How to Make Your Passover Meal Last Three Hours Longer

04/22/2008


By Jennifer Morrow

Why is this night different from all other nights?
On all other nights we eat either leavened bread or matzah; on this night, why only matzah?
On all other nights we eat all kinds of herbs; on this night, why only bitter herbs?
On all other nights we do not dip even once; on this night, why do we dip twice?
On all other nights we eat either sitting up or reclining; on this night, why do we recline?

The traditional Passover Seder is an hours-long remembrance of the Exodus out of Egypt, punctuated by wine-drinking, horseradish-eating, a traditional song about a dead goat, and a matzah hide-and-seek game. Consequently, the heart of any Seder, the ritual which is never eliminated from even the most unconventional celebration, is the Four Questions, where the youngest child present turns to the leader of the service and, speaking on behalf of all those present, asks “WHY?” What does this all mean? Why do we do such strange things?

That last question could just as easily be posed to Murray Spiegel and Rickey Stein, authors of 300 Ways to Ask the Four Questions: From Zulu to Abkhaz. This is their 35-year labor of love, an attempt to assemble translations of the Four Questions in almost every language of the world. (They also include a fifth, occasionally used, alternative question: “On all other nights we eat in any ordinary manner; on this night, why do we dine with special ceremony?”) There are the obvious choices (English, Chinese, Spanish), the interesting choices (Norwegian, American Sign Language, Navajo), the funky choices (Tuvan, Cornish and Xhosa, which is the so-called African “click” language), and the downright weird choices (Middle Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Semaphore, Klingon). And I haven’t even touched on all the material in the accompanying CD, which includes spoken-word recordings of the translations, folk songs based on the questions, trivia games, videos of the Four Questions signed in ASL, and even a version performed in halting Hebrew by 16-year-old Japanese schoolgirls.

There’s a lot to like about a project like this. For one thing, it's the perfect Seder novelty gag, even if no one at the table would actually be tempted to prolong the lengthy pre-dinner ceremony by playing the suggested “guess the language” games. This stuff has also got to be catnip to a linguist, as each translation comes with background on the speaker, the history and prevalence of each tongue, and fascinating footnotes, like the one about baffled translators from rice-based cultures giving up on the concept of “unleavened bread.”

Still, you have to wonder what was going through the heads of Spiegel and Stein all throughout the creation of 300 Ways. Sure, it’s nice to have a hobby, but few people spend decades involved in extensive research and coordination with international sources, exhausting money and manpower alike, just to push a longstanding personal in-joke as far as it can go. For that’s how this all started: two language geeks improbably realized that they had a shared secret obsession with collecting international versions of the Four Questions, and decided to join up and become an unstoppable force of … well, of two.

It’d be an almost laughable situation if the result hadn’t turned out to be what can only be called noble. The more you dig into this tome, the more stories you hear about the shockwave of kindness their project left in its wake. Spiegel and Stein may have been on a kind of fool’s quest, but they found thousands of people who were eager to assist them with it—and in most cases, for no greater fee than the satisfaction of a job well done. The authors in turn seem like pretty groovy guys. I got that warm-and-fuzzy Chicken Soup for the Soul feeling upon reading that the poor linguistics researchers from Myanmar and Romania who didn’t have access to recording equipment to use for their translations were promptly showered with electronics.

Pig Latin

But the best part, the warmest-and-fuzziest side of an overwhelmingly warm-and-fuzzy book (how warm-and-fuzzy? let’s put it this way—large portions are illustrated with grade-schoolers’ watercolors), is all the good that it seems to be doing for a number of truly endangered cultures. Some of the languages in this book barely have enough speakers left to sustain a conversation. There may be thousands upon thousands of us “Jennifers” in the world, but only 500 people out there actually know the Cornish language from whence it comes. And that statistic is not so shocking when you learn that another Four Questions translation was provided by one of the six (!) remaining speakers of the Delaware Indian language Lenape. It’s not a stretch to think of this book as a kind of lesser Rosetta Stone, chipping out a permanent record of some native tongues that may be gone altogether by the time next Passover rolls around.

