I saw an ad in a Jewish magazine today advertising the 30 minute Seder: The Haggadah That Blends Brevity With Tradition. “Sarah B.” from New York City says (on the ad), that this haggadah makes Passover “a joy to celebrate.” Hmmm.
In case you were wondering, it’s also “rabbinically approved,” “refreshingly brief” (hence the 30 minute bit), and “gender-neutral.” Hmmm.
Yep, I’ve got opinions. I’ve also got a lot of reasons to have opinions. (You can check out the haggadah here.)
As a mom of two young boys, I like the idea of a short Seder (and really, who doesn’t!?). By the time the Seder rolls around, most kids are already in bed. What gives? I asked my Partners In Torah chevrusa: Why have a ceremony that kids can’t even stay awake for?
Her answer–and the answer I have come to understand–is sort of up for debate. And you may not agree with it. But here’s what I have come to feel about this matter. And here’s why I won’t be doing a 30 minute Seder.
1. Halacha rules.
For thousands of years, Jews have held Seders. All of those generations had kids. Young kids, older kids, babies, the whole bit. Halacha (Jewish law) is a strong and enduring system and the times we set for when our holidays begin are not open to interpretation. Can you choose to start your Seder before sundown? Of course you can. You can do whatever you gosh darn please. But halacha doesn’t change. You don’t have to follow it, but if, like me, you like the structure of halacha, that’s just the breaks. Halachic time means Seders start after sundown.
2. Women’s rules.
Historically, women were likely not as involved with the Seder as we are now. I like being involved, personally. I like being part of discussions, and learning, and teaching, and serving and eating. And for the years when my boys were under 3, I barely got to enjoy the Seder and it made me sad. I don’t use a nanny and my boys were always nursed to bed and rocked to bed, so it’s not like I could deposit them in the other room and return to the table. I left years of Seders for a good solid hour to put kids to bed and it made me grumpy. But it passed. I also left Seders with sick kids, kids throwing up on me, and all of us crying in frustration. That also passed. I am glad I live in a day and age where women are more involved, but in our house (and in many), care taking of the children was my duty and I embrace that. It’s okay to have tension and want to be in two places at once. Just ask Marisa Mayer or Sheryl Sandberg. (Or don’t, actually.)
3. Bend the rules.
Now that my kids are older I have embraced Seders as a real party for them. My rule is as long as they can stay up, let them. Let them soak it in: all of us together, drinking Manishewitz and singing and talking and fressing and being Jews. I want them to remember Pesach like I remember it: late nights, parents laughing freely, colorful dishes on the table, and songs sung with the Yiddish dialect my family sings in. Regarding them staying up late, maybe it’s easier because we homeschool and my boys don’t have to be anywhere the next day, but since they wake up at 6 am God love them even if they go to sleep at 11 pm, I guess it’s a non-issue for me. For my boys’ toddler years, they would tell me when they were tired and needed to nurse, and I would sit in a corner of the dining area and nurse and rock them and they’d fall asleep right there in the middle of things. I was shocked since usually they need a quiet room and me singing to them, but they have amazed me as they get older with their “cooperativeness” on Seder nights. I guess it’s the exhaustion and excitement and me finally relaxing after dinner is served and the dishes cleared…I advocate for bending the rules for bedtime on Pesach, and bending your own rules as well; let your kids surprise you and decide which battles need to be fought. The memories of Pesach should be joyous and pleasant, not an extension of what a lot of us tend to do: routine, routine, routine.
And so, this Pesach, our Seders will start late, and the kids will get tired. Or they won’t. And I like to do things halachically, and I like the changing roles of women. And all of that can fit in one room. And it won’t take 30 minutes. It may take 3 hours. Or maybe 4. That’s about how long our Seders last. And that’s enough for now.
One day, I may hold a Seder that lasts all night and my boys will quote Rashi and it will flow like the sweet wine we drink and we will Soloveitchik it up until it’s time to recite morning shacharit (the morning service). Not this year, but one day.
Maybe next year. In fact, maybe next year… in Jerusalem.
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