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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soundoff (48 Responses)

    Dr. Ludlow was the best religion professor I have ever had. He has been one of the if not THE thought leader on Isaiah for decades.

    April 26, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  2. ringo

    Peyess envy.

    April 18, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  3. LDSinSC

    My history may be wrong, but Jesus was not the only person the Romans hung on a cross. The Bible says that two others died with him. Does the cross on top of your church stand for Jesus, or the two thieves? Cruifixion was the Romans main form of punishment. Thousands died on a cross.
    Is the Jesus you believe in still dead? The one I believe is living. So why should I use a symbol of death to represent living Christ?
    And how can a symbol be worthy of representing Christ and all that he did for us? It seems that at times a cross is more of a golden calf. It gives people something physical to worship. Not all, of course, but some need a tangible reminder of our Savior. Our lives and our faith in Him should be enough without a man made sign.
    If you read James 2:17&18 "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." "Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew my thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works."

    April 18, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  4. Adelina

    Mormonism – a religion without atonement -> no salvation just like any non-Christian religion. Mormons should read the whole Bible and let reading the whole interpret everything.

    April 18, 2011 at 1:16 am |
    • myklds

      Adelina, Go with Bob and get your facts straight, both of you!
      You can ask Bob to spare a lot for you about (Christian) religion. You need it, so that you may not advertise your ignorance next time you make a post on this blog.

      April 18, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  5. moshesharon

    It's interesting that Pesach Seders are on sale this year. Everybody wants to have get in on this exclusively Jewish thing. Obama is hosting Seder night at the White House in a transparent move to garner Jewish votes for 2012. The Mormons have been on an anti-Jewish witch-hunt ever since Joseph Smith said he found the Breast Plate and Urim v'Tummim in the possession of a native American tribe and said that he was not allowed to show it to anybody. The reason why Mormons and other Christian sects so desperately want to bring Jews into their fold is to legitimize their false religion.

    April 17, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  6. Keepinig them honest...

    "According to the university, Birkner reports, only three Jews are enrolled there; 99% of the students identify as Mormon." This is false!! Having been at student at this university I knew this was wrong. I had friends there that were not mormon having looked up the facts myself I found that this year it is: 69 catholic, 62 protestan, 29 islamic, 57 Hindu 16 buddist, 40 Jewish 32 christian, 132 no religous preference.

    April 17, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  7. Rachel

    Also, I should mention I live in Salt Lake. Currently, the LDS run government is trying to close many state liquor stores. This move makes it increasingly difficult to buy Kosher wine in Utah, as you can only by alcohol at a state run store.

    What I find so incredibly offensive about this is that the LDS community is not only taking liberty with sacred traditions that do not belong to them, but actually prohibiting real Jews from buying the real wine they need for their authentic, Jewish seders. I can't think of a better way for the LDS community to guarantee nothing but hate and distrust from the Jews of Utah.

    April 17, 2011 at 2:43 am |
    • Merry Crasmas

      "the Jews of Utah"
      Yeah, that sounds like majority rule there.

      April 17, 2011 at 3:15 am |
    • Jeff

      Easy there Rachel. Be truthful state the fact that all departments of the state government are experiencing budget cuts (just like every other state in the country). The state closed four or five liquer stores, not all of them my dramatic friend. You also know that in Utah, all liquer stores are run by the state and are therefore a monopoly. One will simply have to go to another "state managed" liquer store to get what they need. It's not like they are shutting them all down.

      Be carefull to tell the truth and look in the mirror before you start accusing of promoting "hate and distrust" my dear.

      April 17, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • Rachel

      Don't patronize me, I am not your dear. And I'd like to see you not be "dramatic" if say, the Jewish community staged a "polygamy day" or something similar and held it on a Sunday morning so that no Mormons could be there.

      And the liquor commission are closing stores with profits of 20 million dollars to save 2 million dollars. Tell me there is no religious dogma involved in that.