Stein and Speigel

And with that in mind, the use of the Four Questions to provide a context for all of this suddenly makes a lot more sense. Passover is all about preserving traditions, in the hope that with the annual repetition of the motions, the rituals and the words, the story of the deliverance will always be passed down and retold throughout the coming generations. At the same time, the Seder is the most ecumenical of Jewish traditions, as there’s a portion of the ceremony where all those who are hungry—no religion mentioned—are invited to join the family at their table. 300 Ways to Ask the Four Questions simply bumps both of those principles to the next logical level, encouraging all those who carry the heavy weight of their histories on their backs to recline at the same table, where others can help bear the load. Those six Lenape-speakers have millions to help bring them out of Egypt, or out of Delaware. The Four Questions, and this book, are the essence of the holiday that's all about freedom.


Comments(38)

David Williams | 08:19 am on 4/23/2008

I love Passover. Being in the rather odd position of being simultaneously a Presbyterian pastor and the father of two Jewish boys, I've participated in Seders over at my in-laws place for getting on a decade and a half. That's a whole bunch of brisket and gefilte fish, let me tell you.

What I like about the remembrance of the Exodus experience is how it is used. That particular history of collective suffering becomes something far more than just a reason to circle the theological wagons. It is...at least in the Haggadahs we use...a call to alleviate suffering wherever it might exist.

And four glasses of wine are mandatory.

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Louise the happy Canuck | 08:39 am on 4/23/2008

Dear Jennifer,

I just love the stuff you write. Baruch Ha Shem for the Door's yiddishkeit. Keep up the good work and hag sameach to you!

samsung ln46c650 | 12:58 am on 9/07/2010

sweetie, you and SRebbe talk amongst yourselves, I'm verklempt!

SRebbe | 09:59 am on 4/23/2008

I'd love to get a copy of this for our office... except it took us nearly 10 minutes to explain to my coworker the difference between a Seder and Passover. And we work in an office of 3.

Jewish/xtian boss was surprised I knew my roots and my coworker (Baptist/community church roots) was surprised I still knew my NT and the links to the ceremony so well.

I was surprised I hadn't been invited to the Seder that Sunday.

JoshH | 02:05 pm on 4/23/2008

As a mountain boy with unknown "roots" (in the direct physical sense, due to being adopted) and a lack of connection with any "family roots" from my family of upbringing(for a vast panoply of reasons), I confuse the hell out of people with my knowledge in that area...which is probably something born out of a "search for my roots." A few exes have thought I was Jewish from my knowledge in the area before they got to know me and my actual background/upbringing and I've also been shouted at by street preachers in coffee shops who thought I was Jewish, too.

Of course my shuddering at the term "Old Testament," preferring the term "Tanakh" probably doesn't ease confusion...and neither does my tendency to throw out Yiddish vulgarities when pissed off.

that calvinist doug | 02:25 pm on 4/23/2008

Josh, sweetie, you and SRebbe talk amongst yourselves, I'm verklempt!

buda | 10:36 am on 4/23/2008

"There may be thousands upon thousands of us “Jennifers” in the world, but only 500 people out there actually know the Cornish language from whence it comes."

As I understand it there are 27 Jennifers, 16 Jens, !0 jennys and then there's you.

Bailey Hankins | 10:37 am on 4/23/2008

Passover is a way of bonding together as God's Chosen People so that you don't feel bad about robbing and abusing others as lawyers. Religion is always about allowing people to murder, cheat, and steal without guilt. That is why religion is evil.

When you subject children to this kind of depraved thinkings, you are every bit as evil as a terrorist indoctrinating the next generation of walking bombs with religious lies.

There is nothing whatsoever good or beneficial about brainwashing children into believing that they are the special, chosen people of God. It is a selfish and destructive form of self advancement at the expense of others. It is evil.

If you love Passover so much, then I guess you really loved all those centuries of Christmas celebrations and the Pope reminding everyone that the Jews murdered Jesus and deserved persecution.

Keep it up!

Process Deist | 11:09 am on 4/23/2008

Bailey....I think that someone in your past, has beaten you half-to-death with a heavy Bible.
In the long line of 'Saints and Sinners', that have preceeded us, are thousands of examples of religion giving God a bad name. But, there are thousands of good examples of religion bringing about a 'right relationship with God'.
I think we could have a great time, drinking a cold one and cussing the fundies.
By the way....the fundies are fixing to be on you, like red on a fire truck. Hold on for the onslaught of replys.

Process Deist | 10:13 am on 4/26/2008

It is now three days later.
I have to change my statement.
It is not the Fundies who are all over you.
It is our normal 'cast of characters' who enjoy exploring theology.
Bailey it is time to study deeply and to know what you know, and to be open to expanding what you know.
I may be dumb as a brick, but life for me is knowing God and avoiding religion.

that calvinist doug | 10:43 am on 4/23/2008

Bailey...wow. You're amazing. Do you wake up this angry or does it take you a few hours of watching TBN in the morning to work up a lather?

