How to Conduct a Seder

The 14 steps of the seder, briefly explained.

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There are literally countless ways to conduct a seder. In addition, an effective seder leader or organizer will prepare in advance and make decisions concerning what type and style of seder he or she wishes to lead. The following article describes and offers advice on the nuts-and-bolts, or spine, of the traditional seder--the 14 steps of the Haggadah. Reprinted with permission from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

Light Yom Tov [Holiday] Candles

Before sunset, the mother is given the privilege of ushering in the festival by lighting the candles and reciting the following blessing: 

Barukh atah Adonai Eloheynu melekh ha-olam asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu lehadlik ner shel yom tov.

[Though the mother traditionally lights the candles many families today opt for the couple or family to light them together, while unmarried men and women, or those without children, also light candles.]

sederThe Seder

I. Kadesh--Kiddush. On Friday evening add the first portion (biblical selection on the Sabbath). On Saturday evening, add the Havdalah section separating sanctity of Sabbath from sanctity of holy day.

II. Urhatz--Lave. Washing preparation for eating vegetable entree (Karpas). Since the need for such washing was questioned, no blessing is required. It is good to go around to each of the participants, pouring water over the hands from a pitcher into a bowl.

III. Karpas--Spring vegetable. Any vegetable that is not bitter may be eaten. Among vegetables used are celery, parsley, onion, and potato. Dipped in salt water for purification and seasoning they remind us of the vegetation of spring, or the baby

boys cast in the Nile, or the tears shed by the slaves. The blessing said is the usual benediction of thanks before eating any vegetable.

IV. Yahatz--Divide. Break the middle Matzah into two parts. Take larger part, wrap it in napkin and save for the conclusion of the meal. Try--but don't try too hard--to keep it from being stolen by the children because it must be available for the end of the meal.

V. Magid--Narrate.

1. Lift up the plate with the symbols of affliction. The traditional invitation to the stranger to join the seder is offered.

2. The wine cups are refilled.

A seder at the University of Buffalo. Photo: University at Buffalo Reporter

3. The Four Questions.

4. The Response to the Questions. Read portions in unison. Have other portions recited by different individuals at the table.

(a) The Four Sons. Play up this part. Discuss different types of reactions to Judaism.

(b) Since the cup of wine represents the "cup of salvation", it is lifted when we recall God's promise to Abraham, emphasizing His eternal watchfulness.

(c) Note how the biblical verses (Deuteronomy 26:5-8) are elaborated upon, phrase by phrase.

(d) The Ten Plagues. Since our "cup of salvation" cannot be regarded as full when we recall the suffering of the Egyptians, a drop of wine is removed from the cup with the mention of each plague.

(e) Dayenu. Let all present join in the refrain.

(f) The explanations of the three principal symbols: the lamb bone, the matzah, and the bitter herbs. Highlight this section at your seder.

5. The cup is again lifted in joy, thankful for God's deliverance, ready to praise Him with the first word of the Psalm of praise (Hallel).

6. Two Psalms of the Hallel.

7. Drink the wine, with the blessing of salvation.

VI. Rohtza--Lave. Ready to eat, the hands are washed before the meal, as is required at any meal similar to the previous hand-washing. Now, though, all wash with the usual benediction as the hands are dried.

VII. Motzi-Matzah. The first food at the meal is, as usual, bread (naturally, however, this bread--the matzah--is unleavened bread). The usual berakhah [blessing]--the motzi--is recited. However, before eating the matzah, a second berakhah, thanking God for the requirement to eat matzah, is recited.

VIII. Marror--Herbs. Small pieces of horseradish are dipped into the haroset (symbolic of mortar) to indicate that overemphasis on material things results in bitterness. Before eating it, a berakhah thanking God for this requirement is recited. Some people mix the ground horseradish with charoset, combining this with "IX."

IX. Korekh--Hillel Sandwich. In ancient times, Hillel ate the three symbolic foods (lamb, matzah, and bitter herbs) together so that each mouthful contained all three. Thus the symbols of slavery and of liberation were intermingled. Now that we do not have the Paschal lamb, we eat just the matzah and horse-radish in a "Hillel sandwich". No special berakhah is said, but we do read the words recalling Hillel's practice.

X. Shulhan Orekh--Meal. The joyous feasting gives us the feeling of human fellowship in harmony with God.

XI. Tzafun--Dessert. Now the afikoman. Either someone has "stolen" it, or parents can hide the afikoman when it is first put aside (IV) and let the children look for it during the meal to win a prize.

XII. Barekh--Grace After Meals. (Birkat Ha-Mazon)This is the usual "bentschen," grace after meals, including, of course, thankfulness for the Passover holiday. Fill the cup before this grace and drink the third cup at its conclusion, with the usual "bore p'ri hagafen" blessing.

At this point in the seder, we Open the Door For Elijah, who by tradition is the forerunner of the Messiah, the harbinger of hope. Sing "Eliyahu Ha-navi."

XIII. Hallel--Psalms of Praise. The rest of the evening is given over to hymns and songs. The Hallel is completed, and all join in singing songs: Adir Hu, Had Gadya, etc.

XIV. Nirtzah--Conclusion (Chasal Seder). With the traditional formula, the seder is concluded, and the we sing L'Shana HaBa'ah B'Y'rushalayim [Next Year in Jerusalem].

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Rabbi Barry D Lerner

Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner was ordained in 1970. Dr. Lerner had 10 years of experience as a student rabbi, and he has served as a congregational youth group leader and youth director prior to ordination. He has served for 34 years of experience in United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism congregational pulpits and 25 years on the staff of Camp Ramah.