• ZipDialog Explainer: What is a Passover Seder?

    What is a Passover Seder?

    Two friends asked various questions about what the Seder is, how it is conducted, what people traditionally eat, and so on.

    Glad to respond via ZipDialog’s new feature: “The Explainer,” which seeks to offer clear, succinct answers to reader questions.


    The Passover Seder celebrates the Jewish people’s exit from slavery in Egypt, a story told in the book of Exodus. It is family-and-friends dinner celebration, held each spring. The date varies because it is set by the lunar calendar, just as Easter is. The connection to Easter is no accident. Jesus’ Last Supper was a Passover Seder. Both use common symbols of springtime rebirth, such as eggs and lambs.

    So, what happens at a seder?

    The main point is to read the story of the Exodus as a group activity with friends and family, with periodic prayers over wine, food, and such.

    The service is normally conducted at home, or perhaps a club or synagogue dining area.

    It is not a synagogue service, such as the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

    The content of Passover services varies a bit–in length, in the amount of Hebrew used, and in whether it is celebrated on only the first night or the first two.

    The holiday itself lasts eight days, but the full Seder is normally conducted only at the beginning.

    Matzoh, or unleavened bread, is eaten for the entire week. No leavened bread.

    For Jewish homes that keep Kosher, there are special rules for keeping Kosher on Passover. The point is to ensure that you do not touch, much less eat, leavened foods. That typically requires separate china and silverware and a rigorous cleansing of the house to get rid of all leavened products. What counts as “leavened” differs among rabbis.

    The normal Jewish rule applies: if there are two rabbis, there will be at least three opinions, all deeply held and based on multiple rabbinic sources.

    Although family seders differ, they have a lot in common.

    All Passover Seders 

    • Are based on participants reading together from a “Passover Haggadah,” or prayer book.
      • There are many variations of these prayer books. Book collectors and rare-book libraries have assembled thousands from medieval Europe, the ancient Middle East, and all countries of the Jewish Diaspora
    • Emphasize the Exodus from Egypt in the “present tense,” as if we are reliving the flight to freedom;
    • Ask and answer “Four Questions,” focused on the central question: “Why is tonight different from all other nights?
    • Use the prayer service to answer the four questions, reinforced by eating symbolic foods, such as
      • Horseradish to emphasize the pain of slavery and
      • Parsley dipped in salt water to emphasize the slaves’ sweat and tears and the parting of the Red Sea
    • Include a symbolic plate, with items such as the horseradish, parsley, eggs, and a lamb’s shank bone, which are directly related to the four questions and the prayer service
    • Highlight a specific food, matzoh, which symbolizes the need to leave Egypt hurriedly, without waiting for the bread to rise.

    All Seders stop near the conclusion of the prayer service for a regular dinner (explained below), followed typically the final prayers, some group songs, and a child’s game, hunting for a piece of matzoh (the afikoman) hidden by the adult in charge of the service. The child who finds it receives a small reward, such as sweets or money.

    The regular dinner served on Passover

    What everybody starts with, in my experience, is matzoh-ball soup and some gefilte fish (a mix of fishes, served as a cold patty).

    The main course is usually chicken or lamb–there is no standard.

    Wine is passed around freely and there are multiple times when it is drunk during the service itself, a rare feature among Jewish festivals.

    In 1940s and 50s America, most homes served a dreadful sweet wine: Manischewitz Concord Grape (pronounced Man-i-shev-its).

    Although wine stores are now stocked with fine “Kosher for Passover” wines, all Baby Boomer Seders include a bottle of Manischewitz to remind them how we not only escaped from Egypt, we took at detour through Napa Valley before arriving in the Land of Milk and Honey.


    Finally, every Seder ends with the same brief statement of hope: “Next Year in Jerusalem”

    The complete phrase is often said as:

    This year we are here, next year we will be in the Land of Israel.

    This year we are slaves, next year we will be free.

    Next year in Jerusalem. –said joyously at the conclusion of Passover Seder

    There are many interpretations, naturally. Here is mine.

