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BINTEL BRIEFShould I invite someone I barely know to join me at a Passover Seder?

Bintel says welcoming strangers is a Passover tradition — but you already knew that

The Forward has been solving reader dilemmas since 1906 in A Bintel Brief, Yiddish for a bundle of letters. Send us your quandaries about Jewish life, love, family, friends or work via email, Twitter or this form.

Dear Bintel,

I am a retiree living in a farmhouse for assisted living in upstate New York, and until yesterday, thought I was the only Jew in town. Then I was introduced to a blind man of distant Jewish lineage who has little knowledge of Judaism, yet is eager and curious to learn.

I’m thinking of inviting him to a Seder at a temple where I used to belong, which at least one friend of mine will be attending. Shall I take the chance on a very unusual first date? Isn’t it considered a mitzvah to invite a stranger to join a Seder meal? Thank you and chag sameach.

Signed,
Wondering


Dear Wondering,

It seems to me that you already know the answer to this question, but apparently you need affirmation. So: Yes, of course you should invite this person to join you at a Seder! Remember, we were once strangers in the land of Egypt, and therefore, we must welcome the stranger. We are obliged to teach and retell the story of Exodus every year, and to open our hearts and our tables to others.

As the Haggadah says, “Anyone who is hungry should come and eat, anyone who is in need should come and partake of the Pesach sacrifice.” That’s not just about filling empty bellies. It’s also about feeding souls and minds. Your acquaintance is hungry to learn more about his heritage, and a Seder is an engaging and beautiful way to introduce anyone to Judaism.

My only concern is your use of the phrase “first date.” I can’t tell if you’re being slyly funny, or if that’s an actual source of hesitation. In case you’re serious, let me say unequivocally that in no way should you view this as a date. You’re inviting someone to a Seder — that’s it. It’s not complicated and it’s not even that unusual.

Inviting “strangers” to Seders — individuals who have nowhere to go, and individuals who may never have experienced a Seder before — is part of Jewish tradition. But there must be no strings attached. Your acquaintance doesn’t owe you an invite back, and this is not necessarily the beginning of a relationship, platonic or romantic.

You also ask if you should “take the chance,” suggesting there’s a risk to this invite. I see two risks, actually. He could turn out to be an unpleasant guest in some way. In which case I would say: The antics of a wicked child are practically to be expected at a Seder — the Haggadah says so, after all. I hope you don’t experience obnoxious or annoying behavior, but if you do, hopefully it can be ignored or managed.

There’s also the risk that he might say no. And if he does, no big deal. Don’t take it personally. You did a good deed just by making the effort to include him, and I salute you for being a mensch. I hope he says yes. If he doesn’t, go with your other friend, and enjoy.

Signed,
Bintel

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