      Also, since you are clearly not a member of the Jewish community I do believe I am in a much better position to talk about the negative feelings of Jews towards to Mormons of Salt Lake than you. Instead of trying to discount me, perhaps you should examine your actions towards our community. Was Rabbi Schwartzman or Rabbi Zippel or Rabbi Wenger at this BYU "seder?" No. How can you not see this as a problem?

      April 17, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • azjohn64

      Come on Rachel, I defy you to show me a single liquor store in Utah that has a profit of 20 Million dollars US. Even if the average bottle of adult beverage has a profit of 20 dollars (sales price minus cost of goods sold) a store would have to sell over 1.1 million bottles per year to have that level of profit. The store would have to sell over 3000 of these profit 20 bottles (and think about it a 20 dollar bottle of wine will not have 20 dollars of profit in it) per day if they are open 365 days per year which they are not. Given the number of non drinkers in Utah, the number of state run liquor stores in the state, the total population of less than 3 Million with a 21 and over pop of much less than that, a 20 Million dollar liquor store is not realistic.

      April 18, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  8. Rachel

    I am a Jew, a real Jew–not a Mormon pretending to be a Jew for a night, and I find this deeply and utterly offensive. There were no rabbis or Jews present, just Mormons stealing our traditions and interpreting them incorrectly.
    Maybe Mormons were unaware that it is a mitzvah to have gentile guests at Jewish seders. Had they actually wanted to learn something about Pesach, perhaps a better move would have been to ask the Jewish community in Salt Lake for an invitation. Otherwise, LDS, please take note that Passover traditions are deeply, deeply meaningful to Jews; they were not passed down to you, and they are not yours to take liberty with.

    April 17, 2011 at 2:39 am |
  9. IbelieveInTruth1

    The argument asking weather Islam is or can be a tolerant religion where people of this faith can live side by side with Christians, Jews, Hindu's and other religions co-exist in America is on the minds of most Americans. Fundamentalist Islam is in their Dark Middle Ages reviving the Barbaric behavior which is the scourge of the 21st Century. The scariest thing is that an estimated 20% of Muslum-Americans who came from the Middle East are either sypathetic to Islamic Fundamentalists or even a small percent is actively supporting it. Islamic Fundamentalists and even moderate Islam supports Shariah Law which allows Honor Killing, beating their wives as a possesion like Chattel during the American Error of Slavery, and calls for a Holy Jihad against America. America has learned its lessons from its European Ancestors, and its own dark period of genocide of Native Tribes, and Slavery of West-Africans.

    Islamic Law is intolerant while American Democrocy, while based on freedom of religion of Christians does not call for the return of the Crusades and is peaceful and tolerant of all religions. And this is why Islamic Fundamentalism and Christian Fundamentalism are very different, and to say that Islamic Shariah Law with a Holy Jihad peacefully co-existing with the so-called Non-Believers in America is the Fallacy of the Socialist Liberal Ideological who wrote this article. I beleive that Liberal Socialists who feel threatened by Christian Evangelical Fundamentalists fear their political power so much, that even President Obama is a blind naive proponent of tollerance to Islamic Shariah Law as he funded the Great Iman of NYC. This Iman wants to build a Mega-Muslum Monument Mosque right next door to GZ where the WTC was destroyed and killed over 3,000 Americans. This same Iman got funding from the same coffers that has fed the Islamic Terrorists who have attacked us and are still fighting against us to this day. What more do I have to say? This is not an argument, but a reallity

    April 16, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  10. angsty

    I find this troubling. I don't think the Mormons would consider it "respectful" or "tolerant" if a group of non-Mormons co-opted and reinterpreted their sacred rituals to serve the purposes of their own non-Mormon faiths. It would be considered deeply offensive– as this is.

    April 16, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Maybe


      Good point. If these seders were conducted by rabbis perhaps they would be more acceptable as a learning experience about Jewish rituals. I can just imagine the Mormons' outrage if a rabbi put on a re-creation of their Endowment Ritual or some such.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • myklds

      Angsty, it depends on how it will be done.

