At least four good questions

By David Robson, March 25, 2013
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There are few enough occasions when a wandering Jew with limited knowledge and skills can be of use to others. My DIY expertise with chisel and hacksaw, for example, probably wouldn't commend me to you as a cut-price mohel (you may fear that the price might not be all I would cut). But there's always someone looking for someone who, even if he doesn't know much, could lead them through their Seder - someone who at least knows the difference between Haggadah and Chad Gadya.

The first time I can remember was for my great-aunt Sarah. I was a very juvenile lead. In the decades since, I have done it at home but very often away. For me at least it is always a pleasure. I take the traditional approach - we left, they followed, they drowned, we won. This hasn't always gone down well.

Sometimes (and it will be true again this year), I have found myself among folk so liberal-minded they want to re-evaluate the whole story: they think the Egyptians have been demonised - they weren't really so bad, just misguided and short on emotional intelligence. With equal opportunities legislation and mediation by psychiatric social workers they'd have been fine. Nobody would even have had to get their feet wet, let alone drown; our lot would have been spared 40 years trudging round the desert, everybody would have lived happily ever after.

But to be fair, I must say that in the Haggadah the "wicked" child (the rasha) gets a bum rap. Leave aside whether you believe there's such a thing as a wicked child, he asks the same question as the wise child (the hacham): "what does this service mean to you" (not to us!). The wise child gets a kind, if incomprehensible answer ("we do not taste anything after the afikomen"); the wicked son is castigated for "excluding himself from the community". The Chief Rabbi in his Haggadah says the wise child lists the different sorts of commandments, which the "wicked' child does not. True, but sorry, Chief, what about the personal pronoun?

They say the Egyptians have been demonised

In Judaism, such nuances are what it's all about, as became clear when I overheard a customer at Kosher Kingdom asking whether it was true that Rakusen's weren't doing Fine Matzah Meal for Pesach, only Cake Matzah Meal. She was assured by the salesman that this was the case. He had a letter to prove it.

She phoned her daughter at home to check what matzah meal she had there? She told her daughter she'd find it in a bag next to where her father sits, a comment which raised further interesting issues (I have never sat next to a bag of matzah meal).

What, she wondered, would be the repercussions of cake matzah meal on her fishballs? And, she told the man at the Kingdom there was Fine Matzah Meal on sale at Tesco. I needed to get to the bottom of this, as Rav Hillel used to say, so I went to Tesco and there was indeed Fine Matzah Meal but not Kosher for Pesach. So I phoned Rakusen's. They said Fine and Cake are the same but the Pesachdik stuff is called Cake. So your fishballs are fish-cakes - Ma Nishtana?

    Last updated: 10:45am, March 25 2013