A Mormon Passover Seder
A traditional Seder plate used to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover.
April 15th, 2011
05:08 PM ET

A Mormon Passover Seder

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

The scene played out like many other Seders at Jewish campus centers, but in Provo, Utah, there was a twist. This traditional Passover celebration was hosted by Brigham Young University.

As Gabrielle Birkner writes in The Jewish Daily Forward, about 160 people packed into a hall at the Mormon college a few Fridays ago to dip the bitter herbs in salt water and remember the tears shed when the Israelites fled Egypt to escape slavery.

According to the university, Birkner reports, only three Jews are enrolled there; 99% of the students identify as Mormon.

The premier college of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is hosting seven Seders this spring, Birkner writes.

Each of them is capped at 165 people, and all are sold-out affairs with long waiting lists, said Victor Ludlow, a BYU religion professor who has been organizing campus Seders for almost four decades.

“I do so many of these here,” Ludlow said, “that the Salt Lake rabbi — we were on a radio program together for the Easter-Passover season — said: ‘Professor Ludlow, here, I call him the Passover Patriarch of Provo. He does more Seders than anyone I know, except, maybe, Elijah.’"

A traditional Passover Seder includes a retelling of the Exodus story when Moses led the Jews out of Egypt. While the Seder's leader takes the group through a series of responsive readings and Hebrew songs such as "Dayenu" (roughly translated as "it would have been enough"), there is often room to improvise or add local elements to the Seder. BYU's was no different.

Ludlow’s version of “Dayenu” included all of the customary lyrics — about the parting of the sea, the manna from heaven, the giving of the Torah — in addition to some with unique significance to the BYU community: “Had he scattered us among the nations, but not gathered us in the Rocky Mountains, dayenu; had he gathered us in the Rocky Mountains, but not given us Latter-Day Temples of our own, dayenu; had he given us Latter-Day Temples of our own, but not given us a special university, dayenu; had he given us a special university, but not a mighty basketball team, dayenu.”

Birkner reports the Seders have been taking place at BYU since 1973, when Ludlow was trying to help his students connect with the writings in the Hebrew Bible, known to Christians as the Old Testament.

Within a few years, BYU agreed to sponsor the Passover meals and opened them up to the general public. Soon Ludlow was fielding Seder requests from Mormon wards, or congregations, across the Southwest; this year, he will lead Seders for Mormon crowds in Arizona, Texas, Idaho and nearby Salt Lake City.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Holidays • Judaism • Mormonism • Schools • United States • Utah

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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.