The World's Most Unusual Seder Customs

Your matzah crumbs are dry, and let's face it, sometimes your Seder is too. Planning your Exodus from your dining room table? Tired of dipping, sipping, biting, and reciting? BABAGANEWZ presents its top picks for Pesach practices, the ones that never made it into your Haggadah.

  1. Afikoman Power. Apparently there's a reason you can bargain for the afikoman: It's valuable protection from a host of ills; at least that's what some Jewish communities believed. For example, Jews in various places believed the afikoman could cure mutes, keep silos full of grain, and guard against bullets. But you might wish to adopt the tradition of 17th century Polish Jewry, who simply hung the afikoman on the wall.
  2. Pesach Bling. To commemorate the gold and silver that the Egyptians showered on the Israelites as they fled (Shemot 12:35), Jews in Hungar y decorated their Seder tables with all of their valuable jewels. If you don't mind rinsing off grape juice spills, this ritual will make your Seder shine.
  3. Puckering Up for Pesach. You might love matzah, but would you kiss it? Apparently, Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (1565-1630) did. He kissed the matzot and maror at the Seder to demonstrate his love for these mitzvot. If you want to follow his example, make sure you kiss your own matzah and maror, and not the ones meant for everyone else!
  4. Smacking the Onions. Afghanis distribute green onions during the song "Dayenu," and hit each other with the stalks when the ninth stanza begins. Besides being hilarious to watch, this custom teaches text: Some have speculated that the ritual refers to when the Israelites yearned for Egyptian onions, instead of manna, while in the desert (Bemidbar 11:5-6). Seder participants scold themselves for the Israelites' complaints by smacking onions when reading "Even if You had supplied our needs in the desert for 40 years, but not fed us manna from heaven."
  5. Heavy Haroset. The mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon, and wine, which commemorates the bricks that Israelites made in Egypt, tastes earthier in some cultures. During America's Civil War, Jewish Union soldiers who found themselves at a Seder without ingredients for haroset included a real brick on their Seder plate. In 18th-century Salonika, Greece, people added chopped stone to their haroset, and some Moroccans included grated rock. Though interesting, most people chose to demolish this custom, and you can probably guess why.
  6. Pesach Headache. In 14th-century Spain, the Seder leader, prior to reciting ha lah ma anya, walked around the table tapping the Seder plate three times on each participant's head. With each person, the taps got progressively harder. Sephardic Jews still practice this peculiar custom, which they hope will encourage children to ask more questions. If you try this at home, people will definitely begin questioning you!
  7. A Customary Flood. Our tradition says that the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on the seventh night of Pesach, and various Jewish groups commemorated this miracle by reenacting the drama. Some people poured buckets of water on the floor of their house, creating a miniature "sea," and walked from one side of the room to the other. If you try this, be sure to do it on the seventh night of Passover, but we highly recommend getting permission from your parents first!
  8. Redeeming Ourselves. Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Horowitz (1760-1827) invited Seder participants to pour wine from their own goblets into Elijah's cup. This symbolized the personal deeds and contributions that each person must make to bring redemption. When doing this, think carefully about what you can do to hasten redemption. Enjoy your Sedarim, and happy Passover!