Is it inappropriate to invite my housekeeper [or friend, or neighbor] to my son's Seder? She is not Jewish.
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Your question functions on several levels. On the plane of halachah (Jewish law), the first concern that arises is that the Torah explicitly forbids a person that is not Jewish from partaking in the Pesach sacrifice that is eaten at the seder meal (Shemot/Exodus 12:43.) However, we no longer have this sacrifice today since the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and so many do not consider this meal restriction to be in effect today.
However, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 512:1 and the commentary of the Mishnah Berurah there) limits cooking that may be done on a Yom Tov holiday to cooking that is done in order to feed Jewish people. This would seem to impinge on one’s ability to invite over someone who is not Jewish and have cooked food for them to eat. There are several ways to deal with this concern, including the suggestion that if all the food was already cooked before the Yom Tov and now is only be reheated then it is fine (Teshuvot B’Mareh HaBazak 3:56.) Alternately, one could cook a large quantity of food for all the guests and have plenty to go around for all that arrive (as opposed to specifying a portion that is cooked for the Gentile.)
Another concern that is raised centers around the prohibition of teaching Torah to someone that is not Jewish (Talmud Chagigah 13A), and there is a great deal of Torah study involved in a seder meal. This too need not necessarily be a concern, as Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled that it is permitted to teach Torah to Jews while a non-Jew is sitting there and listening (see responsa Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:132). As such, the fact that your friend is present need not be of concern since there are other Jews there already to learn and share at the seder.
A separate concern raised in that same responsum by Rabbi Feinstein would involve the wine that is served for the four cups that we drink at the seder. Wine is a sacred food that was used in the service in the Temple and is subject to special restrictions. As a result, wine that is not “mevushal” (flash pasteurized) and thus could have been appropriate for Temple usage may not be poured by someone who is not Jewish. But there are many kosher wines available on the market that are indeed mevushal and would not pose any problem.
On a philosophical level, the seder is an awkward place to host someone who is not Jewish. There are those Jewish holidays that have a universalistic orientation, such as Rosh Hashanah when we pray on behalf of the entire world. Similarly, Sukkot involves our hopes and requests of Hashem that the entire world be blessed with rain and abundance. However other holidays, such as Pesach, are especially particularistic and focus on us as a special and separate people. Inviting someone who is not Jewish to a meal that celebrates our being saved from the hands of oppressive Gentiles could have sensitive moments, especially as the focus shifts to the oppressions that we have endured through many generations up until the present and our hopes for future redemption. This is very much a meal of celebration that focuses on our being in many ways apart from the rest of the world.
Of course, all of the above assumes that your son is comfortable with your inviting others to his seder. Otherwise there is a family and interpersonal issue that should be considered as well. Answered by: Rabbi Judah Dardik (Emeritus)
Given that your son approves (he is the host, after all), it is absolutely fine to invite your housekeeper or any non-Jewish friend or relative to a Seder.
In past centuries, there were historical, sociological, and religious reasons to avoid inviting non-Jews to Seders, but the conditions that gave credence to those reasons then hardly exist today. Today we live in the most religioulys, ethnically, and racially diverse society that has ever existed (especially in the U.S.); diversity is a recognized and relevant part of our reality. Not only is it likely that most Jews in America have non-Jewish friends, most of us have relatives – sometimes very close relatives – who are not Jewish. Therefore, there can often be awkwardness and a feeling of family alienation when we do not invite non-Jews. To speak to your case, it is not uncommon that a family housekeeper becomes an extended part of the family and, for many of us it would feel strange not to include them. [I might add that there is a particular, wonderful appropriateness that, on Passover, the Feast of Freedom, you are inviting your housekeeper to enjoy a meal with you, as opposed to preparing and serving one.]
It should be acknowledged that there are traditions that are particular to Jews alone, and that’s okay. For example, in Conservative synagogues, non-Jews are usually not permitted to recite the blessings at a child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah, even if they are the child’s parent. That is because some rituals and traditions are designed to evoke an energy, emotion, and spirituality that speak to those who identify as Jews and not another religion. For a non-Jew to perform such a ritual or speak such a blessing would betray the intention of the tradition and, frankly, offend both Jews and non-Jews. Most religions are comprised of both particularistic and universal traditions and rituals, as they should be, and it is good for Jews and non-Jews to respect their designation at the appropriate occasions.
It so happens, however, that the Passover Seder is one of the most universalistic Jewish rituals. It centers on the story of the origins of the Jewish people through a symbolic meal and educational strategies, such as asking questions, studying texts, and singing songs.
Many contend that both guests and hosts actually benefit when non-Jews are invited. Individuals, whether Jewish or not, who are single, widowed, away from home, newly converted or unable to conduct their own Seder are deeply grateful for an invitation. And this invitation seems to be the precise gesture that fulfills the Passover Haggadah’s call, “Let all who are hungry, come and eat. Let all who are in need, come and share the Passover meal.” Moreover, it is often non-Jewish guests who often find the experience most fascinating.
Hosts can gain in a variety of ways, too. Jewish affiliations for young children are reinforced when they see non-Jews accept their traditions, sing the same songs, and perform the same rituals as they do. Non-Jews may even contribute new ideas and interpretations that come from a different cultural and religious perspective. Their questions can bring out new understandings and make the experience continually meaningful. And it can strengthen relationships, both new and old.
If you do decide to invite a non-Jew to their first Seder, just make sure to tell them if they want to bring something that they should bring flowers – you’ll take care of the food.
Hospitality, in Hebrew hachnassat orchim, is a significant Jewish value, regardless of religious affiliation. This is especially true during Pesach (Passover).
According to our Haggadah, the book we read from at the Passover seder, all are invited to join for the seder. We recite these words toward the beginning of the haggadah, at the beginning of the Maggid section. The prayer starts with the Hebrew phrase “Ha Lachma Anya”- “this is the bread of poverty,” and goes on to state “Let all who are hungry, come and eat; let all who are in need, come and share the Pesach meal.” While non Jews do not have a religious obligation to partake of the seder, by sharing this ritual meal with them we are able to fulfill the dictate found in Deuteronomy (16:14), “You shall rejoice in your festival- with your son and daughter, your male and female servant, the Levi, the stranger, the orphan and the widow in your communities.”
By including others we not only fulfill the mitzvah of sharing the seder but we also fulfill the mitzvah of hachnassat orchim.
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