    For Americans, this is not a hope to leave a country we love. We could leave freely if we chose to do so. Most do not, anymore than Irish-Americans or Italian-Americans return to their ancestral homes.

    For Jews, though, the statement has three intertwined meanings.

    First, it underscores a cultural connection to the land where Jews have lived for thousands of years. (We stated this wish at every Passover for centuries, long before anti-Semites began denying Jews had any historic connection to the land of Israel, a truly vile trope.)

    Second, it underscores a connection to Jews across the world, all of whom are saying the same thing in Hebrew and their native languages.

    Third, and most important for observant Jews, it means we will all return to Jerusalem–the Biblical ideal–when the Messiah comes and the Temple is rebuilt. That is why even Jews who live in Jerusalem can pray, “This year we are here. Next year in Jerusalem.”


    Hat Tip from ZipDialog Explainer to

    * Susannah McCafferty Sanders for asking this question, and to

    * Scott Stantis for raising some related questions after he had attended a Seder this week.

  • World Council of Churches attacks Israel . . . again

    The World Council of Churches versus the Jewish State, Once Again,” writes Gerald Steinberg (Religious News Service)

    The WCC attacked Israel for its March 6 vote in the Israeli parliament (Knesset) that would deny entry visas to activists who call for the boycott of the Jewish state. Olav Fykse Tveit, secretary-general of the WCC, told numerous media outlets that the new law would “make it impossible for him or senior people in his organization to visit member churches or sacred sites in what Christianity regards as the Holy Land.” …

    Ironically, the church body deserves much of the credit for inspiring the entry ban through its campaigns to isolate and demonize Israel internationally.

    For years, the WCC has played a leading role in this harsh political warfare. The organization’s top officials participated in the virulently anti-Semitic NGO Forum of the 2001 U.N. Durban Conference, at which Israel was labeled as an apartheid state. –Gerald Steinberg

    This latest attack is part of a pattern of anti-Israel advocacy, according to NGO Monitor.

    The WCC is a central promoter of the Kairos Palestine document, which characterizes terrorist acts of “armed resistance” as “Palestinian legal resistance” denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel in theological terms, calls to mobilize churches worldwide in the call for BDS, and compares Israel with the South African apartheid regime. . . .

    WCC documents (May 2013) imply that Israel’s very existence is illegitimate, accusing it of “sixty-five years [] of continuing dispossession of Palestinian people—Christian and Muslim alike—from their land by Israeli occupation.”

    Refers to Christian Zionism “as a form of Christian fundamentalism” and claims that “Christians who promote “Christian Zionism” distort the interpretation of the Word of God and the historic connection of Palestinians—Christians and Muslims—to the Holy Land, enable the manipulation of public opinion by Zionist lobbies, and damage intra-Christian relations.”

    During the 2014 Gaza conflict, WCC released several statements placing sole blame for the conflict on Israel and ignoring Hamas terrorism against Israeli civilians. –NGO Monitor

    Comment: Israel and its supporters take the boycott movement very seriously, less because it directly affects their economy, more because it aims at delegitimizing the very existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East. That’s the point of using vitriolic and misleading terms like “apartheid” and “colonialism,” which imply Israel is not only acting badly, its existence is a colonial outcropping that should be removed. The World Council of Churches has repeatedly endorsed these anti-Israel views without directly saying Israel should not exist.

    The WCC’s position–demonizing Israel and often demonizing America–matches that of left-wing Christian denominations in the US. Those denominations are shrinking and are increasingly organized around a romantic, progressive political vision rather than worship. What’s growing? Evangelicals who are focused on their religious beliefs and, typically, are patriotic and pro-Israel. Their support for Zionism is at least as strong, and often stronger, than the liberal wing of American Judaism.

  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Thursday, February 16

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Trump’s Budget Chief finally Approved; Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) has been a Tea Party favorite  (Washington Post)

    Comment: His position is a hot seat and will be difficult for him to manage politically. The difficulty, fundamentally, is that Trump’s spending and tax-cutting plans and his refusal to tackle entitlements are very different from the Tea Party’s and the House Freedom Caucus. Mulvaney will not only have to reconcile those vast differences, he will have to convince some of his former colleagues in the House–or be read out of their church.

