Creating Lively Passover Seders
A Sourcebook of Engaging Tales, Texts and Activities
By David Arnow
Jewish Lights Publishing, 2011, 415 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - March 8, 2011
This is a second expanded edition of the 2004 successful first edition, for which David Arnow, its author, received a lot of positive feedback. It contains excellent, interesting, and informative material for people who want to go beyond the traditional Passover Seder night service, or deeper into it, and make it more relevant and inspiring. Arnow writes that his book is for all strands of Jews from secularists, vegetarians, and kabbalists to Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. The book will help all Jews create a good warm feeling at their Seder. The Orthodox rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone Institutions in Israel wrote that the book will "serve as a marvelous companion piece to the Passover Haggadah and can be referred to year after year."
The Passover Seder (the word means "order") is a ceremonial home family meal designed to recall the ancient exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and give the history a contemporary relevance. It was first sketched out in the third century Mishnah (code of Jewish law) in a 435-word plan. Today, the traditional Ashkenazic (Jews from Germanic and some other lands) Haggadah has over 5,500 words, not counting any commentary. Unfortunately many Jews do not understand this important ceremony, and Arnow's book remedies this problem. Virtually all of the 25 chapters begin with a passage from the Haggadah (the "Retelling"). Thus the Seder leaders and the participants can select which part of the Haggadah they want to explore.
The first chapter, for example, spends 16 pages discussing the Seder plate, which receives a prominent placement on the Seder table. Arnow explains the different customs of what is put in the plate, why people differ, why place items on a plate at all, what items were added by some people in recent times and why did they do so, why is the matzah, the unleavened bread that is so significant to Passover, not on the plate. He has some readings about some of the items on the plate that participants may want to recite during the Seder or discuss.
In another chapter he focuses on the wide-spread myth that Moses is not mentioned in the Haggadah. He shows that Moses is mentioned once explicitly and once by reference. Why, he asks and then answers: do people imagine that Moses is not mentioned and why only these two references? What do these facts tell Jews about the meaning of Passover?
Arnow also includes an English translation of the tenth chapter of Mishnah Pesachim, the earliest description of the Seder, in the appendix, and interesting chapters on "Women of the Exodus," and "The Exodus from Egypt: The Question of Archeology."
Thus, this book is a valuable tool for anyone wanting to know more about the Passover, its ceremonial Seder meal, and the meaning of dozens of parts of the meal ceremony.