Supplementary Seder Readings

Remembering the oppressed--and others in need--at the seder

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Inserting new rituals and liturgical additions into the seder is a popular custom, though one that many traditionalist Jews might shun. Additions tend to center around remembering, praying for, and/or vowing to help people who are oppressed or otherwise in need. In other instances, the additions may support a political or social stance. The following is a compilation of several seder additions. Some refer to political causes--such as the plight of Soviet Jews--that are no longer relevant today in the same way. These are included here not just for historical reasons, but because they may very well be pertinent, in modified forms, to different contemporary situations.

Unless otherwise noted, the following are reprinted with permission from Hillel.org, the website of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

Let All Who Are Hungry

Ha lachma anya, recited toward the beginning of the seder, states that the matzah represents the bread of poverty. This is followed by an invitation welcoming anyone in need to the seder table. This reading, by an organization dedicated to fighting hunger, is a reminder that the words are more than ritual and can be seen as a call to action. (The following reading has been prepared by "MAZON: a Jewish response to hunger" to be read at "HA LACHMA ANYA".)

"The words are a pledge, and the pledge is a privilege. Surrounded by the hungry and the homeless, we can redeem the pledge. This evening, so that the hungry may eat, we contribute to Mazon, A Jewish Response to Hunger, and we say, together:

Barukh eloheinu sheb'tuvo he'vianu v'zikanu l'mitzvat matan mazon.

Blessed is our God through whose goodness we have been brought to the privilege of sharing our bread."

Pour Out Your Love, On Our Allies: The Righteous Gentiles

This unique addition to a medieval Haggadah appears side by side with "Pour out Your Wrath" [which is said upon opening the door for Elijah] in a manuscript from Worms (1521) attributed to the descendants of Rashi. Scholars today debate its authenticity but its sentiment for righteous gentiles is genuine.

Pour out your love on the nations who have known you and on the kingdoms who call upon your name. For they show loving-kindness to the seed of Jacob and they defend your people Israel from those who would devour them alive. May they live to see the sukkah of peace spread over your chosen ones and to participate in the joy of your nations.

-- Reprinted with permission from Noam Zion from A Different Night: The Family Participation Haggadah, published by the Shalom Hartman Institute.

Fifth Cup: In Memory of the Six Million

This reading shows the affect that the Holocaust has had on modern Jewry. The four cups of wine drunk at the seder symbolize different levels of redemption. The Holocaust may be viewed as the absence of redemption. This reading not only focuses on the most traumatic event in modern Jewish history, it places the event within the context of redemption. It is significant that this piece is to be read in association with Elijah the prophet, who is to herald the coming of the messiah. (To be recited after opening the door for Elijah.)

On this night of the seder we remember with reverence and love the six million of our people of the European exile who perished at the hand of a tyrant more wicked that Pharaoh who enslaved our fathers in Egypt. Come, said he to his minions, let us cut them off from being a people, that the name of Israel may be remembered no more. And they slew the blameless and pure, men and women and little ones, with vapors of poison and burned them with fire. But we abstain from dwelling the deeds of evil ones lest we defame the image of God in which man was created.

Now, the remnants of our people who were left in the ghettos and camps of annihilation rose up against the wicked ones for the sanctification of the Name and slew many of them before they died. On the first day of Passover the remnants in the Ghetto for Warsaw rose up against the adversary, even as in the days of Judah the Maccabee. They were lovely and pleasant in their lives and in their death they were not divided. They brought redemption to the name of Israel throughout all the world. And from the depths of their affliction, the martyrs lifted their voices in a song of faith in the coming of the Messiah, when justice and brotherhood will reign among men.

"Ani ma-amin be-emuna sh'layma b'viat ha-mashiach;

V'afal pee she-yit-may-mayah im kol ze ani ma-amin."

(I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah;

and, though he tarry, nonetheless I believe.")

The Fifth Cup: In Thankfulness for Israel

This additional cup of wine also ties in with the four cups of redemption. Here, the creation of the state Israel is viewed as fulfilling God's promise of redemption. (To be recited after drinking the fourth cup of wine at the conclusion of the seder.)

We read in the Talmud: These four cups correspond to the four expressions of redemption that the Torah uses in relating the events of Egypt: Vehotzeti, and I shall bring forth; Vehitzalti, and I shall save; Vegaalti, and I shall redeem; Valakahti, and I shall take. Rabbi Tarphon would add a fifth cup to correspond to Veheveti, and I shall bring.

And now, in our own time, when we have been privileged to behold the mercies of the Holy One, blessed is He and His salvation over us, in the establishment of the State of Israel, which is the beginning of redemption and salvation, as it is written, "And I shall bring you into the land which I swore to give unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob and I have given it unto you as an inheritance, I am the Lord! it is fitting and proper that we observe this pious act, the drinking of the fifth cup as a form of thanksgiving.

We give thanks unto the Eternal for the wartime miracles and wonders He wrought for us. The mercies of the Eternal stood us in good stead in time of dire peril, when seven nations united to destroy and annihilate the Jewish state at the very time of its birth and yet once again they pledge to annihilate the land and its people and plunge it into rivers of blood and fire. The Eternal, in His loving kindness, frustrated the designs of our enemies and vouchsafed victory unto us, bringing us again to Jerusalem in joy.

Fighting Contemporary Slavery

Rabbi Joel Soffin of Temple Shalom in Succasunna, New Jersey, wrote the following prayer to be included in the Passover seder. It expresses empathy for people living as victims of slavery today and commits to helping free them. (You may say this prayer at any point during the seder. We recommend saying it after the Bread of Affliction reading--Ha Lachma Anya--which immediately precedes the Four Questions.)

On this holiday when we are commanded to relive the bitter experience of slavery, we place a fourth matzah with the traditional three and recite this prayer (recite while holding the Fourth Matzah):

"We raise this fourth matzah to remind ourselves that slavery still exists, that people are still being bought and sold as property, that the Divine image within them is yet being denied. We make room at our seder table and in our hearts for those in southern Sudan and in Mauritania who are now where we have been.

We have known such treatment in our own history. Like the women and children enslaved in Sudan today, we have suffered while others stood by and pretended not to see, not to know. We have eaten the bitter herb, we have been taken from our families and brutalized. We have experienced the horror of being forcibly converted. In the end, we have come to know in our very being that none can be free until all are free.

And so, we commit and recommit ourselves to work for the freedom of these people. May the taste of this 'bread of affliction' remain in our mouths until they can eat in peace and security. Knowing that all people are Yours, O God, we will urge our government and all governments to do as You once commanded Pharaoh on our behalf, 'Shalah et Ami! Let MY People Go!'"

-- Reprinted with permission from iAbolish: The Anti-Slavery Portal.

Orange Reading

The following refers to the contemporary custom of some Jews to place an orange on the seder plate in solidarity with marginalized Jewish groups.

And, there are those who add: The orange carries within itself the seeds of its own rebirth. When we went forth from the Narrow Place, Mitzrayim (Egypt), the Jewish people passed through a narrow birth canal and broke the waters of the Red Sea. As we women step forward to claim our full role in Judaism, we too can be full participants in a Jewish rebirth. Our place in Judaism will be as visible as the orange on our seder plate.

All:

And thus we were born into the world. The wisdom of women who were midwives, like Shifra and Puah, made that birth possible.

-- By Aggie Goldenholz and Susan Pittelman, from "Our Community Women's Seder," Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Used with permission of the authors.

Prayer for Jewish Communities in Lands of Oppression

Ha lachma anya means both "bread of poverty" and "bread of affliction." In this reading, the interpretation of "affliction" is used as a reminder that the oppression of Jews is a contemporary problem. (To be recited after "HA LACHMA ANYA," "This is the bread of affliction" at the beginning of the seder.)

Behold this matzah, the symbol of our affliction but also of our liberty. As we look at it, let us remember our brethren everywhere who are in distress. On this festival of our freedom, may our hearts be turned to our brothers and sisters in Russia and in Arab lands who are not able to celebrate this Passover in the traditional, reclining attitude of free men. Rock of Israel, hasten the day when all of our brethren will know true freedom and in consort with the whole house of Israel give thanks to Thee for Thy wondrous deeds and Thy redemption. And may the redeemer come unto Zion. Amen.

Matzah of Hope

The Matzah of Hope is a symbol from the days of Soviet oppression of its Jewish population when Soviet Jews had to celebrate the seder secretly, if at all. One possible symbolism is that the three matzot represent the traditional divisions of the Jewish population: Cohen, Levi, and Israel. The fourth matzah represented those Jews not free to fulfill their potential as Jews. (A fourth matzah is added to the traditional three on the main seder plate and the following prayer is recited after "HA LACHMA ANYA" at the beginning of the seder.)

This Is The Matzah of Hope: This matzah, which we set aside as a symbol of hope, for the three million Jews of the Soviet Union, reminds us of the indestructible link that exists between us. As we observe this festival of freedom, we know that Soviet Jews are not free to learn of their Jewish past, to hand it down to their children. They cannot learn the languages of their fathers. They cannot teach their children to be the teachers, the rabbis of future generations.

They can only sit in silence and become invisible. We shall be their voice, and our voices shall be joined by thousands of men of conscience aroused by the wrongs suffered by Soviet Jews. Then shall they know that they have not been forgotten and they that sit in darkness shall yet see a great light.