     Alexander Acosta, nominated as Labor Sec. He is an experienced lawyer, who served in several positions in GW Bush administration, including National Labor Relations Board, and is chairman of a Hispanic community bank in Florida (Fox)

    Comment: Presumably better vetted than Andrew Puzder, who withdrew his nomination, and should be a straightforward approval. That won’t stop Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats from slow-walking it. Vetting is fine. Slow walking is just gamesmanship.

     US Sec. of State Rex Tillerson meets his Russian counterpart. So far, no real news about what has become an increasingly conflictual relationship (New York Times)

     US Sec. of Defense reassures NATO that it will not cozy up to Russia No closer military ties between US-Russia, Mattis says  (New York Times)

     Senate to grill Trump’s nominee for US Ambassador to Israel  (CNN)

    Comment: David Friedman has supported settlements so he is reviled by the left. The Democrats will focus on Trump’s “abandonment of the two-state solution.” But that’s misleading. What Trump really did was say, correctly, the parties themselves have to strike a mutually-acceptable deal. We (the US) won’t constrain that. Smart, as a negotiating tactic.

    Of course, there will be no agreement because

    • The Palestinians do not have stable governance
    • One of their territories is rules by corrupt terrorists, the other by dead-ender terrorists, part of a larger Muslim Brotherhood movement, bent on overthrowing regimes across the Arab-Muslim world; and
    • The Palestinian people have not even begun to discuss the nature of the compromises that would be essential in a peace treaty. The Israelis did discuss those issues and were ready for compromise during the Clinton Administration.

    They have now given up on that possibility and are reluctantly moving forward to preserve their security without much cooperation from the Palestinians.




  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Monday, Dec. 19

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Home construction has lagged the rest of the US recovery. (Wall Street Journal)

    ◆ Before the Kardashians, there was Zsa Zsa Gabor. The same idea: bling, glamor, strange voice, no talent except for publicity. Now Zsa Zsa is dead dead.  She was 99. (LA Times)

    ◆ It is with great personal pleasure I announce the following: my spellcheck does not recognize the word “Kardashian.”

    ◆ Most reports about Trump’s nominee to be US ambassador to Israel have been critical, emphasizing his conservative views and lack of foreign policy experience. Elliott Abrams has a far more positive view of the nominee, David Friedman. (Abrams’ blog at the Council on Foreign Relations)

    ◆ Well, that was a bad idea, Attorney General Loretta Lynch says of her meeting with Bill Clinton. Jake Tapper of CNN does a fine job bringing out her views. (CNN)

    ◆ For years, Middle East Studies departments in US universities have been cesspools of hatred for Israel and for anyone (Jewish, Evangelical, or other) who supports Israel. They have received no pushback from university administrators or faculty. The federal government has funded them for language training, even though the departments’ hatred of the US government is strong and deep. Now, Middle East Studies Departments across the country are lashing out at the prospect of a Trump presidency, using the language of victimization they have taught students for years, writes Cinnamon Stillwell and Michael Lumish at Campus Watch.

    ◆ GQ has an article entitled “Mitch McConnell is the Real Evil One.” The subtitle is equally subtle, “Where Do You Think Trump Learned to Gaslight America?”

    I am not being hyperbolic when I say that Mitch McConnell is evil. The coming Trump Presidency is already an assembly line of shitty, apocalyptic consequences getting cranked out 24/7, and the fact that McConnell now holds near-total power over Congress is perhaps the most unbearable side effect of them all. –Drew Magary in GQ

    Comment: When I need political analysis, I go to GQ for fashion advice.



  • ZipDialog’s Roundup of News Beyond the Front Page . . Monday, Nov. 14

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Media Bias during the election continues after Tuesday: The mainstream news media went all-in for one candidate this election, not just in their editorials (which is fine) but in their reporting (which is not). That has continued after the election. The New York Times first national edition after the election outcome featured this:anti-trump-nyt-on-th-11-10-16-labeled

    In a breathtaking editorial comment, the publisher and top editor said they were rededicating the paper to fair, honest reporting of political issues. Rededicating.

