Monday, March 26, 2007

Non-Jews At The Seder

It's interesting how one's perspective changes as one gets older and encounters situations in life that they never thought they'd encounter.

I had the opinion (and to some degree still do) that having non-Jews by the Seder is wrong. Not wrong as is "it's forbidden, you're violating a commandment, " but wrong as in "IMHO, it's not appropriate." Now, I've been by s'darim where non-Jews were present, and I must say that they have always been curious, respectful, and have always followed the requests of the hosts.

But the story of Pesach is the story of the redemption of the Jewish people from a slavery in a situation and manner that was unique to them at that time. Certainly other cultures can appreciate and identify with a set of rituals surrounding a story of redemption from slavery or freedom from oppression; but the method used on Pesach, with it's unique symbolism and history, is as unique to Judaism as a Juneteenth celebration is to the descendants of African slavery in America. Unlike most holidays, the celebration of Pesach is more personal, since it is we, the Jews, who were rescued from Egypt. Having other people there is, well... it just seems out of place.

Such was my thinking for years. I've never had a non-Jew by my seder. They've been by my Shabbos table, in my Sukkah, dipped apple in honey with us on Rosh HaShannah and even by my Pesach table (during the non-seder meals), but not at the seder itself.

Of course, it's easy to hold an opinion in the abstract. It's when the situation hits home that you really begin to consider how important your preconceived notions are.

Case in point: my brother. My brother recently married a girl who is not Jewish. She's a very nice person (I couldn't see him marrying someone who wasn't a nice person) who is kind and caring. She's pleasant to be around and is respectful to everyone, even in the knowledge that the family wasn't thrilled with the wedding plans.

Well, this will be the first year since the wedding that we will be having a seder that she will (probably) be attending. We could always have not invited them (and their son), but we chose to do so anyway. Eeees and I figured that if we don't invite them, there is the definite possibility that my brother will not go to a seder at all. Despite his marriage, he is still obligated in the mitzvos of matzah, marror, reciting the story of the Exodus, etc. as anyone else is... by not inviting him simply because I may not want his wife present, I may well cause him to not fulfill these mitzvos at all.

In addition, we want to actively hold out the possibility that he will be chozer b'tshuva. I firmly believe in the rule that you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. Eeees and I believe in maintaining strong contact with my brother and his family in the hopes of showing them that the door is always open to his return to a observant lifestyle. We respect and interact with his wife and son in the hopes that maybe they will see the beauty of such a lifestyle and want to lead one too (granted, the chances of this happening are not very likely, but you never know). Shunning them, however, was never considered -- by shunning them you are, in effect, closing the door to the possibility of his every observing the mitzvos again.

So, Eeees and I made the choice to invite them to the seder that we are hosting this year (we're only hosting one... we're going elsewhere for the first night). I have no doubt that my sister-in-law will be the perfect guest. I have no doubt that she'll look forward to the opportunity to have her son participate in the rituals and celebrations that are a part of his heritage (even if he isn't Jewish by our definition - and even if he's too young to understand any of it). For all this, I can put aside my discomfort.

You never know which action will be the one that will influence a person to make a decision in their life. You never know what little action may influence my brother to start keeping a mitzvah -- any one. If having my sister-in-law and nephew over for the seder tips him even slightly in the direction of deciding to stay home from work one Shabbos, or think twice about eating something non-kosher, or putting up a mezuzzah in his home, then it's worth it.

(Besides, my nephew is sooooooo cute. :) )

The Wolf

ADDENDUM: I just want to make it clear (since, as Baal Devarim pointed out, I didn't in the post above) that my relationship with my brother is not based on our hopes to have him become observant. I have other family members with whom I have absolutely no chance of ever influencing them to become observant -- and nonetheless we maintain contact with them, have them over at our house, etc. 'The relationship is not about trying to convert people to observance of the mitzvos -- it's about family and friendship.

That being said, it is no secret that we would love for our brother to become more observant - he knows it. But it's also not the basis of our relationship. He knows that we accept him -- and his wife and son (and any future children) -- even if he never becomes observant at all.

The Wolf


Anonymous said...

IMHO, you made a good decision to invite them. It can get more complicated. A number of years ago, we invited a nun for the seder. She was in a temporary residence undergoing treatment for cancer and we thought it was the Jewish thing to do as she knew nothing about seders but was curious. When a volunteer dropped her off, she was carrying a gift, an Easter bread that she had baked for us. I discreetly put the bread in another room, she had a wonderful time and died a month after the visit. I'm glad we invited her.

BrooklynWolf said...


That's a touching story, but I find it somewhat puzzling that a nun was unfamiliar with the idea that we don't eat on Passover.

The Wolf

Baal Devarim said...

"Eeees and I believe in maintaining strong contact with my brother and his family in the hopes of showing them that the door is always open to his return to a observant lifestyle."

Wow. The arrogance and condescension in this post is just staggering. Does it occur to you that you should be nice to your brother and his family because, you know, that is the civilized thing to do -- irrespective of your possible influence on his lifestyle choices? If it does, you certainly didn't make it clear in this post.

Reading this you get the impression that in the absence of the ever-present opportunity to convert him (back?) to your cultish lifestyle, you'd consider cutting off all but the most token of family contact. Sorry, but to me that sounds like the behavior of backwards savages, or perhaps, of members of a pernicious cult.

BrooklynWolf said...

I'm sorry that's the impression you had from my post. It's completely wrong and if that's what you took from it, then perhaps I really did word it very badly.

I have other family members who are not frum, and I am under no illusions that they will ever become frum. Nonetheless, they, too, are always welcome in our home. I maintain an active relationship with them and speak to and see them often. My contact with (and love for) them is not contingent upon any possibility of becoming frum.

