Passover, the major Jewish holiday celebrating the ancient Israelites’ delivery from slavery to freedom, begins at sundown today; and its ritual evening meal, with symbolic foods and drink, is called the Seder. Seder means "order" or "arrangement" in Hebrew.
Unlike other major Jewish holidays, Passover takes place primarily in the family home, where it’s traditional to invite friends and family.
In the Reform tradition, and for Jews in Israel, the Seder is held the first night only. All others celebrate for two nights. The entire holiday is eight days.
The holiday’s twin themes are slavery, and freedom from that slavery from the hands of Egyptians. The Passover story is recounted in the book of Exodus.
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Families and friends gather around the table on the nights of Passover to read one of the many versions of the Haggadah, the story of the Israelite exodus from Egypt. Seder customs include drinking of four cups of wine, eating matza and eating symbolic foods.
The Seder is an intergenerational family ritual.
The Seder is integral to Jewish faith and identity. If not for the Exodus, as explained in the Haggadah, the Jewish people would still be slaves in Egypt. Therefore, the Seder is an occasion for praise and thanksgiving and for rededication to the idea of liberation. It is a joyous holiday.
Some Christian churches copy the meal but the symbols are different, and it commemorates Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples.
“What most people don’t know about the Passover Seder is that it did not come into existence until after the destruction of the Temple (in Jerusalem) in 70 C.E. (Common Era),” said Rabbi Tom Friedmann of Temple Israel (Reform), in Columbus. “Therefore the Last Supper was a Passover meal, but not a Seder. The elements that entered into Christianity were those that existed while the Temple stood.
“The tie to Christianity is that the Paschal lamb was the most innocent of animals whose blood was shed to save the multitudes. Thus the symbols of Passover that existed at the time of the Last Supper were reformulated and incorporated into Christian tradition.”