fbpx Making Seder and Kiddush More Inclusive | Reconstructing Judaism

Making Seder and Kiddush More Inclusive

Article

One of the small but significant innovations of the Reconstructionist haggadah, “A Night of Questions,” was the rubric “wine or grape juice” that appears before each of the traditional four cups of the Seder as well as in the Introduction of how to prepare for Pesach. While for many or even most people that simple supplement — “or grape juice” — may go unnoticed, for people for whom alcohol is an issue, the acknowledgment by our haggadah of the option is very visible indeed.

By acknowledging that someone attending a seder may, for example, be in a 12-step program for alcoholics, or in recovery, our Haggadah sends a clear message that we recognize and support people in our communities who struggle with alcohol and with the omnipresent assumption of Jewish tradition that a celebration without wine is somehow deficient.

This same principle can and ought to extend to congregational and other communal gatherings. Where small cups of wine for a Kiddush or Oneg Shabbat are routinely put out, cups of juice ought to be there as well, with each clearly marked. (And while we're at it, for those communities that still observe the practice, let's get rid of the hard liquor that too often sits unsupervised at Bar and Bat Mitzvah and wedding receptions, serving as a temptation to teenagers as well as adults.)

When guests come for a Shabbat or holiday dinner, hosts should be prepared and ask “who would like juice and who would like wine for Kiddush?”  A host who takes the extra step and says “I am having juice, who else wants juice, and who wants wine?” avoids isolating someone else as “the juice person.” When Kiddush is chanted in the synagogue, the leader might make a point of saying something like “We will now offer the Kiddush together over this cup of grape juice, so all are included.” While some may not “get it,” those for whom alcohol is an issue will hear the message loud and clear.

But, some may ask, why should the burden be on the community? Anyone can decline wine with a simple “no thank you” or just ask for juice if they want juice. The reason a community or host family should take the initiative is because by offering alternatives a community quietly names the issues associated with alcohol and acknowledges the responsibility of the community to welcome and support all who wish to participate. In so doing, a community avoids the transgressions of halbanat panim, “causing embarrassment” and mikhshol lifnei iver, which literally means “placing a stumbling block before the blind” and functionally is understood to be any act that invites someone to harm herself or himself.

The Bible teaches that “wine gladdens the human heart” (Psalm 104:15), and Jewish tradition tempers this with its emphasis on moderation. But wine and other alcohol also can break a human heart.

Assuring that anytime we offer wine we also offer juice can help create more inclusive and sensitized Jewish communities.

Assistant Rabbi, M'kor Shalom

Related Resources

News and Blogs

Let's Journey Together

In an essay that appeared in Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent, Rabbi Deborah Waxman, Ph.D., makes the case that Reconstructionist Judaism matters now more than ever.

News
News and Blogs

The Poor People’s Campaign, a National Call for Moral Revival

The RRA recently became a partner of the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC). In the last two weeks the PPC has coordinated rallies and acts of civil disobedience in over 30 state capitals, including the participation of over 15 RRA members. 

News
News and Blogs

Drawing Comfort from Community

Belonging connects us to something larger than our own individual experience. I belong to the Jewish people because claiming this connection enters me into a millennia-old conversation and joins me into community both vertical—all those who came before me and all those who follow—and horizontal—the Jews of today, in all our diversity.

News
News and Blogs

Reconstructionist Communities Make Disability Inclusion a Top Priority

With a welcoming ethos and a drive to break down barriers, Reconstructionist congregations and havurot have been part of a revolution that’s taken place in the public awareness of the importance of disability inclusion and related services.

News
News and Blogs

Why Belong?

Why belong to the Jewish people? Why belong to a synagogue? Why belong to the Reconstructionist movement? These are some of the most important questions that I am asked and that I, along with all of us at Reconstructing Judaism, strive to answer powerfully and convincingly.

News
News and Blogs

Keeping Judaism Alive Behind Prison Walls

Serving Jewish prisoners in state prison, rabbinic students find new perspectives on freedom and responsibility.

News
News and Blogs

Striving Towards Racial Justice in our Jewish Communities

Reflections on the recent Jewish Social Justice roundtable meeting on racial justice and equity.

News

To Read More...

Further resources on embracing the stranger within.

Article

A Stranger in Two Communities: Second-Generation American and Jewish Convert

The lines of “inside” and “outside” are not always clear, as a second-generation American and Jewish convert attests. 

Article

To Read More...

Further resources on embracing the stranger face-to-face

Article

Hagar the Stranger

To love the stranger represents an outrageous leap out of the typical moral economy, in which we do kindnesses and expect to be repaid in kind. In loving the stranger, we transcend self-interest.

Sermon

Strange Thoughts: A New Take on Loving the Stranger

To truly live justly, we need to move out of our comfort zones and embrace unfamiliar ideas and habits of mind. 

Article

“Straight-Welcoming?!” – Creating an Inclusive Community

Lesser describes the evolution of an LGBT synagogue and dissects the meaning of inclusive community.

Article

The Value of a Different Path

In valuing parenthood, Rabbi Jacob Staub argues, we must not devalue the experiences and wisdom of those who are not parents. 

Article

Seeing the Other

Rabbi Jacob Staub reflects on the difference between welcoming others and seeing through their eyes.

Article