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A thought on asking rabbis questions

Content note: This post is more Jewish-specific than usual. (As usual, anyone who wants to reblog one of my posts should go ahead and reblog it.)


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“Seders go better if you have substantial food for karpas”

Strictly speaking you shouldn’t eat anything between kiddush and motzi, and the karpas breaks that usual pattern; many still hold, though, that for that reason the karpas should not be anything substantial. If you or anyone else at the seder holds that way, eating something substantial shortly before candle lighting is a good alternative.

realsocialskills said:

I’m not concerned with that opinion, for reasons are beyond the scope of this blog. That said, I think there’s something it’s important for people in communities concerned with that kind of thing to know:

Strict opinions do not necessarily apply to everyone. This is true in every community, even communities generally regarded as extremely inflexible.

If you ask “Is it permitted to do x?” as a generic question, you will usually get the default theoretical answer based on sources. If you ask “given my particular circumstances, is it permitted for *me* to do x?”, you will usually get an answer that takes your circumstances into account. These answers can be completely different.

People who sound super-strict in public (even angrily so), often give very different answers in private when they know your circumstances. 

If the answer to a halakhic question you’re asking matters, it’s usually worth saying why. If you’re asking a rabbi, maharat, yoetzet, or other halakhic expert a question, they will give you a better answer if you give them more context.

So here, someone who asked “Can I eat substantial food for karpas” might get a completely different answer than “Every year I find that I am too exhausted from hunger to participate in the maggid. Can I eat substantial food for karpas?”. 

tl;dr If you’re in the kind of community where people ask rabbis halakhic questions, it’s often worth telling them what your situation is and why you’re asking the question. The answer to abstract questions is often very different than the answer to questions about a specific situation.

Dealing with boring seders

Content note: This post is more Jewish-specific than usual. Feel free to reblog if it speaks to you for any reason.

A lot of seders are boring, but the haggadah itself is interesting.

One way to deal with boring seders is to ignore the boring conversation and read the interesting parts of the haggadah.

Unfortunately, a lot of haggadahs are printed in ways that make the content seem boring. Cheap haggadot tend to have really lousy translations that make it seem incomprehensible. 

Understanding the interestingness of the haggadah can require some context. If you get a haggadah with good commentary, the story is likely to seem much more interesting. 

One way to find good commentary is to go to a bookstore, flip through some different haggadot, and see which ones look interesting to you. If you bring a good haggadah, you might be more interested — and might be able to make the conversation more interesting for others as well. also has some things that might help.

Another thing you can do is find supplements and alternative texts. A lot of organizations, movements, and even fandoms have them. For instance, Keshet has a whole collection of LGBTQ haggadot you can print, and here’s a Hamilton Haggadah. If you search for “[group/movement/fandom you care about] haggadah” you will most likely find something. 

(Speaking of additions, here’s the original story of where the orange on the seder plate came from.)

(My other organization, Anachnu is actually working on a disability commentary, but it’s not out yet this year.)

Whatever text you’re using, here’s an approach to asking questions that are interesting to you.

Tl;dr Seders are often boring. The haggadah itself is interesting, especially with good commentary. Scroll up for thoughts on getting access to the good parts.

Some thoughts on asking questions at the seder

Content note: This post is more Jewish-specific than my posts usually are. Feel free to reblog it if it speaks to you.

Seders are supposed to be about asking questions, but that doesn’t always happen in practice. (For any number of reasons.)

Here’s one way to look for questions to ask about the seder. You can look at any piece of it and ask:

  • What is this doing in the haggadah?
  • What does it have to do with the Exodus from Egypt?
  • What does it have to do with the world the rabbis were living in? 
  • What does this have to do with the world we’re living in?

And if you’d like some examples, here are some of the questions I’ve been thinking about:

What’s the deal with dayenu?

  • There’s a whole long list of things that we seem to be saying “It would have been enough” about. 
  • Which ones make sense to you? Which ones don’t? Why?
  • Why do you think we say all of these things?
  • Is there anything you think belongs on the list that isn’t there?

What’s the deal with the four sons/daughters/children?

  • Why are we even talking about this here? Why talk about this rather than details of the story of leaving Egypt?
  • What do you think of the categories? Do these seem like real types of people or types of responses to you?
  • What examples can you think of?

Regarding the “one who does not know how to ask”:

  • What are some reasons that some Jews aren’t able to ask their questions at the seder?
  • What could be done about that?
  • Which questions do you have that you aren’t able to ask? (Or aren’t yet able to ask).
  • What might make it possible to ask them?

What does freedom mean this year?

  • Some parts of the haggadah say that we used to be slaves, and that we are now free.
  • Other parts say that we are still slaves, and that we hope to be liberated.
  • What does this mean to you? Why do you think the haggadah says both?
  • Do you think that there are ways in which we are both free and unfree?
  • What liberation are we still hoping for?

Why do we open by making promises we can’t keep?

  • The beginning of the story part (maggid) opens with ha lakhma anya (this is the bread of affliction.
  • As part of this, we say “let all who are hungry come and eat” and “let all who are in need come and offer the Passover sacrifice”.
  • We know that people are hungry who we’re not really inviting to eat, and that we’re not going to offer the Passover sacrifice at this meal.
  • What’s the point of saying this?

(And actually, wearing my other hat, I’m involved in a weekly Twitter parsha discussion). This week (Thursday 7:30 EDT April) we’re going to be discussing seder-related questions instead of parsha questions.

Tl;dr Passover Seders are supposed to be about questions. Scroll up for an approach to looking for questions, and some of the questions I’ve been asking.