Monday, April 14, 2008


The Jewish festival of Passover or Pesach is just around the corner. Many of the themes of Passover have social justice implications.

The text of the Pesach Seder is written in a book called the Haggadah. The traditional Haggadah tells the story of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and explains some of the practices and symbols of the holiday.

In past decades the traditional Haggadah has been updated by newer versions which attempt to combine the old with the present, and to focus on the social justice implications as they apply in today's world.

There are numerous progressive Haggadot out there to choose from (you can even download some off the internet.

Some of these Haggadot focus on the Exodus issues of class, race, ethnic oppression; some on feminism, women's liberation, and the full presence and empowerment of women in Jewish life and in the world; some address mostly issues of peace and war – especially conflict and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

If you don't happen to have one of these you can also take a simple step suggested in the post below to add more meaning to the holiday.

Now a note from just me that is sure to tick off some of you. For some reason also in the past few decades Christians have taken to having Passover Seders. To me this is a bothersome development, even a bit on the insulting side. Passover is a Jewish holiday. It does not need to be infused with a Christian interpretation. Leave it alone. Please even if you mean well, just let it alone. How would you feel if Jews created a Christmas story in which Jesus was just some nice Jewish Rabbi who happened along one day with a nice message (and without any of the Son of God stuff)? I doubt that Christians would like it all that much. The Pesach holiday means something special to us. You are often more than welcome to attend a Passover Seder in a Jewish home, in a Jewish environment. That can be very rewarding for all concerned. However, creating some new Christianized version is a lousy idea, thank you.

It strikes me as strange that Christians seem to have this desire to capture other peoples' religious traditions. Muslims, Jews, and no other religious faiths I know do this. Why do you suppose Christians do?

The following suggestions for Passover is from the American Jewish World Service.

We encourage you to incorporate this reading into the Four
Questions section of your seder.

At this time of year, we are reminded of the Jewish people's fight for liberation and our own fortunate circumstances - and the struggle for freedom that so many in the world still face on a daily basis. In particular, the people of Darfur who are experiencing their sixth consecutive year of oppression and violence, and the millions of people in the developing world who live under the shadow of HIV and AIDS.

MA nish-ta-nah ha-LAI-lah ha-zeh mi-KOL ha-lei-LOT?

How is this night
different from all other nights?

We know the traditional
answers to this question: On
this night, we eat matzah and
bitter herbs, we dip and we
recline. But this is not all, or
even most, of what Passover
is about.

On most other nights, we
allow the news of tragedy in
distant places to pass us by.

We succumb to compassion
fatigue – aware that we
cannot possibly respond to
every injustice that arises
around the world.

On this night, we are
reminded that our legacy as
the descendants of slaves
creates in us a different kind
of responsibility – we are to
protect the stranger because
we were strangers in the land
of Egypt.

Let us add a fifth question to
this year’s seder. Let us ask

Aych nishaneh et ha-shanah ha-zot
mi-kol ha-shanim?

How can we make this year
different from all other years?

This year, this Passover, let
us recommit to that sacred
responsibility to protect the stranger,
particularly those vulnerable
strangers in faraway places whose
suffering is so often ignored.

Let us infuse the rituals of the seder
with action:

When tasting the matzah, the
bread of poverty, let us find ways
to help the poor and the hungry.

When eating the maror, let us
commit to help those whose
lives are embittered by disease.

When dipping to commemorate
the blood that protected our
ancestors against the Angel of
Death, let us pursue protection
for those whose lives are
threatened by violence
and conflict.

When reclining in celebration
of our freedom, let us seek
opportunities to help those who
are oppressed.

No comments: