If ones daughters married non-Jews, can their children and spouses attend the Pesach seder according to Jewish law and custom?
[Administrator's note: See http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=384 for a similar question answered on JVO earlier.]
If one’s daughters married non-Jews, can their children and spouses attend the Pesach seder according to Jewish law and custom?
Your question is a very interesting one. Let me first respond to its content, and then to its context. Both are important.
First, there is no halachic (Jewish legal) impediment to the presence of non-Jewish people at a seder. You may be aware that, in the Biblical era and during the period of the second Temple, only Jews were to partake of the paschal lamb, which was to be sacrificed on the eve of the holiday. But virtually since the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70, Jews have not sacrificed an actual paschal lamb on the eve of Passover and do not eat one on the holiday, so there is no reason that non-Jewish people may not be present at and participate in a seder.
It is true that Jewish communities vary regarding the propriety of the presence and participation of non-Jewish people at the seder. In some it is less common and even frowned upon, because the particularistic aspects of the Passover tale are emphasized. The liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian enslavement is seen as an essential -- and essentially Jewish -- particularistic responsibility. There is a greater focus in such communities on what liberation has meant and continues to means to “us,” -- meaning, to the Jewish people. Because non-Jewish people don’t share a Jewish identity, the story is not theirs, and therefore they can’t fully participate.
In other communities (such as my own), the universalistic aspects of the Passover story are also emphasized, and it is common to invite non-Jewish people to the seder. In fact, it is seen as an enhancement of the seder experience. After all, redemption from slavery to freedom remains an urgent universal concern—as well as the particular heritage of the Jewish people. Hearing and reflecting on the stories and perspectives of non-Jewish people enriches the experience for all present, both Jews and non-Jews.
Many years ago, I invited a Chinese friend of mine to a seder at my home. This was just after the reign of Mao Tse Tung. Our guest described what he had endured during the so-called “Cultural Revolution”. It was riveting. He had been separated from his family, and had had to endure hard labor and much suffering—and for several years. In the Bible, we are told that the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites “b’farech” (“with rigor”). My friend’s story helped me and the others present at that seder better understand the meaning of that word.
Now, as to the content: If the “one” in your question is you, then you are asking a very personal question. You’re not asking whether some generic non-Jewish person can be invited to some generic seder; you’re asking whether your own sons-in-law and your own grandchildren (who, surmising from your question, are possibly not being raised as Jews) can be invited to a seder—perhaps being held in your own home.
To this question there is a clear and definite answer: yes. A Pesach seder presents an opportunity—an extraordinary one—to share your understanding of Judaism and your appreciation of its traditions and values with members of your own family. How could this not be an important opportunity for keruv (drawing near) the non-Jewish members of your family?
Your question suggests uncertainty regarding the propriety of sharing one of the most intimate of all Jewish observances, the Pesach seder, with your daughters. Why? Because they have chosen to marry non-Jewish husbands? To me, it is hard to think of a better time of the year to reach out and to embrace them, their husbands and their children.
From an Orthodox perspective there is a case to made against them attending http://www.jewishvaluesonline.org/question.php?id=384, but according to Reform custom, the answer is a resounding yes – by all means invite them in. Your question is about one’s own family but it’s important to also look at why Reform Judaism would argue that it’s just fine to invite non-Jews to a seder.
Reform focuses on both the universal aspect of Jewish tradition and the particular. Pesach is about the Israelites gaining freedom, but it’s also about God’s love of justice and human dignity, both of which are violated by slavery. A seder is an opportunity for our neighbors to understand this time honored Jewish perspective, and to see it stated in a powerful and convincing fashion, through text, song, and ritual. The seder is also an opportunity for non-Jews to learn that the struggle for freedom is a constant Jewish concern, and, alas, has not gone away with time. It is also a very personal way to share our tradition and lives with friends, neighbors, and co-workers, so that we can understand each other and better live in peace.
It is harder to make generalizations about how appropriate this is for your own family because everyone’s context is different. Many things shape one’s situation, including how traditional your Jewish practice is, what your attitude is about inter-marriage, and the particular relationships within your family. But in asking the question about attending, one can assume that either you either have a desire to reach out to the inter-married members of your family, or respond to their request for inclusion.
As much as we might believe that sanction or disapproval moves people to change their actions, the reality is that we live in a profoundly autonomous society and people make their own choices. However, inclusion can help promote a sense of shalom beit, family harmony, and perhaps open doors that may lead family members to renew their Jewish practice, introduce their children to Judaism, or gain the support of their non-Jewish spouses. An invitation may not bring them back to the tradition but it will certainly enable a kind of healing to take place.
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