Parshat בא Shmos/Exodus 12:27 – What Exactly Can a Convert Say at the Seder?

Shmos  12:27 – You shall say, “It is a Pesach feast offering to HaShem, Who passed over [pasach] the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians”

Gemora: Pesachim 147(b): R. Gamliel used to say: Whoever does not mention these three things on Passover does not fulfill his obligation. They are: the Passover Offering, Unleavened Bread and Bitter Herbs[Pesach, Matzoh and Marror]. The Passover Offering is [sacrificed] because HaShem passed over the houses of our fathers in Egypt. As [our] posuk says: “You shall say ‘it is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, because He passed over the houses…”. The Unleavened Bread is [eaten] because our fathers were redeemed from Egypt, as it is said, “And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt”. The Bitter Herb is [eaten] because the Egyptians embittered the lives of our fathers in Egypt, as it is said, “And they made their lives bitter”.

Torah Temimah Colloquial Translation on Note #203:

It is explained that the phrase “You shall say…” means that this is not the response to the son who is asking a question. Rather, it is an entirely separate mitzvah on its own that you should say [these three things aloud.] We’ve already written in the previous note why this is not a response to the son’s question. Further, these particular three items are chosen because they are the fundamental, foundational aspects of the enslavement to and redemption from Egypt.

Additionally, note that the Mishna in Bikurim (1:4) says that a convert does bring bikurim butdoes not read the “vidui bikurim”because he is not able to say “…the land which HaShem swore to our forefathers to give to us.” The convert cannot say this because he is not of the seed (i.e., a biological descendant) of Israel. Tosafot explain Gemora Baba Kama 81(a) the opinion of Rabbenu Tam is that we follow this position as halakhah, and that because of this Rabbenu Tam also did not allow a convert to say the standard text of the blessing after a meal since the convert is not able to say the phrase, “…. for the land that you caused our forefathers to inherit”. Rabbenu Tam was relying on the Mishnah of Bikurim mentioned above, and he added further that when the convert is praying by himself, he should say “the God of the forefathers of Israel” and when he is in synagogue he should say “the God of your forefathers”.

Amazingly, according to this it becomes apparent that the convert would not be able to fulfill the commandment of retelling the exodus from Egypt using the prescribed language since he is unable to say all of these key phrases:   “…because HaShem passed over the houses of our fathers in Egypt”, “because He redeemed our forefathers”and “because the Egyptians embittered the lives of our forefathers.” Yet saying that a convert is forbidden from saying these phrases in the Passover seder would be a totally new, unheard of opinion.

Consider that regarding the posuk in Parshat “Lech Lecha” describing Abraham as a ‘father of a multitude of nations.” the opinion of both the Rambam and Rabbi Yitzchak the Tosafist is that we do not follow the position of the above-cited Mishna in Bikurim as halakhah.  Rather,their opinionis that a convert does bring bikurim and reads the vidui bikurim exactly because Abraham was the forefather of a multitude of nations. This is also the one of the opinions expressed in the Jerusalem Talmud. According to them this would also apply to the commandments of Passover night, i.e. that a convert says the Haggadah just as a born-Jewish person would.

Additionally, it is amazing that the standard halachic decision makers do not mention this at all.

DBS Note: The final sentence of the Torah Temimah’s note says it all. Not only does he strongly feel that a convert would observe Passover exactly as any Jewish person would, but he feels it is an oversight that this commonly accepted opinion is not publicized more in the classical halachic literature.

Also, huge thanks to my neighbors Ploni Almoni and HaMaivin Yavin who are Torah Temimah enthusiasts. They provided significant editorial assistance in the background for this note.