97% of Israeli Jews Host or Participate in a Passover Seder

March 29, 2018

3 min read

According to a Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) survey of 3,000 respondents, 97% of Jews, both secular and religious, say they either host or participate in a Passover Seder.

Avinoam Bar-Yosef, President of JPPI, maintained that the Seder speaks to people particularly well because “it’s a tradition that [has existed] for thousands of years and that’s common to every Jewish family.” Second, he told Breaking Israel News, “it’s about family memories.” He explained, “each family member  remembers the Seder with his grandparents, with his parents, and he is joining.”

In addition, Bar-Yosef told Breaking Israel News, when Israeli culture mixes with Jewish traditions, participation in Jewish ritual increases. “It’s not only a religious holiday, it’s an Israeli holiday,” he said.

“A huge majority of Israeli society is getting together for the Seder and reading the haggadah because Israel is a very family-oriented society,” he maintained. “The Passover Seder is a good opportunity to see everybody and to have a good meal.”

In contrast, according to the Pew Research Center survey from 2013 respectively, 70% of American Jews took part in a Passover Seder “last year.”

Likewise, the Passover Seder for Christians is sometimes thought to be Jesus’ last supper and some Christians have adopted the tradition of hosting or attending Seders. In fact, Google comes up with 2,760,000 results for “Christian Passover Seder.”

Similar to the Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) dinner, the Passover Seder is one of the only practices that is almost equally observed by Jews in Israel from across the spectrum, including 93% of “totally secular” Jews, according to JPPI.

“While there are other occasions for gatherings such as Hanukkah and Sukkot, the difference is that at Passover and Rosh Hashanah, tradition and memories are a Jewish priority,” Bar-Yosef told Breaking Israel News. “It doesn’t mean that the secular are getting more religious, but people are respecting tradition similar to how secular Americans celebrate Easter in the US.”

In light of the Biblical commandment to retell the story of Passover each year, it is traditional for Jewish families to gather at the dinner table on the first night of Passover (outside of Israel, this happens during the first two nights of Passover) for a special dinner called the Seder, where the Haggadah (a text telling the story of Exodus) is read.

JPPI, founded by the Jewish Agency, is a non-profit think tank that aims to contribute to the Jewish people and future through strategic thinking and long-term planning. Their Israeli Judaism project seeks to better understand what “participation” in Jewish rituals means for different Jews.

Thus, as a part of their Israeli Judaism project, the Institute found that 64% of Israeli Jews read “the entire Haggadah, including the part that is read after the meal,” making Passover one of the most common practices of both Israeli and non-Israeli Jews.

A majority of Jews from all seven sectors of Jewish Israeli society, except “totally secular,” say they read the entire Haggadah. Only 22% of totally secular Israelis read the entire Haggadah.

The seven sectors of Israeli society include: “completely secular,” “secular who are a bit traditional,” “traditional,” “liberal religious,” “religious,” “national haredi,” and “haredi.”

Reading of the Entire Haggadah Across Seven Israeli Jewish Sectors
(Credit: The Jewish People Policy Institute)

JPPI notes that while the “totally secular” group is the anomaly in the study, it is the largest sector of Israeli society, making up 31% of Israeli Jews.

When asked why Israeli Jews uphold traditions like the Passover Seder, 25% said, “because the Torah says so,” and the rest cite family tradition, expression of Jewish culture, and historical reasons.

“The Passover Seder of Israelis has remained a highly traditional Jewish ritual,” concluded JPPI’s senior fellow and sociologist, Dr. Shlomo Fischer.


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