The Jewish Chronicle



THERE ARE two states in the world where millions of people attend a Seder. One is Israel; which is the other? No single state in America has this scale of Seder-goers and Britain certainly does not come close. The answer lies in south-western India.

In case you are imaginging some massive secret Jewish population, that is not the story in Kerala; the Sedarim there are organised by Christians. The state is home to around four million St Thomas Christians, also known as Mar Thoma Nasranis and every spring they hold a family-based celebratio­n involving unleavened bread, reading the Book of Exodus and praying. Sound familiar?

It all starts with cleaning. The kitchen is thoroughly scrubbed before any food preparatio­n begins and, when the cooking starts for the Pesaha — Passover — meal, the Pesaha appam takes centre stage. This is unleavened bread made only for Pesaha, though there is one slight difference to matzah beyond its softer feel: Pesaha appam has a cross design on it. Crosses and timing aside — Pesaha is not celebrated according to the Jewish calendar but rather on the eve of Easter Friday — it is all very Seder-esque.

The family gathers, the biblical passages about the Israelites leaving Egypt are read and the head of the household reverentia­lly breaks the special bread, taking care not to drop a crumb. Everybody can rest assured the bread has not been contaminat­ed by any leavened food, as it is steamed in a a dedicated pan. Leavened foods are banned from the meal.

Special produce is served — not maror and karpas but bananas and other fruits. As in Jewish tradition, Pesaha season is a time for charitable giving. There is a focus on the drink — paal, a spiced milk drink — as well as the food for the evening.

“Like the Jewish festival, this Christian feast is celebrated at Nasrani homes,” says the Nasrani Foundation. “They consider this day with great reverence. This celebratio­n among them could be considered as a Christian version of the Jewish Passover, perhaps handed over to them through the early Jewish converts among them.”

This foundation believes Jews who converted to Christiani­ty in India may have integrated Sederlike practices into local Christiani­ty and says this makes sense in the context of history.

“From literature it is clear that early Jewish Christians, particular­ly Aramaic-speaking Christians, practised several Jewish rituals, including Pesaha, up to the fourth century,” says the Nasrani Foundation. Another theory is that the practice was imported from Europe.

Naturally, whoever entrenched the Pesha practice among Nasranis placed different significan­ce upon it from that of the Jewish Seder, relating it to Holy Communion, where wine and bread represent the blood and body of Christ. “For Nasranis, the observance of Pesaha is the feast of Eucharist,” writes Sunish George J. Alumkal in the Journal of IndoJudaic Studies. 1. According to the hagadah, in which city did five rabbis spend so long on Seder that their students came to tell them it was morning? 2. What are the names of the cities the Israelites built for the Egyptian regime? 3. What were the names of Moses’ parents?

4. What was Moses’ sister called?

5. Which of the 10 plagues was sub-zero? 6. According to Rabbi Gamaliel, who is quoted in the hagadah, what are the three things that need to be spoken about to fulfil the “duty” of telling the Passover story at Seder?

7. How many of the four cups of Seder wine are drunk before the meal? 8. It is said that when the Israelites arrived at the Red Sea, people were reticent to enter and one man from the tribe of Judah jumped in and fearlessly led the way. What was his name?

9. At second Seder, the liturgy includes a counting ritual that then takes place nightly until Shavuot. What is it called?

10. What is the “three” of Echad Mi Yodea? 11. What is the “11” of Echad Mi Yodea?

12. Who ate the kid in the song Chad Gadya? 13. Which is the traditiona­l language of the declaratio­n disavowing any chametz not found during cleaning?

14. May strawberri­es be used as the karpas, which is often translated as the “spring vegetable” of the Seder service? 15. What is the maximum amount of time that may be taken to prepare matzah before it is classed as risen and inappropri­ate for Passover?

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