That’s it. I’ve had it with the second seder.
Sure the first night of Pesach is exciting. Who will read the Four Questions? Will the questioner be adorable? Or now that the kids are older, will they still be willing to take them on?
What creative twist will we add this year?
What should we serve for karpas to keep everyone from wondering (aloud) when dinner will be served?
Should we add that kosher l’Pesach fair-trade cocoa to the seder plate this year?
But come the morning, when we wake up bleary-eyed on the first day of Pesach, with the final verses of Chad Gadya still ringing in our ears and the dishes piled high in the sink, the “fifth” question emerges: Who wants to start it all over again for the second seder? My father may have been a wandering Aramean, but my son has wandered from the table the second night every year since he was four, asking that question of the engaged and thoughtful, intelligent but rebellious son: Why are we doing this again, when our friends and family in Israel hold only one seder?
The answer, which even to me is starting to wear a little thin, is tradition and Halacha, or Jewish law. Back before calendars were standardized in the fourth century, holidays began when the rabbis could confirm the starting date according to the sighting of the moon in the Land of Israel. While the start time was easier to announce throughout the Holy Land, it was impossible to get the word out to the Diaspora. As a result, Passover and other holidays were observed outside of Israel as two-day holidays — just in case the dating was off.
With the advent of the fixed calendar in the fourth century, the rabbis might have done away with the second seder, but, being rabbis, they decided to honor the sages who came before and the Jewish practice of centuries — and to preclude any possible mix-up stemming from some future calendrical confusion — and maintain the tradition of two days of hag. In the 19th century, the leaders of the Reform movement reverted to the biblical pattern of celebrating only one day, but other denominations retained the two-day requirement.
This year, I sent out invitations to our seder early, including assignments, and could have made place cards before I even chose a Purim costume. Friends and family know this is our holiday. My husband has been collecting Haggadot since he was a teenager. We regularly have up to two dozen people at our seders, and we pride ourselves on keeping our guests thoroughly engaged.
But just a couple of weeks out from the holiday, I had the stunning realization that I’d entirely passed over the second night. I hadn’t thought about our own second-night seder, and knew no invitations to join someone else’s gathering would be forthcoming. The thought of planning a second night seemed as desirable as eating a Passover diet for an extra week.
And then it came to me. We will hold an un-seder. We will acknowledge the second-day hag, but we will not sit (or lean, as the case may be) around the dining room table for a redo.
We will instead gather in our living room for a cocktail party. According to Noam Zion of The Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, the seder itself was inspired by the Greek symposium, when scholars would relax on couches, dip vegetables in sauces, drink wine, and informally debate questions high and low. (“Symposium” means “to drink together” in Greek.) Like an after-party for a great cast from a fabulous show, we will celebrate, reliving the high points of the Exodus story. And if the weather is favorable, we may head outside to the campfire, and cook our paschal meal over the fire, as our ancestors would have done. We’ll certainly down four glasses of wine. And more than four questions will be asked. We’ll finish the meal with the afikoman — or epikomen, which, by the way, is Greek for “what comes after,” otherwise known as dessert.
At a moment when some authorities have considered emulating the Sephardim by relaxing the Ashkenazi ban on forbidden Passover foods called kitniyot (corn, rice, millet, beans, lentils, for starters), can we not imagine a traditionalist proclaiming the second-day hag a “foolish custom”? Probably not: Conservative and Orthodox authorities almost uniformly say that there is no halachic mechanism to undo the two-day yom tov, codified in the Talmud, if not the Torah.
(However, there is one Conservative movement teshuva from 1969 that permits second-day hagim observance to be considered custom rather than obligation.)
So while we cannot eliminate the second night of Passover, we can give it a fresh spin.
The first night we will open our festive ritual meal, as we always do, with the singing of “There’s no seder like our seder” to the tune of “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
But the second night, we’ll say, “If the rabbis had granted us just one night to be thankful for the signs and wonders with which God had taken us out of Egypt with an outstretched arm, Dayenu, it would have been enough. Really. Dayenu.”