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Monday, April 10, 2006

The Seder: Which do you prefer?


OK, it's time for the first Seder. Everyone is sitting around the table. The old people are whining. They want to eat the fish already. The kids are whining. They want to eat too. I'm whining. For various reasons.

We all have our Maxwell House Haggadahs in front of us, with the coffee stains and bits of matzoh stuck between pages from last year (optimistically speaking).

So who's doing the reading?

Which do you prefer:

Does one person read the whole thing?

Do you say it all together?

Do you go around the table and take turns?

English, Hebrew, or Aramaic?

I ask because for 18 years now this has been a clash of cultures at our Seder table. My wife's family reads the whole thing together, in Hebrew, without translating (or taking breaths).

In my family, maybe because my Father can't read or understand Hebrew, my Mother and I (and the sisters) would take turns reading and translating. And I've always prefered that method. It does take a little longer though. Is there any source to back up one approach vs. the other?

32 comments:

Doctor Bean said...

You gotta at least translate some parts for the kids and taking turns reading makes it a lot less dull.

Binyamin said...

We usually go around the table and each person takes a turn reading. I have several nice memories of each of my children being excited when they were old enough (i.e. developed reading skills enough) to read their own sections. It's funny to look back and see how each of them have grown more confident in their readings as the years pass.
It seems like everyone stays interested if they are involved with the process as a participant rather than an observer.

Robbie said...

We always go around the table, everyone reading in whatever language they feel comfortable. It's a lot of fun for us, especially when my 3 brothers and I get the four sons, usually by coincidence it works out and describes us aptly.

(I was usually the simple son.)

Also, since I usually lead, I tend to interject in between paragraphs to start discussions/ask questions give trivia stuff, etc.

Shira Salamone said...

At the sedarim that we attend, the maggid (the "telling" of the story of the Exodus) is always done in English, because there's no point in telling the story in a language that anyone at the table can't understand. But every last piece of text that can be sung gets sung. Preferably to as many tunes as the various people at the table know, if everyone there has the "sitzfleisch" (ability to sit still that long), which is a problem for both the very young and the very old. I won't go to a seder where they read Hallel instead of singing it, if I can avoid it. What's the fun in that?

cruisin-mom said...

English...taking turns

BrooklynWolf said...

We have everyone taking turns, reading in whatever language they are comfortable in. If they read in Hebrew, then either I ask them to provide a translation for the non-Hebrew speakers or I do it myself.

The Wolf

Shira Salamone said...

Oh, and our friends always pass around the readings and song-leading. Also, at one of our sedarim, the host/leader, who designates other readers, always gives everyone at least 2 haggadot--1 that matches everyone else's and one other one--so that people can read the various commentaries and discuss them as we go along. Obviously, this works better with older children and/or adults. How that would work with kids ranging from four to 17 . . .

PsychoToddler said...

We'll be lucky if we can get the PT to stay up long enough to make it to the seder at all this year.

A Simple Jew said...

What time does the PT normally go to bed? Mine usually go to sleep at 7:00/7:30.

Shira Salamone said...

The source is "v'higad'ta l'vincha, you will tell your child." As far as I'm concerned, if one tells the Maggid/story in a language that one's child does not understand, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah. The rabbis tell us, right there in the Haggadah, "u-ch'sh'eino yodea lish'ol, at p'tach lo, for the child who doesn't know to ask, you open [the subject] for him/her." And while we're on the subject, "at" is feminine, "p'tach" is masculine. I interpret this to mean that both the mother and the father are obligated to ensure that their child(ren) understand(s) the story.

PsychoToddler said...

ASJ: The PT usually comes to get me by 8:30 to begin the "bedtime rigamarole" which involves about 10 minutes of going upstairs, going to the potty, changing, saying Shma, and then asking me 400 different questions before allowing me to leave the room.

Although with the clock changes it's all messed up now.

Shira Salamone said...

Well, as long as one of the questions is "Ma Nistana halaila hazen mikol halailot" (How is this night different from all other nights? [rough translation])" :) I heard The PT sing that when big sister Fudge "interviewed" her on her radio show, so I know that she knows it.

When my son was that age, I just stuffed him full of matzah and sang Seder songs to him.

30cal said...

I'm gonna ask the PT, "Which would you prefer- milchig, or fleishig?" I bet she'll freak out. It seems to be a very touchy topic for her. Actually,I guess that's kinda mean, but it'll still be hilarious.

Shira Salamone said...

30cal, behave yourself! :)

Ma nistana halaila hazeh . . .? This is one night when we don't tease our siblings. :) That might be maror to you, but it'd be charoset to her. :)

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

In my family we take turns doing everything in English except Kiddush (since my mother doesn't speak Hebrew). Certain other brakhas are done in Hebrew, or both.

We usually each use a different haggada, and compare the translations; those of us who speak Hebrew better like making fun of the various translations and the strange things they say.

Sweettooth120 said...

In my husband's family, when they recite the four questions, they do in a different language - Yiddish, Spanish, Italian. We also go around the table and will usually do read in English, except perhaps the songs.

Sweettooth120 said...
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Sweettooth120 said...
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Ralphie said...

Regarding getting kids to stay up for the seder, what with it starting so late this year, here's what our rabbi included in this week's seat announcements:

"Thanks to daylight savings time, nightfall will be occurring rather late on the nights of the sedarim this year. As you may know (and as is indicated on the BDJ Pesach schedule) we actually need to wait until nightfall to begin the Seder. This is because all of the mitzvot of the Seder, including the drinking of the 4 cups, can only be performed when it is halachikly “night”. This effectively pushes kiddush to 8:10 p.m. this year.

All of this creates a potential problem relative to children’s participation in the Seder. By the time we reach the eating of matza and maror, they may already be asleep.
Let me make the following suggestion if none of the more conventional solutions (e.g., afternoon naps) proves successful. Break the Magid section into 2 parts, with one part done before the meal, and the other part after. The pre-meal part should include the sections specified by the Talmud as the bare bones of the Magid. These sections are:

· Mah Nishtana,

· Avadim Hayinu,

· The section from “My father was a wandering Aramean,” through the ten plagues, and from “Rabban Gamliel” to the end.

If this dividing of the Magid will enable the children to participate in matza and maror it is well worth doing."

torontopearl said...

When I grew up, my father read most of it...in Hebrew,(a real, 1920's cheder Hebrew) and we all joined in for the songs. Later, he had us kids read some of the parts. (seders always just had my parents and siblings there)
We liked the second way better and in the years we've hosted, we've let our guests read...in the language of their choice.
One of the most beautiful seders I ever attended was at my brother's in-laws where people indeed took turns reading in the language of their choice: English, Hebrew, Russian, Swiss-German, Afrikanns, Boukkharian.
It was a true United Nations type of seder...and just so lovely!

Chag Kasher v'Sameach, PT, to you and your lovely mishpacha!

Helene said...

We go around the table and everyone takes turns reading in whatever language s/he feels most comfortable reading in. Like Shira, we, too, whatever parts of the Seder we can. We have a variety of different Haggadot on the table for people to look at. And of course, we add readings/prayers appropriately. This year, we're adding Joe Wahed's prayer on behalf of the Mizrachim Jews. For the kids, we provide an assortment of appropriate collection of "toys." Yup, our Box of Plagues entertains even the most hard-core of the adults. If everyone is anxious about food during the seder, why not just make and serve a big platter of roasted veggies. Once you say, Borei pre ha'adama YOU CAN EAT. We give everyone at our table his/her own Seder plate complete with all the ritual items. Then everyone can nost at leisure during the Maggid. This also placates the vegetarians among us. I use shank bones on the plates of the Carnivores and lamb beanie baby stuffed toys for the Vegetarians. The kids are usually too excited to sleep through the Seder. There are all sorts of things you can do to liven up the procedings. ONe year we did a wine tasting with KLP wines from all over the world. (One of our families was looking for the wine to serve at an upcoming family wedding). So that was quite lovely, enjoying all the fine vintage wines. Not a bottle of Mogen David in sight! Mazel tov to you MOshe and may you and your family and all your readers have a joyous and kosher Chag Pesach Sameach.
Helene in California

Rachel said...

We fight over similar things, but as long as my mom continues to act out the ten plagues with ice for hail, plastic bugs for lice, and the like, I don't think I will ever complain. And I am 26.

