seder has always been extremely important to my parents as a time for
family gathering and as an expression of Jewish identity in a non-religious
way. I have many fond memories
of the family seder and it helped keep my identity strong enough to be
open to tshuvah. At this stage, however, my father's seder has
become increasingly uncomfortable for me and especially for my wife and
two children who have none of the positive associations that I do.
1) The hagaddah used is not genuine but an avowedly anti-religious
2) If we try to initiate a discussion of any kind, we are cut off;
3) Our two children who eagerly prepare all the songs and look
forward to the seder for weeks are prevented from singing all of them;
4) My mother does not Pesach-clean the house.
We have offered to host the seder, have a seder with
them during Chol Ha-moed, or have each participant prepare to discuss
a subject of their choice. All
to no avail. Any advice you
could give would be most appreciated.
It would also be helpful if you could list those elements of the
seder which Jewish Law deems essential.
A.L. / New
activities can be thought of in four categories:
a) Mitzvot from the Torah that are still fully applicable;
b) Practices no longer biblically obligatory since the destruction
of the Holy Temple, but reinforced by the Rabbis as full mitzvot in order
to maintain their remembrance;
c) Associated mitzvot not mentioned in Scripture; and
In category a) would be:
1a) Not eating chametz,
1b) Not owning chametz,
1c) Chametz not being found on your property;
2) Eating a sufficient amount of Kosher-for-Passover
3) "Telling [about the Exodus] to your
children on that day"; and
4) Those laws which apply equally to all
Examples of b) would be eating the Bitter Herbs and the
Afikoman matzah. Biblically,
we no longer have to, since it is clearly stated [Ex.12:8] that they are
to be eaten together with the lamb of the Passover sacrifice. Nevertheless,
the Sages decreed it to be fully obligatory, even today.
Examples of c) would be the Four Cups and Reclining.
Examples of d) abound. One of the most obvious, mentioned in your letter, is the Songs.
I presume by "halachically essential"
you were referring to category a).
Of course, all mitzvot are absolute requirements; nevertheless,
the ones cited in a) are definitive for Pesach.
Without them it may still be a nice affair, and some of the mitzvot
of seder night may even have been fulfilled, but to consider it a legitimate
Passover seder would be fostering a contradiction, even when b), c), and
d) are performed enthusiastically.
Perhaps by arriving before the holiday begins and staying
over until it ends, bringing your own matzah, and carefully refraining
from all cooked food you could save yourself from stumbling over 1), 2)
and 4) of these indispensable strictures.
To do so, though, would certainly create an extremely unpleasant
set of new problems!
Now let us turn to 3), a brand-new dilemma for you now
that you have thinking children of your own. Are you fulfilling your obligation to your children
to show them how basic Passover is to our Jewish identity in a way that
you feel is satisfactory? How
do they evaluate the decision that grandparents' seder outweighs the "real"
seder that they learn about in school? Surely one reason Judaism seemed irrelevant
to many of us as kids was because we saw the adults arouund us didn't
really believe it.
Many people mistakenly calculate that the laws of Pesach
can be pushed aside for the sake of the mitzvah of "Honor your parents."
From a Torah perspective, this assumption has no validity. One of the two biblical source verses says [Lev. 19:2]: "Your
parents you should respect; my Shabbat you shall keep; I am G-d."
Why are these three major statements crammed into one verse?
The traditional interpretation is, "You have to listen to
your parents unless they tell you to break Shabbat (or any other
commandment), because the G-d who tells us to honor parents is
the G-d who commanded all of us, including parents, to keep Shabbat, etc."
In conclusion, I feel strongly that you should make your
own. It is a privilege as
well as an obligation to conduct Passover seder in a properly cleaned-for-Pesach
home, and according to the guidelines to which Jews had adhered for thousands
of years. Don't relinquish
it. Passover is a celebration
of the root and beginning of Judaism, and if the root is weak, even strong
branches won't endure [see Avot ch.3 - end]. The question is how to talk it out with
your parents so that peace will prevail and they can remain secure about
your love and respect for them.
Will it help if you emphasize the obligation you feel towards your
children rather than stressing your own commitment?
Maybe they will empathize, seeing how strongly they feel about
their relationship with you. Of course you will go to see them
on Chol Ha'moed. Perhaps, after a year or two, they and
your siblings will all come to you for the seder.
Please please let me know how it turns out.