Passover 5771

So as Passover 5761 is here, a few thoughts, some old some new.

Passover commemorates, in effect, the birth of the Jewish people as a nation, as opposed to simply being a collection of tribes, or individuals descended from Jacob.  The Haggadah is in a very real sense, the story that we as Jews, tell ourselves about ourselves.  The Seder admonishes us to relive the Exodus as though it actually happened to us.  And for anyone who becomes Jewish, it becomes their story, as well.

I know I’ve mentioned before that there’s a story in the Haggadah about five rabbis discussing the Exodus.  All five rabbis are either converts, descended from converts, or in one case, a Levi (according to Jewish tradition, the members of the tribe of Levi weren’t forced into labor).  So none of them actually had ancestors who were enslaved, yet all were allowed and encouraged to adopt, that story as their own.

I like to compare this to what we, as Americans do, every time a new round of immigrants is sworn in as citizens.  Our story is now their story.  The Declaration and the Constitution are my inheritance, even though my ancestors were stuck in eastern Europe and Russia at the time.  It’s one of the reasons that I find Dennis Prager’s notion of an Independence Day Seder to be brilliant.  (I’ve been asked to help design the program for one such seder this year; I’ll work on it with relish, but seriously, wish me luck.)

Michael Medved’s article about the “Preposterous Politics of Passover” in the current Commentary, seems to make a similar connection between freedom and the value of tradition and ritual:

Ironically, the Jewish festival that most explicitly emphasizes freedom and liberation simultaneously highlights the inescapable bonds of tradition—especially with a surprising 77 percent of American Jews reporting that they observe the holiday of Passover, according to the National Jewish Population Survey of 2003, more than any other form of religious participation.

It’s an article worth reading, a warning against the hijacking of sacred tradition for transient politics.  I do have one objection, though.  Medved mentions, but glosses over, “Christian” Seders, which I have to say, I do object to.  It’s one thing to attend (or recreate) a Jewish ceremony for the purposes of better understanding the Jewish roots of Christianity, it’s something else entirely to appropriate a Jewish tradition, make the Jews disappear, and recast the symbolism as Christian.  There’s Easter.  There’s Passover.  They are different and separate things, that embody different notions of man’s relationship to God and to the world.

That said, Medved makes a tour of the modern Haggadah.  We always make it a point of getting at least one new Haggadah each year.  We always get one with a traditional text, but with a commentary we don’t have yet.  A couple of years ago, we got a compilation of Rav Soloveitchik’s commentaries on the Haggadah.  This year, it was Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

Probably the wittiest Haggadah we have is the IDF Haggadah.  On the night before the holiday starts, we’re obliged to do a “search for chametz,” or leavened bread.  The Haggadah’s illustrative photograph is of an IDF unit examining a smuggling tunnel in Gaza.

(Written Monday evening, before the actual start of Passover, for those of you who are wondering.)

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