Seder Scenes

Several customs offer ways to dramatize parts of the Passover seder.

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4) Nahum Slouschz describes a similar custom in Libya before the seder and concludes:
"This custom is widespread in almost all oriental lands, and in every country there is a different nusah [melody]." Indeed, this custom was observed in the Caucasus, Iraq, Kurdistan, Djerba, Syria, and among the Sephardic Jews of Seattle.

However, surprisingly enough, this custom is first mentioned in Germany 650 years before Benjamin II described it in Asia, and it is documented in Poland in the 16th century and in Germany and Hungary in the 20th.

Rabbi Asher of Lunel states in his Sefer Minhagot written ca. 1210 in Provence:
I heard that in Allemagne (Germany), after eating karpas [green vegetable], they uproot the table and take the matzot and wrap them in coverings and bear them on their shoulders and walk to the corners of the house, and then they return to their places and recite the Haggadah.

R. Shlomo Luria (Lublin, 1510-1573) devoted one of his responsa (no. 88) to the laws of the seder:
After the meal he [the person leading the seder] takes out the hidden treasure, i.e. the afikoman as is, wrapped in a cover, and he drapes it behind him and he walks approximately four cubits in the house and says: "So did our ancestors go with 'their kneading bowls wrapped in their cloaks.' "

In 1951, Prof. Alexander Scheiber documented similar customs among his students at the Rabbinical Seminary in Budapest, who came from the Hungarian towns of Szatmar, Zemplen, Vatz, Tisfolgar, and Puntok. In the latter town, when they reached Yahatz [breaking the middle matzah], the father would wrap the afikoman in a scarf, put it on his shoulder, stand up, and say to his family in Yiddish: "geimir, geimir!" (Let us go! Let us go!).

This custom has survived among German Jews until today. When I lectured on this topic in Jerusalem before Pesach in 1991, a woman told me that in Karlsruhe, in southern Germany, her father would put the matzah wrapped in the sedertuch (white matzah cover) on his shoulder and say: "So sind die Kinder Jisroel aus Mizraim gegangen, so war es" (Thus did the Children of Israel leave Egypt, so it was).

"Shfokh Hamatkha"--"Pour Out Thy Wrath"

Quite a few scholars have already detailed the history of these verses, which are recited after Birkat Hamazon [Grace After Meals] and before Hallel.

The apostate Antonius Margaritha (born ca. 1490) relates in his book Der Gantz Judisch Glaub, published in Augsberg in 1530, that when Jews open the door for shfokh, someone in costume enters the room quickly, as if he is Elijah himself coming to announce the coming of the Messiah.

R. Yosef Yuspa Hahn (1570-1637) mentioned above says "how good is the custom that they do something in memory of the Messiah. One falls into the entranceway at the beginning of shfokh to show during the night of our first redemption our strong belief in our final redemption."

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Rabbi David Golinkin

Rabbi David Golinkin, Ph.D., is president and rector of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, where he teaches Talmud and Jewish law, and he heads the Va'ad Halakhah (committee on Jewish law) of the Masorti, or Conservative, movement's Rabbinical Assembly in Israel.