The main point of the post was regarding my initial misgivings regarding having non-Jews at the seder and how circumstances have made me reconsider my position. It was not about my relationship with my brother or any other person, regardless of their Jewishness or level of observance.

My brother knows that we would be thrilled if he kept the mitzvos -- it's not secret between us. But it's also not the basis of our relationship. He knows that we accept him -- and his wife and son (and any future children) -- even if he never becomes observant at all.

The Wolf

Holy Hyrax said...

Sorry, but to me that sounds like the behavior of backwards savages, or perhaps, of members of a pernicious cult.

I agree with you that the post makes it sound like the only reason he wants to be in contact with him is the hope of him becoming frum, but how can you even equate that with savagry. I mean, come on, give me a break here.

BrooklynWolf said...

Please note that I updated the post, based on BD's criticism.

The Wolf

Shoshana said...

I totally think you have the right attitude. It's about loving your brother and his family, because they are family, regardless of whether they become more observant or not. I think too many people can't see beyond observance to value the family and personal connection, they see non-observance as a threat. I'm really glad that your brother and his family will be at your seder, and I'm sure they are as well.

Anonymous said...

I sense a bit of political correctness here. The fact is that your brother's wife is not legally (in the torah sense) married to him at all and can't be considered family at all. Baal Devarim can think this is "savage" but that is just tough! I certainly sympathize with you as how to relate to your brother, but it's a bit beyonf the pale to say that you "accept" his wife and son. In past times, as I am sure you are aware, if someone left the fold in such a manner the family would sit shiva and that would be the end of the relationship. Cutting off ties from the jewish people is a serious matter. Again, I sympathize with your plight, but please spare us the political correctness.

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify, I don't object your inviting them to the seder. I object to "accepting his wife and son". I think it's beyond the pale to say that, no matter what Baal Devarim thinks.

BrooklynWolf said...

Sorry, Anon, I disagree.

Even on a purely pragmatic level (disregarding the fact that he is my brother -- let's say he was just an acquaintance) I've always felt that the policy of "sitting shiva" for those who intermarry is wrong.

Once you declare someone "dead," there is no hope of ever returning them to the fold. If our job, as observant Jews, is to further the observance of the mitzvos by other Jews, then by cutting off the intermarried, you are doing the worst possible thing you can do. On the other hand, if you continue to show love toward the person, maybe they'll keep some of the mitzvos. Perhaps they'll put a mezzuzah on their door. Maybe they'll light Channukah menorah. Maybe they'll go to a Seder on Pesach night. But if you show them outright rejection, you'll turn them off to the point where they may ignore the mitzvos out of spite. And, in the event that it's a daughter who intermarries, you'll not only lose her completely, but also her kids who will be Jews as well.

Is it an ideal situation? Of course not. But I'd rather have someone performing some mitzvos rather than none any day of the week.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

You missed my point. I did not say to sit shiva for them. I clearly said that I did not object to your inviting them to the seder. I even reposted to make myself clear. I object strongly to saying you accept them. My point with shiva was just to show how severe such an act was looked upon. Just because one may disagree about actually sitting shiva does not take away from the severity of the act of basically cutting oneself off from the jewish people. Having said that, still I do not object to your accepting your brother. I object to your "accepting" his wife and son. You might want to pretend to accept them, but how could any G-d fearing Jew actually accept them?

BrooklynWolf said...

Ah, sorry. I did, indeed, miss your point.

It's one thing to accept an act as right or wrong. It's another thing to reject people - and that is an important distinction.

The act of marrying this woman was wrong - and he knows our feelings about it. As I mentioned, we stayed away from the wedding -- even though kosher food was made available, etc. Other family members attended - but we did not (and drew some flack for that -- not from my brother or his wife -- but from other "busybodies" in the family). Our feelings on this were known since Day 1. So, yes, we rejected his actions, even while not rejecting him as a person.

On the other hand, you can't just reject a person out-of-hand... especially when they did nothing wrong. While there may be a prohibition against a Jew marrying a non-Jew, no such prohibition exists the other way. And even if you will maintain that one exists, you certainly don't expect her to agree with Jewish law, do you? And his son certainly did nothing wrong -- he didn't choose the circumstances of his birth or his parents. Shall I reject them out of hand for doing nothing wrong?

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to say that, unlike BD, I did not get that impression from reading the post.

Anonymous said...

You might want to check out the Shulchan Aruch O.C. 512:1 and the Mishnah Berurah there.

There is a Torah prohibition to cook for a Non-Jew on Yom Tov.

There is a rabbinic prohibition to invite a Non-Jew to one's Yom Tov meal, lest he add food to the cooking for the Non-Jew. If the Non-Jew shows up on his own, then you may feed him, and there is no worry lest one add to the cooking.

THis applies to any Yom Tov meal, not just the seder. (Although I once read it does NOT apply to where Yom Tov falls out on Shabbos, for obvious reasons.)

BrooklynWolf said...

Eeees is cooking for over twenty people. People generally cook the same amount for twenty that they do for twenty-one, assuming, of course, that the food isn't prepared as "portions."

Besides, Eeees *always* overcooks anyway. :)

The Wolf

Tzipporah said...

There is a rabbinic prohibition to invite a Non-Jew to one's Yom Tov meal, lest he add food to the cooking for the Non-Jew. If the Non-Jew shows up on his own, then you may feed him, and there is no worry lest one add to the cooking.

LOL, so the rabbis are trying to engourage the goyim to be schnorrers? ;)

Well, my husband's family didn't shun us when he married a non-Jew - and eventually I converted, and we are now the most observant ones in the family. So there. :p