Bailey Hankins | 10:56 am on 4/23/2008

Doug, why is it that all of you lemmings are so brainwashed that you do handsprings when Jews exhibit the same nutty and dangerously deluded thinking that you bash Christians and Muslims for day and night? Can't we just agree that religion delivered nothing but the Dark Ages, endless murder, torture, and hatred? Can we just admit to the obvious: that religion suppressed rational thinking and science in favor of keeping people ignorant and oppressed?

Everything you have today, including your computer and the internet, is the result of science. You would be using technology a thousand years more advanced if it weren't for religion.

Stop defending it.

that calvinist doug | 11:02 am on 4/23/2008

I knew it! So how was Benny this morning? Especially anointed?

I just can't stay mad at you, though. You see, I'm just a deluded lemming, using 1000-year outdated technology. I just can't get past my endless desire for murder, torture, and a return to the Dark Ages. But what can I do? My rational thoughts have been suppressed and I'm left with only my crazy God irrationalities. Maybe one day I'll evolve into an intelligent being like you.

SRebbe | 08:59 am on 4/24/2008

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

buda | 12:47 pm on 4/23/2008

Biley,I for one take exception to being called a lemming. Most of the "christians" I am around put more time and effort into understanding our world, philosophy, science, art, and "truth" than any of my secular or atheist friends. This is a place in particular (the door) full of people who put a lot of thought and time into their beliefs, (even when their wrong) that is why it is so irreverent and "blasphemous". Most of the regulars here are NOT lemmings. My god man, just read the comments for a while, -blasphemers, heathens, rebels, liberals, philosophers, comedians, believers, democrats, republicans, feminists (1st and 2nd wave), academics and rednecks, but not very many lemmings.

I understand only to well that many people who call themselves religious are offensive to a thinker like yourself, they are to me as well. I tried being an atheist, it lasted for about 3 months. My friend, there is a God, logically, rationally, mystically and personally- there is a God. I am not stupid for believing that. Einstein believed in a God. Francis Collins believes in God. (both are smarter and better educated than you or me) Many intelligent, rational people believe in a God. (this is the part of the conversation that Lewis's "Mere Christianity" and "Surprised By Joy" get recommended) Every people group and nationality that has ever been believes in a deity.

Now if you believe that an evolved and enlightened person is above that and the billions of people before him/her were fools, then I understand your position- it's elitist bullshit, but I understand. This is not like believing the world is flat/round. It is deeper and embedded in us in a way that is different than any other thing. So, try separating your hatred of the nasty things done by people and try understanding the nature of your existence. Try reading some Merton, Lewis, etc.. biographys of St. Francis, Dr Martin Luther King, etc... Hell, even Thomas Jefferson believed in God, Mr enlightenment himself. Giving up hope feels better but it isn't.

JoshH | 02:31 pm on 4/23/2008

Well said...although I will add a few points:
I have plenty of atheist/agnostic friends who take no issue with another person's beliefs; they and many of my more "traditionally"-framed Christian friends are pretty much on the same page about a lot of things (in part, because many of the atheists/agnostics do "practice a religion" or have in the past and value that experience). Both get my point when I make rather ribald jokes of a religious nature; the people who get pissed off at me...and piss me off are those who try to impose their rubric of understanding on others (regardless of viewpoint).

My point in this is that Bailey is (as calvinist doug pointed out) fruit from the same tree that brings us Benny Hinn and airport nutjobs and other folk of that ilk. He's also like the portrait of people he'd despise: the person whose sole theological framework is built on something they saw on Oprah or TBN...or read in some horseshit book like "The Prayer of Jabez." He rails against "superstition," but is (so to speak) possessed by that very demon that he rails against.

I'm simply saying that you shouldn't put this on the heads of atheists, but into the same royal court in which fundamentalism and limp/gooey "spirituality" and televangelist nutjobbery/chicanery all reign.

buda | 02:56 pm on 4/23/2008

Your point is well made and I agree, Josh. I certainly didn't mean to dis the thoughtful atheist. As I said, I have some good friends who consider themselves "godless" and are quite pleasant about it. I often prefer their company. I should have been more specific. What I have a problem with is fundamentalists on any subject. And Biley certainly falls into that category. I was giving Biley the benifit of the doubt by calling him a "thinker" but I just came across some of his other posts and Biley makes Jerry Fawell seem like a Universalist/Unitarian. It's just that I have ranted about fundys here before and it feels like I'm repeating myself to the point of annoying people.

buda | 02:09 pm on 4/23/2008

What's wrong Biley, Felis Catus got your tongue?

