Why Invite the Hungry to the Seder after It Has Already Begun?

April 11 2022

While most of the Haggadah is written in the Hebrew used in Judea around the 2nd century CE, one passage, recited shortly after the seder commences, stands out for being in Aramaic. It begins: “This is the bread of poverty that our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let whoever is hungry come and eat; let whoever is needy come and celebrate the Passover.” Simcha Gross points to the incongruities of this declaration, which troubled medieval readers as well as modern ones:

To whom is this invitation addressed? The guests are, after all, already crowded around the table. And why is the invitation issued in Aramaic rather than the classical Hebrew of the rest of the Haggadah? Finally, why isn’t this line mentioned anywhere in rabbinic literature?

With some historical detective work, Gross locates the origins of the invitation to Babylonia, sometime prior to the 9th century, when it is mentioned by a Babylonian sage named Rabbi Matityah as “the custom of our fathers.” This custom, like so many, then took on a life of its own:

According to Matityah, the seder invitation was not mere lip service, and it came with real expectations and obligations. It was spoken in Aramaic, the common vernacular, so the poor and the hungry outside could understand it; the doors to the house were kept open so that they could hear the invitation and actually enter; and the overture took place just before the beginning of the meal. [It reflects] the overt generosity that was already characteristic of wealthy Babylonians: the door was opened, and the poor were formally invited in to dinner.

Matityah continues . . . by reporting that the practice of issuing a late-breaking Seder invitation began at a time when Jews lived in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods. However, as the neighborhoods became more mixed, new efforts had to be made to provide communal support for the poor before the beginning of the holiday, so that needy Jews wouldn’t have to wander the streets of increasingly non-Jewish communities in search of last-minute seder hosts.

In time, as elements of the invitation became further ritualized and their original context forgotten, new explanations, as well as new practices, developed. An 11th-century North African rabbi named Nissim ben Jacob provides the earliest evidence that the custom of opening doors had migrated from Babylonia and become disconnected from the original invitation and treated as a distinct ritual act. Tapping into the old rabbinic idea that Passover eve was destined to be the date of future, and not only the past, redemption, Rabbi Nissim explained that on Passover night, “the doors of the house remain open, so that when Elijah comes we will go out to greet him speedily, without delay.”

Fast-forward a few centuries, and one gets the still-widespread Ashkenazi practice of opening the door to Elijah the prophet.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Babylonian Jewry, Elijah, Haggadah, Passover


Israel’s Covert War on Iran’s Nuclear Program Is Impressive. But Is It Successful?

Sept. 26 2023

The Mossad’s heist of a vast Iranian nuclear archive in 2018 provided abundant evidence that Tehran was not adhering to its commitments; it also provided an enormous amount of actionable intelligence. Two years later, Israel responded to international inspectors’ condemnation of the Islamic Republic’s violations by using this intelligence to launch a spectacular campaign of sabotage—a campaign that is the subject of Target Tehran, by Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ilan Evyatar. David Adesnik writes:

The question that remains open at the conclusion of Target Tehran is whether the Mossad’s tactical wizardry adds up to strategic success in the shadow war with Iran. The authors give a very respectful hearing to skeptics—such as the former Mossad director Tamir Pardo—who believe the country should have embraced the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Bob and Evyatar reject that position, arguing that covert action has proven itself the best way to slow down the nuclear program. They acknowledge, however, that the clerical regime remains fully determined to reach the nuclear threshold. “The Mossad’s secret war, in other words, is not over. Indeed, it may never end,” they write.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden. The clerical regime was headed over a financial cliff when Biden took office, thanks to the reimposition of sanctions after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal. The billions flowing into Iran on Biden’s watch have made it that much easier for the regime to rebuild whatever Mossad destroys in addition to weathering nationwide protests on behalf of women, life, and freedom. Until Washington and Jerusalem get on the same page—and stay there—Tehran’s nuclear ambitions will remain an affordable luxury for a dictatorship at war with its citizens.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, Mossad, U.S. Foreign policy