In the lead-up to Passover, Jews scattered across the globe turned to the Internet to answer their holiday-related questions on everything from the proper arrangement of a Seder plate to the deeper meanings of freedom.

For the group of scholars affiliated with’s Ask the Rabbi service, the spike in requests was all part of life in the Information Age, although they themselves were busy with their own Passover preparations at home.

Chana Benjaminson, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of New Bedford, Mass., and coordinator of the Ask the Rabbi program, marveled at the more than 70 percent increase in queries in the days and weeks prior to Passover.

“I am amazed at how one can literally be on the other side of the world and be able to assist a person in a practical or spiritual way,” she said, “all with a few strokes of a keyboard and an Internet connection.”

Users’ questions spanned a gamut of topics, from those based on the first Passover account recorded in the Torah to more practical inquiries on the applications of the prohibition against all leavened products, known as chametz.

“Would we still really be slaves if we would not have left Egypt?” asked one questioner.

“Can I take my medicine on Passover?” posed another.

Others turned to the site when they found themselves without a Seder to attend.

“I am in the New York/New Jersey area this week and my Seder plans suddenly canceled,” wrote one man just hours before the start of the holiday, leaving his cell phone number.

The Ask-the-Rabbi team put the man in touch with local Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries, who made the necessary arrangements.

Another person used the site when he and his friend couldn’t find a Seder to attend during their trip through South America. With the help of an Ask-the-Rabbi respondent, the pair ended up going to Chabad of Santiago, Chile.

(Tens of thousands more also availed themselves of’s worldwide listing of Chabad-Lubavitch Seders.)

Knowing that a prompt and thought-out response is of vital importance to many of the correspondents, scholars make a special effort to respond quickly, in some cases within minutes.

“I would like to thank you very much for getting back to me so quickly,” wrote Valerie in responding to an answer that came in less than an hour.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, who heads the Ask-the-Rabbi team, said that each scholar makes a point of taking a personal approach to a question.

“You don’t answer questions, you answer people,” he explained. “You’ve found a node out there who wants to connect.

“You find out why this person is asking this question,” he detailed. “Where does he or she need to go? What does he or she want and how can I help?”

Members of the Ask-the-Rabbi team remind each other that an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 13 million Jews live in spiritual isolation. They either face geographic barriers in engaging in a Jewish community, or are troubled with personal issues that prevent them from making contact in person. Users of the service often need a listening ear as much as rabbinic advice and scholarly assistance.

One questioner wrote back to Chaya Sara Silberberg that she appreciated the care shown her.

“[I needed] an intelligent Jewish woman to understand me,” wrote the questioner, who was raised in a small village without a synagogue and attended classes at a local Catholic school, “and you did.”

From Toronto, scholar Chana Weisberg prepares a response to a question posed on the Ask the Rabbi portal.
From Toronto, scholar Chana Weisberg prepares a response to a question posed on the Ask the Rabbi portal.

Responses Go Online

A fraction of the questions and responses have been edited to remove identifying information and posted online for the benefit of others. All told, more than 1,000 examples of such correspondence, not just relating to Passover, can be found at

The Ask the Rabbi effort is underwritten in part by George and Pamela Rohr in memory of his mother, Mrs. Sarah (Charlotte) Rohr.

Many responses have generated their own exchanges between visitors to the site, who post their own thoughts and comments.

“What a fantastic answer,” wrote one visitor. “So many reasons, all good! And from many different angles. It’s so special to read something which has so much effort and knowledge put into it. Thank you.”

One response from an Ask-the-Rabbi scholar illuminated the differences between the Seder plate’s “bitter herbs” and “greens,” which typically appear in people’s homes as horseradish and romaine lettuce. In explaining to the custom, the scholar pointed to the Mishna, which mentions lettuce as the maror of choice, but noted that many people also eat horseradish in order to bring people to tears as a remembrance of the Jewish people’s bondage in Egypt.

David de la Fuente from London found the answer to be illuminating.

“[I] just wanted to thank you for resolving an issue which has been discussed at our Seder for many years,” he wrote. “Our second Seder is usually spent with 20 to 30 friends, and this topic always brings out everyone’s interpretation from when we were children. So thank you once again.”

The scholars, who always try to connect Jews with a local rabbi, see in their work the unification of Jews of all stripes.

“I’d like to see Ask the Rabbi develop into a global online community for assisting and supporting each other,” said Benjaminson. “Ideally, the interaction will not only be between a rabbi and a questioner, but will instead be one big circle of friendship and support.”