    The New York Daily News went with this:


    Howard Kurtz of Fox’s Media Buzz has a short, sharp report on the bias:

    Sharyl Attkisson charges that the New York Times had important negative stories about Hillary Clinton that it refused to run during the campaign for fear of damaging her candidacy.  Attkisson is a highly-regarded investigative reporter who was fired for her own “let the chips fall where they may” approach to stories. She states that claim about the NYT early in this interview:

    Shifting to other stories

    ◆ Pro-Israel groups cancel strong pro-Israel advocate for fear she might alienate anti-Zionists at Univ. of Texas-Austin (link here). (Algemeiner)

    Comment: This is a cowardly act–and a political error. Don’t back down in front of people who want to undermine you. It just encourages and strengthens them. Show some backbone.

    ◆ ABC News headline: GOP President-Elect Donald Trump Says Same-Sex Marriage Is ‘Settled’ Law. They also ran stories noting

    Comment: In short, Trump has moved the party away from its long-standing “social conservative” agenda–and he did it during the campaign when he was actively seeking votes from social conservatives. Still, the LGBTQ community is rightly concerned that Trump’s appointees to the Federal bench may be less supportive.

    alabama-crimson-tide-logo-300px-no-margins◆ Comment on AP Football Rankings: Alabama received all 61 votes for first place. The other teams rounding out the top 4 are Ohio State, Louisville, and Michigan (despite its loss to Iowa). At this point, none of those teams is even close to Alabama’s quality. Their rankings should begin at #5.

    That’s not good for college football, which needs competition for elite status. The other amazing aspect of these rankings is the fall of the SEC. After ‘Bama, the next highest-ranked team from the conference is LSU at number 16. Auburn, at 18, is the only other SEC team in the top 20. Strange year.


    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Fred Lawson
     for story on UT-Austin

  • The Right Way to Handle Disrupters on Campus: Kudos to the students of Georgetown University and Professor Robert Lieber

    Last week, Palestinian activists tried to disrupt an event at Georgetown University discussing the political career of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

    Disruptions like this are commonplace on university campuses. They are led by Palestinian and Muslim activists, some coming from off-campus, and are typically joined by left-wing allies. What was unusual–and encouraging–was how Georgetown handled this assault on basic values of free discussion. Panel chair Robert Lieber and a supportive audience of Georgetown students combined to restore order and resume the discussion they came for.

    Lieber is one of the country’s leading experts on US foreign policy and a long-time professor at Georgetown University (GU). The panel he led, sponsored by the school’s Center for Jewish Civilization, included leading historians and policymakers from the United States and Israel, all well equipped to consider Benjamin Netanyahu’s career in the context of Israel politics and international relations.

    After the panelists had finished and turned to the audience for questions, the Israel-haters grabbed the floor. Professor Lieber describes what happened:israeli-apartheid-week

    At that point, a young woman began screaming about Palestinians, Zionist panelists, and genocide, and two students unfurled a banner reading, “Palestine From the River to the Sea.”  [Note: That slogan implies Israel’s complete elimination.] The GU campus police, with whom we had coordinated before the event, swiftly removed the banner and its holders from the hall.  From the podium, I calmly but forcefully stated that the woman’s interruption was utterly unacceptable, that she was in blatant violation of the University’s speech code in preventing a speaker from speaking and audience from hearing.  I stated that her reference to “genocide” was unacceptable and indeed obscene, and I then added, either leave now or get in line to ask a question — which she did a few minutes later (once again referencing Palestinians and genocide). Benny Morris [one of Israel’s leading historians] responded calmly, firmly, and very effectively.

    The actual disruption lasted no more than one minute in a nearly two-hour program.  The protest gained no support from the audience, and both those present and university officials have told me they think it was a model in how to deal with potential speech disruptions.  One of the keys to this was the firm statement at the outset of the event about the speech code.  As a result, when the outburst did occur, it was in a context where the audience understood and was receptive to the rules and had no doubt the protesters’ behavior was unacceptable and in violation of the GU policy.

