Passover Seder in the Israeli Army

imageMy son won’t be home for the Passover seder this Monday. Instead, he’ll be leading the seder for about 30 fellow soldiers on his army base.

After my son and another soldier (were) volunteered to run the seder on the two neighboring bases, they got to attend a hishtalmut in a nearby city for supplementary education—training in how to effectively lead the event.  One of the other soldiers pointed out that my son got a good deal. Not only did he get off part of the day last week for the hishtalmut, he won’t get guard duty during the seder. But my son said he won’t be exempt from a shift later the same night.

The army takes the Passover seder seriously.  Every base holds a seder and gets a trained leader. The army publishes its own haggadah (text and instructions). According to regulations, even bases without Jewish soldiers get assigned a seder leader. There are rules about giving each soldier time off from his duties to make a seder.

The most senior officer at each base attends the seder, while the second-in-command goes home to his or her family. The RaMaTKa”l (army chief of staff) invites all of the lone soldiers, whose families are abroad, to the army’s central seder.

My son and his friend arrived at the hishtalmut just as the instructor was explaining Kadesh, the opening of the seder. They hadn’t been given enough time to travel by bus and only happened to get a ride.

Everyone running an army seder receives this training and below are some of the rules:

  • Complete the seder within two hours, taking an hour to get to the meal and moving quickly through Hallel (Psalms) to get to the songs.
  • Sing every traditional song, because some participants will feel cheated if they don’t hear something familiar.
  • No dead time allowed. Don’t insist on eating two kezeytim of matza (more than the minimum required by Jewish law), because the soldiers will get bored and leave. Do chumras (stringencies) on your own time.
  • No wine, only grape juice. This has nothing to do with the seder—all alcohol is prohibited on army bases.
  • Include the participants, by asking questions and inviting them to read aloud.
  • Watch the faces of participants to gauge their level of interest.
  • It’s okay to talk about the haggadah, but don’t include political opinions or criticism of groups including “people who don’t bear the burden of the nation’s security.”
  • The army provided a pamphlet with short explanations or lessons for different sections of the seder.
  • My son also got tips on handling technical details like encouraging people get up for hand-washing and making sure they say the critical parts. And he and his friend got a chance to taste the local shwarma before catching their ride back to the base. Sounds like a good deal to me.

    I hope your own Passover preparations are coming along nicely.
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Comments

  1. bio-imma says:

    Kol ha’kavod to your son. Although I am sure you’ll be missing him, this is a great opportunity and a wonderful mitzvah. Hag sameach!

  2. Fascinating post.

  3. I just have to ask, what measurement do they give for a Kezayit? Some say it is as little as 17cc(gr) and some say it is as much as 50cc(gr). So depending on who your son holds by and who the Army holds by, he well may be eating three kezaytim.

  4. My step-son (Chip from my blog) is in the hesder yeshiva in Otniel. He’s already done his army service and is in shiur daled, but this year he and a few of his army/yeshiva buddies will be running the seder the Ramatkal is holding as part of his milu’im. We’ll miss him at the seder table, but are very proud!

  5. Insightful post! Thank you for sharing.

  6. You learn something new every day. I know you wish your son was home for the seder, but he’s doing good!

    Chag Kasher VeSameach to you and your family….

  7. Kol hakavod to your son MII. It is a very important mitzvah and a big kiddush Hashem.

    My eldest son was a non-combat soldier in hesder. As such, even though he’d finished his actual army service, he was required to lead at least one seder and one Yom Kippur during the yeshiva part of his hesder service. He was assigned to a “secret” intelligence base (so secret that everyone seemed to know where it is 🙂 ) though I don’t recall him getting any training on how to run the seder. He said he found it a fascinating experience. The soldiers (none of them religious) on the base were very curious and asked very interesting questions of my son from a completely different viewpoint, which he said made him think, and challenged his own long-held assumptions.

    His Yom Kippur service was a different matter, making up a minyan on some tiny outpost in the middle of nowhere, although there too the non-religious soldiers joined in on and off.

    My son-in-law is an Army Rabbi and so makes seder every year. So far he has managed to arrange that his seder is held in a base just outside our town, so our daughter and 5 kids come to us, and son-in-law walks over after the seder. As MII has said, he gets the seder finished in about 2 hours, partly because the soldiers don’t have patience, partly because some soldiers are on duty and can’t spare long to sit around. He also stressed how important the songs at the end are, for that is all that some soldiers know about Pesach. This is a sad reflection on the state of Israeli secular education.

    If our SIL gets posted further afield, as he expects next year, my daughter and kids will join him and the army will arrange housing on the base for them for that day.

  8. Mordechai Y. Scher says:

    Please thank your son for all of us!

    Somehow, I ended up in the army for Pesah something like 3 or 4 out of 5 years. But honestly, I never regretted it. There is something very special about the idea that we celebrate Pesah in the Jewish army, in the Jewish State. Much as I would haver liked to be home with family, I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything in the world.

    Only once did I attend, actually helped lead, an organized seder. That was at Neot Hakikar around ’77. Other times we made do with seder kits and kosher for Pesah field rations while on the move. All in all a good memory, but the field rations weren’t the tastiest.

    • Mordechai, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Being out in the field for Pesach can’t have been fun but as you say it does make for special memories.

  9. Yishar ko’ach to your son! May you continue to have tremendous nachat from him – and from your entire family, and chag kasher v’samei’ach!

  10. Wow that is so interesting I often wondered how the army handled the Seder when they have solders from every “walk of Israeli life” at each Seder … Nice to know the details thanks for posting and Kol Hakavod to your son! ×—×’ שמח
    Daniela

  11. i’m with bio-imma on this one! i’m impressed the army takes it so seriously. thanks for posting this.

  12. sylvia_rachel says:

    So interesting! I had no idea. Kol hakavod to your son, and chag kasher v’sameach to you and your whole family!

  13. I love how absolutely normal being Jewish is in Israel. Normal to the point that the army has detailed seder procedures including reminding soldiers to keep their chumras on their own time. I don’t think I fully grasped what it means for Judaism to be normal until I visited this past winter. Here, I am always editing myself so that my non-Jewish coworkers and friends will understand what I am talking about. For example, if I say to my editor “please don’t give me any assignments due next week, I am hosting a Passover seder at my house.” I’d get a confused response. What is a seder? What’s the big deal about one meal? So, instead I say, “Please don’t give me any assignments next week, I am hosting a multi-course, formal dinner in celebration of Passover.” It’s not a big deal in the scheme of things, but it is mentally tiresome to constantly be thinking about whether something is worth explaining, whether you want Joe Smith to know you’re Jewish, etc.

    Anyway, next year in Jerusalem!

    • Fern, thanks for sharing that interesting perspective. I’ve seen some comments to the effect that it’s more professional to avoid mentioning the holidays even when you have to take off. I.e. I have to go out of town for a family event.

      • Ms. Krieger says:

        It depends on your work place norms. My company (which is based in the UK) has a policy that insists employees be allowed to take off religious holidays without penalty. So sometimes mentioning a holiday is required, in the context of requesting leave. And people remember and ask “How was your holiday?” Which I find very nice.

  14. Ester Katz Silvers says:

    I stumbled upon your site via Batya’s me-ander.blogspot. This article really spoke to me, especially since my youngest son spent his seder in a tank in a cave in Gaza. My husband says he’s just like Rabbi Akiva.

    I have a technical question to ask you. Recently I began a monthly magazine blog and would like to be able to have the fisrt paragraph of each article or story on the front page with the option for the reader to click “keep reading” as you have done. Can you explain to a non computer savvy person how to do it?

    Thank you and Shabbat Shalom, Ester

  15. Ester Katz Silvers says:

    Thank you for your help. I’m stillworking on it but I’ll get there eventually, with HaShem’s help.
    As I wrote before I am a non computer savvy person and I am not sure why my email address is showing on your blog. Can you take it off?
    Again, thanks, Ester

    • Ester, I don’t see your email address. Your computer or browser may have saved your email address in the correct field so you don’t have to type it each time you comment. But it shouldn’t show up for everyone else to see, and as far as I can tell it doesn’t appear.

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