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Jewish organizations encourage retelling the Passover story with trivia cards

The Darmstadter Haggadah. Photo courtesy of David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University

The Darmstadter Haggadah. Photo courtesy of David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University

(RNS) — Quick: “Why do Jews from Gibraltar sprinkle brick dust into their Passover haroset dish?”

Or, “Why do Middle Eastern Jewish families whip themselves with scallions at the seder table?”

The answers to those questions and others are part of a set of trivia place cards developed by two Jewish organizations ahead of Passover, the Jewish festival that commemorates the Exodus story in which God delivered the ancient Israelites from slavery to freedom.

The festival, which begins this year on Friday (March 30), is marked by a ritual meal called the seder, where Jews gather around the dinner table to retell the biblical Exodus story using a guide with Scripture texts, commentaries and songs.

Each year, Jewish organizations add more options for the central guide, called the Haggadah. This year is no different.

There’s ReOrdered, a Passover toolkit from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Entwine project that focuses on Jews globally.

There’s the HIAS Haggadah Supplement, from the Jewish refugee resettlement agency,  with a special focus on the contemporary refugee crisis.

There’s even the Trump Passover Haggadah, a tongue-in-cheek take for more liberal Jews wanting liberation from a president they view as Pharaoh-like.

The trivia place cards were created by Be’chol Lashon or “In Every Tongue,” an advocacy organization for Jewish ethnic, cultural and racial inclusiveness, and Repair the World, a Jewish service organization.

“We want folks to think about what makes us free today,” said Laura Belinfante, director of digital campaigns for Repair the World. “How can we commit to a place of shared freedom?”

The cards, alongside a Haggadah insert, are resources that encourage participants to consider what it means to retell the story of Exodus with the words “We were slaves.”

Passover is the most widely observed Jewish holiday and its Exodus story has been adapted to tell of other present-day liberation stories.

As for the answers to the trivia questions above: The Jews of Gibraltar, a territory on Spain’s south coast, sprinkled brick dust on their haroset to remind themselves of the bricks the ancient Israelites made as slaves for Pharaoh.

And Middle Eastern Jews whip themselves with scallions to mimic the whips of slave drivers in Egypt.

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  • Then there is this: There was no Passover or Exodus.

    New Torah For Modern Minds
    res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob·a·bly
    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

    The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions — the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years — have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity — until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called ”Etz Hayim” (”Tree of Life” in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine document.

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true ”is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis,” observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to ”Etz Hayim.” But some congregants, he said, ”may not like the stark airing of it.” Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that ”virtually every modern archaeologist” agrees ”that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all.” The rabbi offered what he called a ”LITANY OF DISILLUSION”’ about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have ”found no trace of the tribes of Israel — not one shard of pottery.”

  • No, really? “We want folks to think about what makes us [Jews] free today”.

    So, thanks to “the Haggadah”, how’s that working out for you?

    Thought so.

    I mean, who’s really free-“free today”? Or tomorrow. And happily ever after?

  • There is nothing in history or archaeology to back it up. There were over 600,000 fighting men who supposedly left – indicating a total population of well over a million people. How could there be no evidence for such a mass enslavement and exodus? Forty years of several million people wandering in the Sinai wilderness without leaving any trace? I doubt the desert region could support a group that large. Not to mention the absurdity of the plagues, parting of the Red Sea and manna from heaven. Of course I can’t claim it didn’t occur but I can say with confidence it was very unlikely.

  • You regurgitate that book review so often you think it’s the title of the book. It isn’t. Have you ever even read it or are you just forever glomming off the NY Times’s insights?

  • With an attitude like that, you will always be in the house of bondage. Find a local seder and figure out the answer to your own question.

  • Obviously, it is not the title of the book but it catches the elements of the book more so than the Tree of Life.

  • You guys were supposed to already be free from Egypt since the 1st Passover! What happened? No “local seder” will do the job anymore; you know that. This is just Ritual Galore. No freer than the Catholic Eucharist. Or the Easter Egg Hunt.

    “House of bondage”, my foot.

  • My first thought was to note that slavery and bondage exist in every generation, in every place, in many different ways, and we, seeing ourselves as having made the Exodus just as the ancients did, must work toward ensuring freedom for all.
    But the simpler answer is that the Torah instructs us to commemorate Passover every year. See Ex. chs. 12 & 13. You’d think an evangelical who thinks he knows everything and better than anybody would know something as basic as that.

  • How you guys did this thing long ago is now long forgotten. According to 2 Chronicles 30:15, “they slaughtered the Passover lambs on the fourteenth of the second month. And the priests and Levites were ashamed of themselves, and consecrated themselves and brought burnt offerings to the house of the Lord.”

    How come “the priests and Levites were ashamed of themselves” then but no longer are nowadays, Arbustin?

  • The story from Chronicles recounts the priests and Levites returning to the Passover Temple service during the reign of Hezekiah after a period of pagan worship in which it was not performed. That was the source of their embarrassment. Because the Temple does not exist today, modern priests and Levites should not be similarly embarrassed. Exodus 13 makes clear that the yearly Passover ritual is about a lot more than the sacrifice.

  • I love it. EXODUS 13. Thanks!

    But did you know that where it says in the first two opening lines – “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me'” – God was making a Messianic prophecy to your people of faith?

    YUP. And God intended it to be fulfilled when the time setting of Luke 2:21-38 came around. What happened at such time was:

    “21 When eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. 22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in [EXODUS 13:1-2] the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, ‘A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.’ 25 And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 ‘Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace,
    According to Your word; 30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation, 31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A Light of revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.’ 33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed — 35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul — to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’ 36 And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. 38 At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

  • No, that was not a messianic prophecy. What you are doing is midrash, not prophecy. If it works for you, great. But I’m certainly not convinced.

