Friday, April 03, 2020

Egyptian Jews mark a different kind of Seder



Seder el-Tawhid ceremony at the Ahaba ve Ahva congregation in the US in 2010. Video here

Two weeks before Passover, Egyptian Jews hold an 800-year old special ceremony involving singing psalms and special readings. Candles are also lit to honour the community's ancestors and scholars.

From an account written in 1908 by Rabbi Refael Aharon Ben Shimon (Via Historical Society of Jews from Egypt):

"There is an ancient custom here in Egypt that on the night of Rosh Hodesh Nissan they make in the synagogue with lots of people and great pomp Seder El-Tawhid. It is an order of learning that includes the reading of Qorban Pesah from Perashat Hahodesh Hazeh Lakhem (Exodus 12 1-20) which pertains to Rosh Hodesh Nissan and its sanctity and stature, and a song for the sanctification of the month, and the great praise (Psalms 136), and other songs in honor of the Torah and the status of Yisrael who learn it. After reading all of the above with nice tunes and pleasing voices the Hazan stands up and opens up in a very clear and sweet voice and says Seder Hayihoud (Hebrew translation of El-Tawhid) in literary Arabic which is the story of the greatness of the Creator, His uniqueness, His wonders, and the great acts of kindness He has done with His people. This is done in the most wonderful language which stirs the heart and stumps the imagination with the most powerful and amazing of words and ideas about the awesome and unique Creator.

At the end of the Yihoud, the Hazan says a prayer in Arabic."

From the website of Ahaba ve Ahva, a congregation of Egyptian Jews in Brooklyn, USA:
The Seder is a religious ceremony in which special pesukim, piyutim, and prayers are recited. The liturgy relates to the themes of Rosh Hodesh Nisan, and is sung with beautiful melodies which elicit great joy and uplift the spirit. There is an oral tradition that this custom is over 800 years old, since the time of Rabenu Abraham the son of the Rambam. As well, a candle lighting ceremony takes place in which candles are lit to honor and commemorate our holy ancestors. We begin with our holy forefathers, then our prophets, followed by various great Talmudic scholars, culminating with the commemoration of the great Hachamim who served the Jews of Egypt throughout the years.

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