We had a wonderful Seder at my daughter’s home in Beersheva. Our son-in-law Jeff is religious (dati) and runs a mean Seder. I have often found it too long and arduous and have flaked out before the end. He gives the kids points for asking questions, since it is a requirement of the Seder to ask questions and make suggestions and it includes the kids. However, the kids are grown up now, the youngest is 15 years old, and so it seems to me that they don’t need the inducement of points and rewards to ask questions, particularly since they all have a religious education. It makes the Seder more lively, but it also takes more time (we finished at 1.30 am).
My son-in-law doesn’t skip a word whereas when I ran a Seder I was very selective, anything involving a rabbi, “Rabbi Gamliel said…” was automatically excluded, and a lot of the pleading prayers, without affecting the main message of the Seder about the Exodus from Egypt. I have always found it strange that Moses, so central to the story of the Exodus, is not mentioned in the Haggadah, supposedly to reduce hero-worship (he was no God), but I figure if they can leave Moses out I can leave out a few Rabbis.
Of course, as usual there were discussions or arguments about fundamental things. One participant stated that he had thought that economic issues would determine the outcome of the election. So I said he was wrong, wasn’t he, since the key issue was security not economic issues. He responded that he was not wrong, because that was what he had thought, and if Netanyahu had not “frightened” the people just before the vote that would have been the issue. I disagreed, I repeated that since what he had thought didn’t turn out to be correct therefore he had been wrong, and most people voted for Netanyahu without being “frightened,” including me. It was the left/liberal bias of the media that gave that impression, that he was repeating. He then said “you just don’t get it…” and at that point we stopped arguing.
Apart from all the arcane points of liturgical and procedural issues, another discussion broke out on the nature of God. Since it was too controversial for the table we deferred the discussion to the following morning, when we had time to pursue it. As an atheist I challenged by grandson and his wife to provide any proof that God exists. They said I was looking at it like a scientist, I needed facts and proof, whereas they consider God to be like infinity, something that is a concept that cannot be proved, but they are just beginning to experience. I said that there are two main concepts of God in Judaism, either he is omnipotent and omniscient and causes everything to happen, such as an accident that changes or destroys lives, or he created the world and set it going and after that its up to us. They replied God sets up the conditions in the world and then it is up to us how we respond. I replied that it was chance and probability that sets up the conditions, which they rejected, so since this was going nowhere, we stopped.
We had a great meal and lots of talk and we enjoyed it. But, I mention these discussions as typical of the Seders that I have attended through the years. Get a bunch of Jews together and you are sure to have debates on the meaning of life and other minor amusements. One of the reasons I moved to Israel is that here you only celebrate one Seder night, while in the Diaspora it’s two, for a trivial reason, that the Rabbis in olden days could not be sure which day was the correct one around the world, so to make sure they decided that Jews should celebrate on two days. One’s enough for me.