  • That’s not possible – timing-wise. According to Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, author of The Living Torah, “Midrash [comprises] the non-legalistic teachings of the rabbis of the Talmudic era. In the centuries following the final redaction of the Talmud (around 505 CE), much of this material was gathered into collections known as Midrashim.” It so happened, see, that that good news in Luke of the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy of Passover predated Midrash by over 400 years! Luke was written in early 1st century.

  • No, I’m saying that your interpretation of the text is midrashic, not that the text itself is midrash.
    Btw, what Kaplan is talking about is formal compilations of midrash, not the concept of midrashic exposition itself. The latter was common even in the first century, which is why early Jewish followers of Jesus, like Matthew, used it so extensively.

  • According to Messianic Jews over at The Way Prepared:

    “The midrash is an ancient [as well as modern], man-made tradition used to interpret Scriptures. The midrash method of teaching allows man’s own interpretation of Scripture to prevail, opposing the plain and clear words of Scripture, thereby making the Scriptures of no effect in the lives of those who use it.

    “Use of the tradition of midrash to interpret Scriptures bypasses the operation of the Ministry of the Holy Spirit in the congregation, is in opposition to the Everlasting [New] Covenant, and prevents the teaching of Torah through the lenses of the Everlasting [New] Covenant.

    “It was for this very reason, that Yahushua rejected the scribes, priests and elders in His day, and their tradition of using the midrash to interpret Scripture, and to teach. The use of the midrash removed the true meaning of Scripture from the lives of the scribes, priests and elders, and thus robbed them of their true authority.

    “… The apostles Peter and Paul did not use the man-made methods of midrash to interpret Scripture, but relied on the Holy Spirit to give them the proper interpretation that would be in agreement with the Everlasting [New] Covenant.

    “When the tradition of the midrash is used to interpret Scriptures, it becomes a man-made substitute for teaching under the Authority and Anointing of the Holy Spirit in the Congregation, and actually prevents the building up the body by the Ministries and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

    “Let us discard the tradition of the midrash, for it allows the man-made interpretations to prevail over the Holy Spirit interpretation consistent with the Everlasting [New] Covenant.

    “Let us beware of the tradition of the midrash, for it will rob our congregations of their required Scripture teaching!

    “Let us avoid using the midrash — for it has become a Messianic substitute for the Holy Spirit in the Congregation.”

  • It doesn’t surprise me that this group — more accurately they appear to be Hebrew Roots Christians (Gentile Christians reconstructing a perceived 1st century practice of Jewish believers in Jesus) rather than Messianic Jews (ethnic Jews converted in modern times to evangelical Christianity) — knows very little about 1st century Judaism(s). Based on their use of “Yahshuah” and “Yahuweh,” they don’t know too much about the Hebrew language or striving for accuracy in transliteration. Let me say this as nicely as I can: their views on midrash are utterly irrelevant. If you want an accurate scholarly source, just google “midrash in the gospels.” You will find several pro and con.

  • Midrash-ism shall be the death of Messianic Judaism just as it already has been for (non-Messianic) Judaism. That’s the only lesson for you here from these stand-up Messianic Jews.

  • Here are Jews who weren’t “dream[ing]” when they admitted that Midrash is not good for Jews. “Dangerous”, in fact!

    (1) According to Pinchas Rosenthal, “The Dangers of Midrashim”, 5 Towns Jewish Times, May 19, 2006:

    “The Ra’avad on his commentary on the Mishneh Torah (Hil. Teshuva Ch. 3) states that when one takes the Midrashim literally, it is mishabshos es ha’dei’os – it distorts one’s principles of belief. Sadly, this is case with our children. They have been taught Midrashim as fairy tales. The effects are disastrous.”

    (2) According to Haim Zalman Dimitrovsky and Lou Hackett Silberman, “Talmud and Midrash: Nonlegal Subject Matter: Legend and folklore”, Encyclopædia Britannica:

    “Side by side with the Midrashic Haggada, which was the outgrowth of Bible exegesis and developed in the academies, the Talmuds and Midrashic collections contain a large quantity of Haggadic material with mythological rudiments, allusions to pagan beliefs and customs, and folkloristic elements of a world strange to the rabbis. Folktales and legends, animal lore, and adventure narratives, containing pagan ideas and beliefs, that were told by their Gentile neighbours were no doubt a major attraction to the common Jews, especially those in the countryside (the ʿam ha-aretz, or ‘people of the land’). The rabbis realized the great danger involved in this situation and developed their own folk material. They adopted the dramatic and artistic parts of these stories but rejected the unwanted elements, replacing them with their own ideas. Thus the animals and birds in fables quote the Bible and discuss it in the same manner that the rabbis do. Ancient mythology seems to have been well known and liked by the Jewish masses. Again, in order to fight its influence, the rabbis reworked its content in their own spirit. They retained the mythological suspense – the sea tries to drown the earth – but there is no mythological struggle between equal powers; angels try to prevent the creation of man, but they do not possess titanic power. All are subdued by the command of God. Thus, the rabbis transformed the ancient myths into dramatic evidence against polytheism.”

  • Neither of them said midrash is “not good for Jews.” What they’re saying is that aggadic midrash should not be taken literally, or in a way that contradicts (small o) orthodoxy, or presumed to be part of the text. There are people that get to rabbinical school thinking the story of the child Abraham smashing the idols in his father’s idol shop and hoisting Terach on his own petard is in the Torah text itself. That’s the kind of thing they’re talking about.

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