Seder Scenes

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

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Apparently, someone would pretend to be Elijah coming through the door, and Rabbi Hahn thought that this was a wonderful custom. But R. Yair Hayyim Bachrach (1638-1701) was opposed to this custom: "But what the servants and maids are accustomed to make the figure of a man and the like, something frightening when the door is opened--this is only licentiousness and derision."

This custom clearly fits in with the Cup of Elijah and other Elijah customs at the seder. It may have been another tactic to keep the children awake. On the other hand, this may be a misunderstanding of the "wandering Jew" skit which took place, as we have seen, at many different points in the seder.

The Parting of the Reed Sea

The last customs we shall discuss take place not at the seder, but on the seventh night of Pesach. According to the Sages, our ancestors crossed Yam Suf, the Reed Sea, on the seventh night of Pesach. Various groups of Jews have developed ways of reenacting the splitting of the Reed Sea.

 The Gerer Hasidim gather in the shtibl [small synagogue] on the seventh night of Pesach; they drink wine and they dance. They then pour a barrel of water on the floor, lift up their long cloaks, and "cross the sea" while declaring the towns which are located on the way to Gur [the city they were from]. At each "town" they drink l'chaim and then continue to Gur. When they "reach" Gur after "crossing the sea", they once again drink l'chaim and thank God for reaching their destination.

A similar custom from Reishe, Galicia, in the 1890s is described by my great uncle Herman Leder (1890-1973) in his Yiddish memoir Reisher Yidn:

"There were several other Jews who were devoted to certain mitzvot more than to others. One of them, was Reb Ephraim Tzibele.

"Until today I don't know why he was called "Tzibele" (onion). As a child, I frequently asked, but no one knew the answer. He lived on Melamdim Street. He was an extremely frum (pious) Jew who sat day and night studying and praying. His special distinction lay in the fact that he demonstrated with his children how the Jews crossed the Reed Sea after they were redeemed from Egypt.

"He lived in a little wooden house which consisted of one room for himself and his family. One heard little about him all year long and one took little interest in him. But when the seventh day of Pesah arrived, everyone talked about Reb Ephraim Tzibele, because on that night he used to lead his wife and children through the Sea of Reeds.

"Since there was no sea in his house, he created a miniature 'sea.' He turned over the keg of water which stood by the door and flooded the room with water. He then took his family and crossed the 'sea' with them, from one side of the room to the other. Many people used to gather there that night to witness the demonstration."

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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.