    Robert Lieber
    Professor, Georgetown University

    What restored free discourse at Georgetown?

    ♦ First, the school itself has clearly articulated principles of free speech. Those are real values, not pro forma statements.

    ♦ Second, the audience of Georgetown students and faculty demonstrated their support for these principles when someone tried to shout them down.

    ♦ Third, the faculty and staff who planned the event prepared to deal with disruptions and coordinated with campus police. It is a sad fact of university life that police have to be present for all pro-Israel events on campus. Those events are always threatened.

    ♦ Finally, Lieber handled the entire event professionally. He began the panel by reminding the audience of Georgetown’s free-speech principles, which include their right to hear the speakers. When Lieber was called upon to enforce those principles, he did so calmly and firmly. By contrast, at Swarthmore, when students prevented speakers from supporting hydrocarbon fracking, the president of the school and its dean of students were actually in the room and did nothing. Having received no pushback, the “coalition to intimidate” flourished and forced Swarthmore to cancel its distinguished commencement speaker, the former president of the World Bank. (His crime: he had been part of the George Bush administration.)

    The Georgetown episode is worth recounting because it is illustrates both a common problem and  a solution. The problem is not limited to pro-Israel events. It includes virtually any talks opposed by a loose coalition of campus leftists, Palestinians and Muslim activists, and other ethnic and racial groups.

    This coalition reserves for itself the right to decide which events can proceed, uninterrupted, and which ones will be harassed, disrupted, and shut down. Maintaining that de facto control is why they are so staunchly opposed to the Free Speech Principles recently restated by the University of Chicago. Under those principles, they would still have every right to protest, to march outside with signs, and to hold their own counter-events. They could put up all the posters they want. But they would no longer hold a “heckler’s veto” over who can speak on campus. They do not want to lose that power.

    They tried to exercise that heckler’s veto once again at Georgetown last week. Their disruption was standard operating procedure. What was not standard was Professor Lieber’s effective efforts to stop them and continue the panel. What was not standard was Georgetown students’ support for free and open discourse.  It is Georgetown’s exemplary response that ought to become the new standard.

    Thanks to Ken Waltzer and Linda Maizels of the Academic Engagement Network for providing information about the Georgetown event and the quotation from Prof. Lieber.


  • Campus Speech Suppression and Anti-Semitism: Op-Ed by Richard Herman, former Chancellor of Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

    Dr. Herman has seen these issues up close, first as a professor, then as a senior administrator, and, most recently, as a top adviser at the Jewish Federation of Chicago. Nobody is more qualified to speak on the issues of free speech and its impact on Jewish students.  He does so with depth and nuance.

    His column is here.

  • More on Free Speech. Excellent, thorough article by Matt Foldi

    Matt Foldi, a student at the University of Chicago and a prominent conservative, explains the background to the Dean’s letter. Foldi introduced a free-speech resolution at the Student Government last year, but, incredibly, it was defeated by the Social Justice Warriors. Still, the defeat may have encouraged university administrators to recognize that free speech was endangered, even at the U. of Chicago, which has strong principles on the subject and recently reiterated them.

    Foldi recounts several disruptions at the University of Chicago, and adds:

    In addition to these events on the University of Chicago’s campus, earlier this year, DePaul University in Chicago descended into chaos when its chapter of College Republicans invited Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on campus, and Donald Trump’s rally at the University of Illinois in Chicago was shut down before it even started. I was at both the Milo and Trump events, and both were absolutely insane. I have problems with both Milo and Trump, but I was also legitimately interested in hearing what they had to say, which was denied to me when both of their events were cancelled entirely. The events chronicled in detail are only the ones that I have first or second-hand knowledge of (Jason Riley has an excellent first person account of what it is like to be disinvited as a campus speaker here)!

    The whole piece is well worth reading.  (An Elephant in the Woods, blog)