Bailey Hankins | 03:11 pm on 4/23/2008

Oh yes, I've been sitting right here the ENTIRE TIME just trying in vain to think up some comeback to your stellar and airtight characterizations.

Let's see, I've already said I'm not an atheist or a Material Reductionist, but you don't let that slow you down! If I don't believe in Gawd and Jeezus then I must be a bitter, godless, sad little man living alone with a pet rat. I get it.

Let's start off by educating you a little:

It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.

Albert Einstein, 1954, from Albert Einstein: The Human Side

Hmmm, sounds like Albert agrees with me, but I'm afraid he doesn't agree with you at all.

So the foundation of your argument is destroyed. Religion is evil. Einstein was not religious and did not believe in God.

Guess you look kind of like an idiot. I'm sure you are used to it.

that calvinist doug | 03:20 pm on 4/23/2008

Yes, actually, it DOES seem like you've been searching all afternoon for that Einstein quote...

But this is buda's argument, so I digress.

buda | 05:15 pm on 4/23/2008

"You idiot Godders. If you......". " while I disagree with Material Reductionsism, and classical atheism, there is no doubt that evolution is a fact, and ID is just a stupid Godder attempt to inject the evils of superstitious Santa in the Sky religion into the only thing that ever led us out of the darkness -- rational, objective, scientific thinking." Both quotes by you over at the Ben Stein article.

You proclaim you are not a "classical atheist". Fine, I never called you a "classical atheist". Please pick your own definition. A post-modern atheist? A non-atheist God hater? An agnostic Godder hater? You tell me what you believe (not more of what you don't believe or hate, or think is stupid, please, I get that). Maybe you just hate christians, but are not opposed to a God? Please explain.

Ok,lets play "Quote Albert". I have a bunch, but I'll just use a couple of my favorites, the 1st one is quite pertinent.

"Then there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is the same as that of the religious fanatics, and it springs from the same source . . . They are creatures who can't hear the music of the spheres." (The Expanded Quotable Einstein, Princeton University Press, ( Looove that.)

"What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the inquiring and constructive mind." Einstein [pg. 56 Mayer]
( What?? Philosophers and spiritual teachers over scientist? looks like Albert might be leaning my way after all.)

I never said Albert was a christian, I suppose I shouldn't have put his name next to Collins, but I do think, as taken from the compilation of his writings, Albert recognized something above man, which he called on a number of occasions "God", or "The Almighty" Not a christian, does not subscribe to religion, does not believe in a personal, knowable God, sure, never said he did, and anyway, Albert was only one example. Albert wasn't my point. Defending organized religion isn't my point. I would have a hard time doing that.

There is a God and it is not stupid to seek out God or to try to understand more about Him/Her and humans juxtaposition to Him/Her was my point. All people who believe in God (Godders?) are not lemmings was my point. What about Francis Collins? Thomas Jefferson? Martin Luther King? Etc.. All "Idiot Godders"?

The foundation of my argument stands. I will concede one example in my argument is debatable, but the foundation stands. (Calling me names doesn't shake it very much). I'll go with you one further, I totally believe that religion can be the enemy of God, and can be a great evil. God is good. Jesus spoke goodness into the world and it is not foolish but rather wise to follow His teachings.

So, the ball is in your court, please explain to me what you believe (positives) about God and how we who believe in God are idiot lemmings.
BTW, I usually only look like an idiot when dressed in a tuxedo or 3 piece suit. Certainly not in this conversation.

Bailey Hankins | 08:41 pm on 4/23/2008

Well, if you don't believe in God in a religious framework, and by God you the living universe itself, then how could I object?

However, if you believed in this fashion you certainly wouldn't be celebrating Passover and setting the table for imaginary friends, would you?

I don't believe God is an entity who created the universe. I believe in the living universe. I believe that life is natural, not supernatural.

I don't believe that the living universe made this group or that group special or Chosen. That belief is blasphemy. That belief is born of greed and ego, and held to as a cover for countless crimes.

buda | 11:06 pm on 4/23/2008

Bailey, I am glad you have honored me with this well thought out and personal response (no sarcasm). I will try to answer you the best I can.

