No extended family allowed at Passover seders, Health Ministry rules

Relatives will not be permitted to travel to one another for traditional meal on first night of holiday, even if that means individuals will have to observe it alone

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Children make kiddush at a model Passover seder (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Children make kiddush at a model Passover seder (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Israelis will be barred from celebrating Passover with family members who don’t live in the same home as them, the Health Ministry’s legal adviser said Wednesday.

This includes those living alone, who will be forced to celebrate the holiday’s festive seder tradition solo on the holiday’s first night on April 8, Uri Schwartz said during a press conference.

“You will have to stay in the house and make the holiday dinner with the nuclear family,” he said. “Unfortunately, [this means that] people will be alone on Passover and the seder night.”

Schwartz had been asked if the Health Ministry would be making any Passover-related exception to the new guidelines, which bar people who do not live together in the same family unit from traveling together in a car.

The legal adviser responded that no such exception would be made for the holiday. “It’s a very difficult situation, of course, but there’s nothing we can do,” he said.

The annual matzah-laden retelling of the Jewish exodus from Egypt is traditionally attended by extended family and friends. A Jewish People Policy Institute survey for the Israeli Judaism project in 2018 found 97 percent of Israeli Jews said they participate in a Passover seder.

On Tuesday, several senior Orthodox rabbis issued a halachic (religious law) ruling that permitted the use of the Zoom video conference service on the holiday evening allowing separated family members to celebrate together.

Rabbi Eliyahu Abergel, head of Jerusalem’s rabbinical court. (Dudu Greenspan/FLASH90)

The ruling was coordinated by former Jerusalem Rabbinical Court chief rabbi Eliyahu Abergel, and was focused on ensuring that elderly members would not feel obligated to risk their health in order to attend their family seder.

Abergel wrote that the goal of the ruling was “to remove the sadness from the elderly and to give them motivation to keep fighting… and to prevent depression, which could lead them to despair.”

Citing this “time of emergency,” he added that Zoom would be allowed as long as the computer on which it is being used is turned on before the start of the holiday. Generally, religious law bars the use of electronics on the Sabbath and holidays.

One senior rabbi who subsequently expressed support for the ruling was the Kiryat Arba settlement’s chief rabbi Dov Lior.

However, not all Orthodox rabbis were rallying around Abergel’s ruling. Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau called it “irresponsible” in an Army Radio interview Tuesday, adding that its signees exhibited a “total misunderstanding of the meaning of a halachic ruling. It’s a shame that they are… misleading the public.”

At 5 p.m. on Wednesday, a raft of new restrictions went into effect for a seven-day period, including a prohibition on people venturing more than 100 meters from their homes, apart from under certain circumstances, and the shuttering of synagogues.

Anyone found in violation of the regulations will be committing a criminal offense and can be fined NIS 500 ($137) or imprisoned for six months. The regulations allow police to enforce the relevant provisions.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed