Jewish Journal

In a Secular Passover, Jews Are Nothing Special

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

There is a great crisis currently occurring in the American-Jewish community — a crisis of identity. What are Jews here to accomplish? Are Jews special? Or are Jews just a group of socially active members of the political left, with no specific religious inclination or mission beyond mirroring the priorities of the Democratic Party?

That debate takes center stage each year around Passover, when we hear revisionist lectures about the nature of the holiday. Each year, we hear from secular-leaning Jews that the story of the exodus from Egypt is more representational than real, that it is more universal than specific. “Let my people go!” has an admirably vague power to it; no one wants to be victimized by an arbitrary power structure. Thus, members of the Jewish left use that slogan from the Passover story to push for everything from transgenderism to same-sex marriage, from boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel to environmental regulation. The Passover story becomes a story about President Donald Trump or about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or about the restrictiveness of traditional lifestyles.

But the Passover story isn’t vague. And it carries a universal message — but that message doesn’t stop at freedom from tyranny. The question posed by the Passover story extends beyond mere absence of external force. It extends to another question: What’s the purpose of freedom? Does liberty have a rationale, beyond mere absence of force?

That question becomes more important day by day — because, as we’ve seen, there are widely disparate interpretations of the nonaggression principle in modern politics. The same people who invoke “Let my people go!” to push same-sex marriage have no problem coercing religious Americans into participating in ceremonies that they feel violate their religion. The same people who point to the exodus from Egypt as a sort of moral imprimatur for anti-Israel activity are perfectly fine with Jews being thrown from their land in the Gaza Strip.

The Passover story isn’t vague. And it carries a universal message — but that message doesn’t stop at freedom from tyranny.

Passover isn’t just a story of exit from. It’s a story of movement toward. The entire passage in Exodus carrying that famous slogan doesn’t end with Pharaoh’s release of the Jews, it explains why God cares whether Pharaoh releases the Jews. God tells Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Let My people go, that they may serve me.’ ” The story of Passover doesn’t end with the Jews leaving Egypt or with God parting the Red Sea or with the Egyptians perishing beneath the waves. It ends with the Jews standing before Sinai, saying the words “na’aseh v’nishmah” — we will do and we will hear. And it ends with the fulfillment of the promise God made to the ancestors of the Jews: to inhabit the land of Israel.

These dual promises are connected — and should inform how we view Passover. Judaism is not Christianity, nor is it secular humanism. Its goal is not abandonment of the particular for the universal. Judaism makes a specific and unique claim: In serving God in a land promised to the Jews by God, the Jews act as a beacon of light to the world. God doesn’t tell Moses that his mission ends in libertinism or self-defined morality — God says he’s freeing the Jews to serve Him.

Once Jews lose the particularism of their religion, there is no point to celebrating Passover. Passover becomes just another symbolic story that has nothing to do with Judaism per se; Israel becomes just another land; the morality of Judaism just becomes warmed-over Kantianism. Jews become secular humanists, with the added benefit or drawback of carrying ethnic minority status. And nobody is going to stay up two nights running to retell that story. The glory of the Jewish people and the glory of God are inseparable in the Exodus story. If we Jews define ourselves as free from God, we define ourselves out of the story of human history.


Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most listened-to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”