      April 18, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  11. Mary Lynn

    This story is VERY misleading. I actually attended one of Professor Ludlow's Passover Seders at BYU. I was living there and missing my Jewish friends and sharing Passover with them. I'd heard how "authentic" these Seders were and decided to go.

    As we were reading the Hagaddah, Ludlow would stop intermittenly and try to tie everything in it to the Book of Mormon. You had to really stretch your brain to even be able to follow him. Then we had a supposedly authentic Passover meal of breaded chicken cutlets, yeast rolls, gravey (made with flour) and carrot cake (also made with flour). No one seemed to figure out there was something wrong with that picture. Then at the end, the real reason for him doing it came clear. He explained the cup that was left for Elijah and the story behind it and then said, "what do we know that the Jews don't know?" Oh yes, it's that the Jews missed the coming of Elijah. The prophecy had already been fulfilled. Elijah came in the 1830s. He came to the Mormons (the real chosen people). He appeared to Joseph Smith in the Kirtland temple and he fulfilled the prophecy of turning the hearts of the children to the fathers (mormon temple work). He really made fun of the Jewish people and the fact that they're still waiting for the coming of Elijah and he made it clear that Passover is really ALL ABOUT THE MORMONS! Trust me, no one came out of there with an appreciation for the Jewish people and their traditions. They all came away with more smugness about how superior the Mormons are.

    April 16, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • JohnR

      Thanks for the clarification.

      April 16, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • John

      I took my Jewish friends to Ludlow's seder two years ago. They found it respectful, enjoyable, and even commented that it was perhaps the best seder they had attended in many years.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • John

      Ludlow's seder educates his non-Jewish guests in the passover tradition, he makes respectful commentary and places the seder in context with Mormon belief. It is an education which promotes understanding and tolerance, and increases LDS appreciation for Judaism. However, Mary is correct that the meal is not Kosher. In our case, the BYU food service made special kosher accomodations for our Jewish friends upon our request.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Maybe

      Mary Lynn,

      Thanks for writing. It is good to hear your first-hand experience.

      April 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Mary Lynn


      I call BS on your ever having taken Jewish friends to Ludlow's Seder and having them find it respectful. First of all, where did you find Jewish people in Provo? Have they ever been to a Jewish Seder? Did you explain to them that Ludlow's saying that Elijah already came back and turned the hearts of the children to the fathers means that he "restored" temple work and "turning the hearts to the fathers" means doing genealogy so all people who ever lived, including Jews, including Jews who were killed in the Holocaust, can be baptized for the dead in the Mormon temple and made Mormons by proxy? Have they changed it and started serving authentic food? If not, did your Jewish friends eat breaded chicken with gravy, yeast rolls and cake during Passover? If they did, they are only Jewish by some heritage and know nothing of Jewish traditions. It's pretty bad when a Christian found it disrespectful and insensitive and Jewish people did not. Yeah, I believe that as much as I believe I'll be saved by the Mormons after my death.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  12. theoldadam

    It fits perfectly.

    The cross of Jesus did not accomplish everything for the Mormon. Hence there focus and 'what they do' to make themselves acceptable in the eyes of God. Just like Judaism.

    In fact the cross of Christ, the symbol of Christianity is not on the roof of a Mormon building. Because it's Christ + their works.

    It's sad...but it is true.

    April 15, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • bradlee

      So it is a win-win. They will still be saved due to the cross, doing good work around their neighborhoods, and they learn about other faiths. And where does the bible say to mark your building with a cross? I do remember to have a sign that says "holiness to the Lord" in Leviticus....but Mormons have that on their temples. So they got that going for them.

      April 16, 2011 at 4:04 am |
  13. **

    Wow, where's the tolerance? Or is it just a one way thing? I don't understand all the hate. No need for name calling. You believe what you want and let others believe as they want.

