Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple.
Q. Why can’t Jews and non-Jews pray together?
A. The prophet Isaiah foresees the day when “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isa. 56:7). If this means that all peoples will share a common liturgy and theology it is not something of this pre-messianic world. In the world of history we are divided by concepts, conscience and commitments that make joint prayer impossible.
There is a conventional argument, “But surely we all believe in the same God?” The fact is that though God is central to the beliefs and prayers of all monotheistic faiths, we have different ways of understanding His nature and His will.
When a Jew says “HaShem echad” – “The Lord is One”, his words have their own connotation. When he says, “S’lach lanu Avinu ki chatanu” – “Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned”, his concept of sin and forgiveness is distinctive. When he says, “Ana HaShem hoshi’ah na” – “We pray, O Lord, grant salvation”, he means “salvation” in a particular sense.
A Jew can join in a prayer such as “Lord and Giver of all good, we praise Thee for our daily food”… but even then he would quietly or otherwise add his own Jewish b’rachah.
FIRST THE GROOM
Q. Why is the bridegroom brought to the Chuppah before the bride?
A. Some say that the Chuppah symbolises the marital home, which the groom built or acquired before bringing his wife there. There is also a Midrashic idea that the practice derives from the Giving of the Torah at Sinai which was like a formal union between God and the people of Israel; God was present first and then Israel arrived.
A MONTH OR A FORTNIGHT?
Q. When does the pre-Pesach avoidance of eating matzah begin?
A. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein discusses the issue in Ig’rot Moshe, Orach Chayyim 1:155. The generally accepted rule is to begin asking Pesach questions 30 days before the festival. But to make things easier, some said “from Rosh Chodesh Nisan”, i.e. two weeks before. The avoidance of eating matzah before the festival follows the lenient view. Note that not eating matzah in advance (except for Erev Pesach) is a custom, not a strict law.
TIME TO BUY A NEW HAGGADAH
A few weeks before Pesach, and the excitement is building up. The house is in disarray with all the cleaning and domestic preparations. The shopping is either done or well in hand. The Pesach recipes, some yellow with age, have been rediscovered. The family are on notice as to when to gather for Seder. People have begun humming the familiar tunes; some are already relishing in advance the characteristic Pesach tastes.
However, with all the work that goes towards making it Pesach, many forget to plan the content of their Seder. The food, yes, that’s worked out, but the way the procedures of the Haggadah will be conducted, the allocation of parts, and above all the explanations that should punctuate the evening – so often these are left to chance, and the Seder suffers.
There is still time. Go and buy a new Haggadah. There is an amazing range of editions available. Look for one with a user-friendly commentary. Work through it before the night. Weave it into the Sederdiscussion. But get other people involved too.
There is a long-established custom in many families for various people to contribute to the food. Extend it, and give everyone some pre-Pesach homework. Tell this person, “Bring us some interesting points about the Four Questions.” Tell this one, “Find out something interesting about the Four Sons”. And so on. You could even ask those with good voices to come prepared with a new tune for “Addir Hu”, “Chad Gadya”, or whatever.
You will have the most exciting Seder of your life!