of freedom. The original Hebrew and Aramaic songs are didactic and meant to amuse children.

    'Had Gadya - An Aramaic allegorical song about a father who bought one kid, that was eaten by the cat, which was eaten by the dog, which was beaten by a stick, which was burnt by fire, which was put out by water, which was drunk by the ox, which was slaughtered by the slaughterer, who was killed by the angel of death, who was killed by the Lord. A chain of causation that traces the fate of meanest creature back to the creator, and can be viewed as an allegory for the persecution of Israel by other nations and their ultimate punishment. It is a cumulative song: each verse recapitulates the previous one like "Twelve Days of Chirstmas," making it easier to learn and remember. Had Gadya evidently came into the Ashkenazy Hagaddah about the 17th century and spread rapidly. There are versions in Ladino, Yiddish and other languages. 'Had Gadya has numerous elementary grammatical errors in Aramaic, showing that it was not written in a period when Aramaic was a spoken language. For example, it opens " 'Had Gadya, De zabin abba" - but "zabin" means to sell rather than to buy. The shunra (cat) who eats the kid is treated as feminine ("Sunra d'achlah" - the cat that ate), but a she-cat in Aramaic is a shunrata and not a shunra.

    "Had Gadia" became an integral part of Jewish culture. A 'had gadya in Hebrew is a long involved story. 'Had gadya in Yiddish is slang for jail.  

    Echad Mi Yode'ah - Meaning - "Who knows, one?" The song enumerates different articles of the Jewish faith and Jewish history or worldly facts. "Who knows one? There is one God." "Who knows two? There are two tablets of the Torah" etc. Like Had Gadya it is a cumulative song. This song evidently first appeared in 6th century Ashkenazy Haggadot, and may have originated in Germany in the 15th century. It may be based on a German folk song "Guter freund ich frage dich", - "Good friend I ask you."

    Bechatzi Halielah - (at midnight) - a song about miracles and events in Jewish history that took place at midnight.

    zionism Israel dictionary

    Synonyms and alternate spellings: PassoverPassover, Passover, Haggadah,
    Ha Lachma Aniah, Ma Nishtana

    Further Information: 

    Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:

    'H - ('het) a guttural sound made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch, especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.

    ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch" in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."

    u - usually between oo as in spoon and u as in put.

    a- sounded like a in arm

    ah- used to represent an a sound made by the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative acceptable transliterations.

    'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic ayin, a guttural ahh sound.

    o - close to the French o as in homme.

    th - (taf without a dot) - Th was formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.

    q- (quf) - In transliteration of Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for example.

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