What began as an evening of cultural learning with a professor and a group of students 40 years ago, the BYU Passover Seder service has now become a yearly tradition at Brigham Young University for educators, students and members of the community.
“This exercise is an opportunity to teach about Jews and about Jewish life and to educate not only our BYU students but the general public about Jews and Judaism,” said Dr. Jeffrey R. Chadwick, BYU professor and host of the event on March 11.
The event, held in the Wilkinson Student Center on campus is “designed to teach” participants and help them understand the Passover Seder, or “the Order of Passover.” BYU has sponsored an evening — sometimes more than one evening — for students and community members for the past 40 years.
“It is very unlikely that most of our folks would have the opportunity to sit down in a real family Passover and even if they did, they might not be up to speed on what it was all about because they start right in to the readings,” Dr. Jeffrey Chadwick said. “So, our experience is a semblance of what an authentic Passover Seder would be like if you were to sit down with a family, or even a public Jewish Passover in a public banquet hall.”
Participants of the annual BYU Passover Seder service spent the evening tasting and learning more about the Jewish tradition. Dr. Chadwick, a BYU Religious Education and Jerusalem Center professor, led the community event, sharing with participants some of the history, symbolism and tradition of the Passover feast.
Prayers and passages of scripture from the Old Testament celebrate the “sacrificed Lamb of Passover” and help participants understand the importance of the sacred, intimate family Passover meal.
“The first thing we hope is that they will have some sense of what Passover means in the scriptures in the Old Testament, in the New Testament,” he said. “We pause in our program to mention a thing or two about the Old and New Testament connections.”
Although the evening includes only selections from the Passover Seder, Dr. Chadwick said it is important “to give enough background on the Passover so that you can appreciate and realize what it is and what it means in the biblical sense and historical sense and also in the sense of the Jewish people who practice it.”
Catered by BYU, the ceremonial meal consists of traditional foods associated with Passover — drawing from Exodus 12 in the Old Testament about the feast of the unleavened bread — and includes unleavened bread, bitter herbs, haroset (a spring fruit salad of diced apples and raisins) and salt water. The food is based on what grows in Jerusalem and follows the laws of kosher.
Dr. Chadwick explained some of the significance of other foods associated with Passover — such as a roasted egg that is a symbol of the festival sacrifice at the temple and a roasted lamb bone that symbolizes remembering the lamb at Passover of old — and walked participants through the different stages of the meal. Participants had four cups of grape juice at specific times throughout the meal, each representing a story or blessing of the Passover.
“It is an activity sponsored by BYU Religious education,” Dr. Chadwick said. “It is part of the mission statement of BYU Religious Education to teach not only our own religion, but to respectfully inform about the other religions of the world. … We even have donors that subsidize the cost of student participation because they believe this is so important.”
Rather than hosting the entire evening in Hebrew as a traditional Passover Seder would be done, Dr. Chadwick shared parts of the prayers in Hebrew and had participants read and say aloud selections in English from the Passover Haggadah. Because of the sacred nature of the Jewish tradition, Dr. Chadwick respectfully removed the traditional Jewish yamulke or kippah when he was not saying prayers or explaining sacred events.
Understanding the Jewish Passover is important, Dr. Chadwick says, because it is “part of your heritage” and helps others understand their place in the House of Israel.
“You have to be able to relate to who you are and what you are before you can really appreciate what others believe,” he said. “In the case of Judaism, it is doubly interesting because Latter-day Saints take their heritage from the biblical scriptures and we have this revealed, restored understanding of ourselves as descendants of ancient Israel, which is not something that most other people in the world believe about themselves. … So in the case of Judaism, it’s an even more interesting study perhaps than [another religion] because of Mormon’s belief in the connection to the House of Israel.”
Dr. Chadwick shared the connection to the Passover and Christ, specifically the Last Supper — a Passover Seder.
“Jesus was taking the Passover and using it for His own specific purposes,” Dr. Chadwick told participants, explaining that Christ reminded His Jewish apostles to remember the Passover Lamb — His sacrifice of body and blood — every time they ate the unleavened bread.
“They would have understood that,” Dr. Chadwick said. “Because we in the Christian community [often] don’t know very much about Judaism … we miss that symbolism. But it is there.”
For Latter-day Saints, understanding the Passover helps in understanding Christ’s sacrifice and the sacrament.
“It has evolved in a different way for Mormons than it has for Jews and other Christians, but its origin is right here,” Dr. Chadwick said. “You are, in a very real sense, every Sunday continuing that Passover that Jesus asked the world to use to remember Him by.”
Another dinner was scheduled for March 18; others will be held on March 25 and April 8. For more information call BYU Religious Education 801-422-3611.
[email protected] @marianne_holman