    April 15, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • Adelina

      @** It's human souls at stake. Truth is not like your emotion.

      April 19, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  14. thoughtfultolerance

    I think it is importance to show respect to difference religions. I have friends from many difference faiths. Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, and such. Our beliefs may vary but that is not as important as what they do and how they treat others. I have attended on of the Seder feasts put on at that school. It was a lot easier than doing my own and I enjoyed the experience. I happen to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints(I did not grow up so). I do believe in Christ and I believe in serving others and doing good. If you want to know about the church I suggest going to the source. This article is not about the doctrine of the LDS church though, it is about a professor at BYU that hosts Seder feasts.

    April 15, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  15. Jeff

    Hey Lucky Chucky – I hope you didn't hurt yourself coming up with that egg thing. It made absolutely no sense. Please, quite wasteing your employeers money and go back to work. Let the adults do the commenting here, OK? Is that alright with you?

    "The Bobinator"!! Really, that's the user name you came up with (ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha). "The Bobinator"? Dude, whatever words that come after the name "Bobinator" lack any ounce credibility my friend. Perhaps you joined the wrong comment section. The NASCAR section of the site is located in the "Sports" tab.

    Best of luck you two. You made my day!!!!!

    April 15, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • BG

      @ Jeff

      "Please, quite wasteing your employeers money.."

      Would that be like the money wasted on your education?

      And here you thought that you were being a wise-ass. Sad.. so very sad.

      April 16, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • Jeff

      So BG – The cowardly dude that lives by initials. Based upon the time of your response, looks like you have other nocturnal activities your busy with...

      Good luck with life "BG"

      April 16, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  16. Reality

    Many contemporary OT and NT scholars (e.g. Wolpe, Crossan, Ludemann) have concluded after exhaustive studies of the texts and archeology from the time periods involved that neither the Flight from Egypt or the Last Supper were historic events. Add then these two myths to mythical Mormonism and you get these people celebrating basically nothing.

    April 15, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • Adelina

      @Those scholars cannot refute a thing in the NT Bible because they were not there. No archeological findings deny such historical events of Jesus, not at all.

      April 19, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  17. Westerner

    Good example for teacher tolerance between religions.
    Anyways, easter and passover come from the same origins...
    The last supper equals passover seder.

    Hopefuly other religions will sonn enough follow by being much more tolerant with one another.

    Respect adn acknowledgement of other peoples beleifs are the key.
    Happy Easter and Happy Passover ya"ll!

    April 15, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • thoughtfultolerance

      Thank you for your comment. I agree that it is refreshing to see tolerance of other religions.

      April 15, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Hi -Westerner...

      I'm sincerely curious...You Said: " Anyways, easter and passover come from the same origins...
      The last supper equals passover seder."

      Again, I'm sincerely curious as to your interpretation where you go from 'easter' and 'passover' come from the 'same' origins. And... then the 'last supper = passover seder.'

      What is your opinion on how... easter, passover, and the last supper all are interconnected...? I have my opinions on how they may interconnect, but I'm curious to hear your views.



      April 16, 2011 at 6:11 am |
    • Peace2All


      BTW- I have attended many a 'seder' ritual and, well... I gotta' say, the food is, well... let's say, not to my liking. I understand the symbology of the different foods, etc... but, yikes...!

      I have good friends that are jewish, and out of respect I participate.



      April 16, 2011 at 6:15 am |
    • JohnR

      The last supper was indeed supposedly a passover seder, but easter "goes back to" pagan fertility rituals. Passover is also likely to go back to an earlier festival that was "rehistoricized" by the priestly classes in Israel.

      April 16, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • Peace2All


      Hi -John...

      Yeah... that's kinda' where I was going with it. The piece that is missing in this equation by -Westerner is that of Easter. Easter co-ming from ancient pagan fertility rituals as stated, not sure how that's fit's into the ancient Passover Seder meal of the Jews...?



      April 16, 2011 at 10:44 am |
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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.