Prayer for Jews Driven Out of Middle Eastern Countries

In the 20th century, as Jews immigrated to Israel and established the state, many Arab countries responded by persecuting or expelling their Jewish populations. In many cases, those Jewish communities had lived for centuries in peace with the majority culture and had prospered. The following prayer remembers those communities. During the seder, hold up the middle Matzah before the Ha Lachma Anya (Bread of Affliction) section and recite the following reading:

As we hold the bread of affliction, we recall that more than 3,000 years ago our ancestors went forth from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the land of Israel. Many never left the Middle East. Today, we remember not only the bitterness of that slavery, but also the forgotten exodus of one million Jews who fled the Middle East and North Africa in the 20th century.

The Jewish people have been living in Egypt and throughout the Middle East for more than 3,000 years. As Jews, we take pride in being the Middle East's oldest, existing ethnic group.

Wherever we lived, from Morocco to Iran, we made enormous contributions. Sasson Heskel, a Baghdadi Jew, was Iraq's Finance Minister in the 1930s. Mourad Bey helped draft the Egyptian constitution in the 1920s. And Layla Murad, the great diva of Arabic music and film, was also an Egyptian Jew--the Middle East's Barbara Streisand. We cherish the sweeter memories from periods of co-existence.

But, for all our success, we encountered racism and oppression that ultimately drove us out. Jewish community centers were bombed, family members thrown in jail on trumped-up charges, and innocent people lynched before cheering crowds. Arab governments often froze bank accounts and prevented Jews from leaving with more than one suitcase.

The circumstances of the exodus differed from country to country. Some left because of intimidation, others by explicit expulsion. But the pain and anguish of being uprooted from the only homeland these Jews ever knew was the same.

We hold the bread of affliction and recall the 135,000 Jews of Iraq who once made up a plurality of the city of Baghdad; the 40,000 Jews of Libya, where today no Jews remain; and the 80,000 Jews of Egypt, many of whom in 1956 received government expulsion orders. Just as the Israelites did not have time to let their bread rise, these modern Egyptian Jewish refugees did not have time to pack their bags.

And hundreds of thousands more, from Morocco, from Yemen, from Syria, from Iran, from Afghanistan. Some of these refugees fled to the U.S. and Europe. Most went to Israel, where Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent now comprise a majority of the population.

The scars of the past can heal. But justice can only be achieved when peoples and governments in the Middle East recognize the plight of the forgotten million refugees. This year, we pray for the day when justice will be achieved for the Jews of the Middle East and when all peoples of the region will live together in peace and harmony. Amen.

-- Reprinted with permission from The Forgotten Jewish Exodus website and The David Project.

Ethiopian Jewry

The symbolism in this reading is the same as in "the Matzah of Hope." (Some added a fourth additional symbolic matzah to the traditional three covered matzot in order to remember oppressed Ethiopian Jewry, Jewry of Arab lands, and Soviet Jewry still waiting to be redeemed. We then read:)

It has become customary at the seder to set aside a few minutes for Jews in other lands, especially the Soviet Union and those in Arab lands, who are not free to celebrate Passover. We also remember another group of our brothers and sisters, perhaps less familiar to us, but living in even more dire circumstances. These are the Ethiopian Jews or "Falashas" as they were called by the Ethiopians. Even their name, "Falasha," means stranger, though this group of Jews has been living in Ethiopia at least since the time of the Second Temple. They call themselves instead "Beta Yisrael," "The House of Israel."

Though their origins may be mysterious, their current problems are not. Once a proud and prosperous community of 500,000, their numbers have dwindled in recent years due to poverty, disease, drought, civil war, and missionary efforts. Today, while most have been resettled in Israel for which they hoped, some still remain in Ethiopia. Their only desire is to be able to return to the land of their ancestors, Israel.

Ethiopian Jews' Prayer

Many Haggadot incorporate readings that reflect events that have affected modern Jews. Incorporating this reading into the seder symbolizes a modern fulfillment of God's redemptive power. It also signifies the legitimacy of Ethiopian Jews as part of the Jewish nation. We celebrate the successful ingathering of Ethiopian Jews in the State of Israel for which they prayed and waited for so many years. We shall not forget their oppression and the modern miracle of their redemption even as they are rapidly becoming mainstream Israelis. We also want to preserve their heritage of values and liturgy.

Do not separate me, O Lord, from the chosen

From the joy, from the light, from the splendor,

Let me see, O Lord, the light of Israel,

And let me listen to the words of the just

While they speak about the Law.

To teach fear of Thee, O Lord, King forever.

Thou are blessed, O Lord, be merciful to me.

By day be Thou my shepherd, and my guardian at night.

When I walk be my guide, when I sit be my guardian.

When I call Thee, keep Thou not silent.

I love Thee, hate me not;

I have confidence in Thee,

Abandon me not.

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