Passover

“…scholars have argued that the Seder might be understood as a modified Roman symposium”

For over half a century, scholars have argued that the Seder might be understood as a modified Roman symposium. Both the Roman symposium and the Rabbis’ Passover meal, Barukh Bokser observes, include “the use of waiters to bring in the food, reclining at the meal, dipping the food, hors d’oeuvres, the use of wine before, during, and after the meal, being festive, the pedagogic use of questions and intellectual discussion, singing and praise to God, and games to keep children awake.” The participants at the symposium would offer speeches after the meal in response to introductory questions and the theme of the conversation sometimes revolved around the food that was served.

To be clear, the rabbis differentiated the Passover meal from some of the more frivolous and indulgent aspects of the symposium by forbidding after-dinner drunken revelry at neighbors’ homes—this is the original meaning of the prohibition against having afikomen (dessert/after-party) after the Passover sacrifice. Nevertheless, there is no doubt as to the strong affinity between the two ceremonies. It is thus fitting to analyze the speech, i.e. Haggadah, that dominates the Seder against the background of classical rhetoric, which played such an important role at symposia.

Saul Lieberman has shown that various aspects of Greco-Roman culture were pervasive not only among more Hellenized Jews of the first centuries CE, but that even “the Rabbis of Palestine were familiar with the fashionable style of the civilized world of that time. Many of them were highly educated in Greek literature…They spoke to the people in their language and in their style.” It therefore comes as no surprise that the Talmudic sages developed literary genres and modes of persuasion that bear affinity to those of Greco-Roman declamation.

Rabbi Dr. Richard Hidary, “How Is The Passover Seder Different From All Other Symposia?”, TheGemara.com (26 March 2018) [http://thegemara.com/how-is-the-passover-seder-different-from-all-other-symposia/]