Ralphie said...

I do something similar to Helene - since the two requirements for Karpas are 1.) food requiring "borei pri ha-adamah" and 2.) dipping, I put out one or more of the following:

-carrots & guacamole
-salad & dressing
-strawberries and cream

As long as you don't go 72 minutes without having a bite, you're fine. (And this way, of course, you don't have to.)

Ezzie said...

Woah - lots of very different minhagim out there...!

In my parents' house, we did most of it together - except when one person or the other would rush ahead on their own while someone else was giving a dvar torah or to look for the afikoman. We did the Haggadah itself in Hebrew almost exclusively; we'd translate certain parts when I was a kid, though, I believe.

I had a friend who used to do "Echad Mi Yodea" in Arabic. It sounds really cool... and some friends who had a funky tune for Chad Gadya - lots of fun when it's 25 guys in Israel at a Rebbe's house (with pictures being taken and everything).

Ezzie said...

Oh, stupid me. The Arabic singer is from Milwaukee, married to a Milwaukeean.

Stacey said...

We do some parts in Hebrew, some in English -- and we go around the table.

My grandfather (may he rest in peace) made each grandchild (there were 11 of us) come to the head of the table, one at a time, and recite the 4 questions in both Hebrew and English. We loved it, but it was nervewracking waiting for our turn and hoping we didn't screw it up!

Datingmaster, Jerusalem said...

we cut the seder short and have sex

Shira Salamone said...

One of these days, I'm going to have to learn how to do emoticons in posts and comments. In the meantime, as the saying goes, "insert 'roll-eyes' emoticon here."

But seriously, folks . . .

We ran into a problem when our son was young. Our hosts had a day-school-student daughter. Because of that and the fact that the mom was Israeli, the daughter started reading the Maggid/Story of the Exodus in Hebrew. I was very upset. How exactly was my son, who was, obviously, not capable of reading even the English yet, much less the Hebrew, supposed to understand the story? Well, after several minutes of yours truly literally reading the English translation to my son under my breath, they finally took the hint and switched to English.

We stopped making sedarim in our own home after we moved to our current neighborhood. Back in the old place, we used to invite a few fellow and/or sister members of our synagogue choir, and the singing was a delight. Unfortunately, for whatever crazy reason, the couple of times that we tried to do a seder in our current neighborhood, either almost none of the guests knew the seder songs or else they had to leave after the meal. One way or the other, the Punster and I spent almost the entire seder singing duets. What's the point of inviting guests if you just end up singing to yourself anyway?

So now we try to go to friends who know their way around the Haggadah, both in ritual and musical terms, and whose kashrut is reasonably trustworthy. Failing in that, we go to a synagogue seder. This year, we're going to a friend of over two decades for the first seder and to a synagogue seder for the second go-round.

Bottom line: For me, the ideal seder has the Maggid in English, *lots* of singing (including Hallel) in Hebrew, and a standard of kashruth observance that I can live with.

Shira Salamone said...

Oh, man, I must be tired or something. (Hmm, can't imagine why, quoth she after a day spent pouring boiling water over every flat kitchen surface in sight, scrubbing the kitchen floor [again], and lining every flat kitchen surface and the bottle holders in the 'fridge door.) It's been years since I spelled kashrut with an h.

Time to prep for b'dikat chametz, which we'll get to as soon as Punster CPA's tax client picks up his tax return. (Yes, my crazy husband sees clients at ridiculous hours.) Chag kasher v'sameach.

Danny said...

We always went around the table and took turns in English. I remember always getting a paragraph about "Laban, the Aramean." At the end of the seder we'd sing all the songs in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, and Russian, just as my grandfather used to do in his shtetl in Poland. One year my grandmother snuck out of the apartment and when we opened the door to sing Eliahu Hanavi, she walked in wearing a sheet like a ghost. My orthodox grandfather was not amused but it became a family legend!

Prisstopolis said...

Maxwell House says:

Take this free Haggadah as a bribe to NEVER EVER declare coffee beans to be a bean or a seed and therefore not allowed on the Holiday.

Remember, they needed their caffeine on those early mornings in the wilderness!

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