“Is Passover Broken Beyond Repair?” A conversation with a Friendly Critic


On March 26, I posted a blog announcing the publication of a new Haggadah “A Jubilee Haggadah Marking the 50th Year Since the 1967 War  that brought together thirty Israeli and American Jewish peace activists (including me) who offered commentaries on aspects of the traditional Haggadah. See https://rabbijohnrosove.wordpress.com/2017/03/26/a-jubilee-haggadah-marking-the-50th-year-since-the-1967-war/

I opened the blog announcing that

“A new Haggadah has just been published by SISO (“Save Israel – Stop the Occupation”). It is called the Jubilee Haggadah because it marks the 50th year since the 1967 War, a turning point in the history of the modern State of Israel that the writers and editors conjoin with the biblical Jubilee commandment – “You shall proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you…” (Leviticus 25:10) – and with the celebration of Passover, the festival of liberty.

The Haggadah is part of a new initiative begun by prominent Israeli individuals and organizations in partnership with Jewish leaders around the world who believe that the prolonged Israeli military occupation poses a very real threat to Israel’s safety and well-being, and undermines the moral and democratic fabric of Israel and its standing in the community of nations. See SISO’s website – https://www.siso.org.il.”

I received a thoughtful and friendly reply in Hebrew from Dr. Zioni Ben Yair (I do not know him) that said (translation is mine):

“I certainly sympathize with the need to break free from the corruption of the occupation [of the West Bank] because it contradicts the Torah and Haggadah and it’s making us an undemocratic apartheid state. Nevertheless, I believe we must continue to use the Haggadah as it is without changing even a single letter. The Haggadah has been read during all 82 years of my life, in different situations, in different countries and under different and unique circumstances, and in many cases, there are no proper reasons for change and new formulations….We need to be able to continue to read the Haggadah literally as we are used to doing from time immemorial.” (See Dr. Ben Yair’s original Hebrew letter: https://rabbijohnrosove.wordpress.com/2017/03/26/a-jubilee-haggadah-marking-the-50th-year-since-the-1967-war/#comments

This past week in The Forward, J.J. Goldberg wrote a piece he called “Is Passover Broken Beyond Repair?” in which he discusses a plethora of new Haggadot written over the decades that is a fitting response to Dr. Ben Yair’s comments – see http://forward.com/opinion/israel/368555/is-passover-broken-beyond-repair/?attribution=author-article-listing-2-headline.

Once you read JJ’s article, I suggest asking who is right – The traditionalists who wish not to change a word of the traditional Haggadah, or the innovators of new Haggadot who seek to apply the historic Jewish experience of victimization and liberation to others?

In my response to Dr. Ben Yair, I noted that the traditional Haggadah is a compilation of Midrashim, commentaries, stories, rituals, and symbols that entered the Haggadah over the centuries for specific reasons. A prime example is the custom of opening the door for Elijah, a relatively “recent” addition to the Seder (500-600 years ago) that was introduced during times of anti-Semitic persecution and violence provoked by the blood libel accusation.

Jews opened their doors to show Christians who were sensitive to the New Testament’s deicide accusation against the Jews who happened to be passing by that nothing horrific and sacrilegious was taking place in Jewish homes.

I suggested to Dr. Ben Yair, whose letter shows his concern about the corrupting effect of the occupation on West Bank Palestinians, on the soul of the Jewish people and State of Israel that for the Seder to remain meaningful today, in our generation, its themes of liberation, justice, and compassion must be applied not only to our own Jewish conditions but to the injustices suffered by peoples everywhere.

What do you think?