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What is a Seder?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 17, 2024
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The word Seder is a Hebrew word that literally means “order.” Although the word has a number of uses, it is most commonly used to refer to the Passover Seder, a Jewish holiday. Passover Seder takes place on the 15th or 15th and 16th days of Nisan on the Jewish calendar. Because the Jewish calendar and the modern Gregorian calendar do not follow the same format, Passover takes place on a different Gregorian day every year. The variation in schedule has to do with the way Passover Seder is celebrated in different parts of the world.

During the Passover Seder, Jewish history is relived through the reading of the Haggadah and consumption of traditional foods and drinks. During the Seder, the enslavement of the Jewish people and their exodus from Ancient Egypt is remembered. The Haggadah contains complete instructions and readings for the Passover Seder. The symbolic foods which are to be placed at the Seder table are outlined in the Haggadah as well.

Seders are generally performed in one’s home and is considered to be a family ritual. However, there are some groups and congregations that celebrate Passover outside of the household context. Some Seders welcome dozens, even hundreds of people. As Passover Seder is very often performed in the home, there are many variations on the traditions outlined therein to accommodate the specific needs of each family. When the Haggadah is followed to the letter, a Seder can take up to four hours, sometimes longer. Therefore, many families with young children choose to perform a shortened Seder. In fact, abbreviated versions of the Haggadah have been printed in coloring-book format specifically for this type of family.

In addition to being a time to remember Jewish history and come together with friends and family, Passover is also a time for people of the Jewish faith to praise God and to discuss the Torah. It is also a warm time during which the family educates youngsters about Judaism. This Seder is also a time of music. The Haggadah, in fact, includes special Passover songs. A central verse to Passover is: Vehigadta levincha' bayom hahu leymor ba'avur zeh asah Adonay li betzeysi miMitzrayim. This translates in English to "And you shall tell it to your son on that day, saying, 'Because of this God did for me when He took me out of Egypt,'" from Exodus 13:8.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By Ivan83 — On May 09, 2011

Though I am not Jewish, I was once invited to a Seder meal and it was really an incredible experience. It managed to be both a celebration and also a somber affair. Every part of the meal had so much meaning and tradition to it. I am used to big family Easters and Christmases with buttery feasts that spill off the table. It was a real change to have such a humble and simple meal.

By 6pack — On Apr 30, 2009

At the Seder the four questions are asked. Also, a special plate is used. This seder plate contains 6 small plates for each of the six types of symbolic foods that play a central role at the seder -- beitzah, charoset, z'roah, maror, karpas, chazereet, and charoset. Four glasses of wine and three matzoh crackers also have special importance in the meal.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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