It’s best to prep non-Jewish seder guests, rabbis say

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The Wise-Shuchart family’s Passover seders have included non-Jewish guests for three decades. Photo courtesy of Andy Wise

Bill Motchan, Special To The Jewish Light

Inviting non-Jewish guests to a Passover seder, while not technically a mitzvah, is a gesture of goodwill. It is also consistent with Jewish values of welcoming others into one’s home for a meal. If you’ll be hosting a seder and inviting non-Jews, there are few basic protocols to keep in mind.

“My own personal favorite passage in the Haggadah is, ‘In every generation, we are obligated to see ourselves as if we, personally, came forth out of Egypt,” said Rabbi James Bennett, senior rabbi at Congregation Shaare Emeth. “This implies that we are supposed to practice radical empathy, treating others the way we wish we had been and will be treated by others. 

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“Extending radical hospitality to both those we know and also those we do not know is an obvious way to do so. One of the most basic ways to accomplish all of the above would be to make sure that our seder and the Haggadah we use is as inclusive as possible.”

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Bennett suggested using the seder as a teaching opportunity to share the Passover story with others. 

Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg, senior rabbi at United Hebrew Congregation, said it may be a good idea to explain the seder’s basic schedule to guests before they arrive.

“Let them know what to expect, that while there is a meal involved, there is quite a bit of seder to get through before the food is served,” she said. “It is nice to let someone know this in advance, especially so they don’t come hungry and expecting to eat right away. Guests often like to bring a gift to the host. It is important to remind your guests that it is Passover and there are food rules, so politely remind them not to bring any food or wine that doesn’t fit with the kashrut of your family during Pesach.”

Rabbi Jordan Gerson, Silk Foundation campus rabbi at Hillel at Washington University, said that as the seder progresses, it may be useful to describe why the customs are observed.

“Be sure to clearly explain the Jewish context of the Passover seder and all of its rituals and components,” he said. “It would be advantageous so that all seder participants, whether or not they’re Jewish, have a full understanding of what’s happening and the meaning behind it through the Jewish context.”