You said "I believe in the living universe. I believe that life is natural, not supernatural." Obviously reflecting Einstein's respect and awe of the natural universe. I don't have an immediate response, I'm gonna think about that for a while.

Now I understand what you meant by "santa clause God". I am wondering if your belief system includes any Buddhistic thought regarding life and going/returning into the living universe when we leave this plane of existence or is it just a straight Naturalistic point of view, The glory of this life with nothing else promised or needed. If it is a straight Naturalistic point of view I can see why you have a problem with this site. Most of the people here believe in God in some way, even if their path is at odds with the established church. Most have (as far as I can tell) at least a sliver of faith.

Most of the people here take that faith and the questions around it very seriously. That's why you get the responses you do. I respect the path, the debate, the journey of other people (for the most part). Usually not the people who feel that they have arrived, that they hold "All Truth". Do you see how your previous posts come across that way, like you hold the keys to the universe and we are stupid children. Many of us have labored long and hard to get away from that kind of thinking. To get away from systems of belief that tell us they have absolute truth and if we don't submit we are stupid or will burn in hell, or are not, as you said correctly, the "chosen ones". Whether it be former atheist finding faith or former fundys finding grace, most people here react against "fundamentalism" no matter which side it comes from.

If you think us foolish for thinking there is a supernatural God, that is fine. Not sarcastic, "fine" but really truly fine. I disagree with a lot of things said here, but I respect the belief system of others- mostly. Part of the fun is one-upping each other and the competition of the best remark, but listening and learning as well. There are people you could learn from here bailey, and you have the opportunity to ask questions of some pretty good thinkers. Try going through and reading Process Deist remarks, always worth reading. BJ is freakin hilarious. If you asked srebbe politely why she celebrates passover (can't remember if she does or just knows about it) or why it means something to her I am pretty sure she would give you a well reasoned respectful answer. And then you could answer with something that would help me to more immediately observe and appreciate the life I have now. It is give and take, It would be so much more effective than ranting.

As to my belief about passover, well, I didn't make any comment about passover, I made the 27 Jennifers song reference, I just responded to your lemming comment, I suffered to much and to long being a non-conformist to be called a lemming sitting down. I have always had a tough time with a "special" or "chosen" people myself. Just ask Doug the Calvinist. However, as I do believe the principles of the bible (just not all literally all the time) and have read up on my history, I tend to not mess with the jewish people. There seems to be something going on there.

JoshH | 02:35 am on 4/24/2008

Nicely said...you "spoke the mind" of this shaggy-haired Quaker.

SRebbe | 10:04 am on 4/24/2008

True true. And lemmings are misunderstood creatures themselves.

Bailey Hankins | 11:17 am on 5/29/2009

Looks like I clearly won this debate, time for a beer.

dinesh | 07:28 am on 6/08/2010

Actually I am not a christian but I have read a bible many time so I know many events of old testament version of bible. Passover the word is taken from the Exodus. All the slaves was freed from Egypt. On their way to Israel all the people was in extreme hunger. So to alleviate their hunger God showed great miracle on them. Now we can not expect the same as before. If I get hunger I normally look mcdonalds menu to alleviate my hunger.

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The day before Passover is the fast of the firstborn, a minor fast for all firstborn males, commemorating the fact that the firstborn Jewish males in Egypt were not killed during the final plague.

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Passover lasts for seven days. The first and last days of the holiday are days on which no work is permitted.

Julie | 11:28 am on 10/23/2010

Looks like I clearly won this debate, time for a beer.
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Ron | 08:34 pm on 12/03/2010

"For that’s how this all started: two language geeks improbably realized that they had a shared secret obsession with collecting international versions of the Four Questions".

It's interesting how all sorts of things get started. Sometimes, years later, we'll find out that an event we've all granted great weightiness began lightheartedly, and of course visa versa.
Ron from Bike Trainer Reviews

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Hi Jennifer Morrow, It's awesome theses steps! I enjoy reading that.
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Paul T | 12:30 pm on 1/20/2011

Now you are going to make me take a Rosetta Stone class in pig latin. LOL. What I got out of this is the following statement that you made... "as there’s a portion of the ceremony where all those who are hungry—no religion mentioned—are invited to join the family at their table." We should all take note of that.
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rina | 03:55 pm on 2/09/2011

Let us consider these in addition to the word of God:
1Ti 1:9 Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers.
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