Friday, April 4, 2008

Preparing for Passover

4/4/2008--Here is a joke from the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, a weekly paper--when you ask a Jewish mother to do something, there are two responses: before Passover she is too busy; after Passover, too tired.

Unlike the preparation for the High Holy Days, preparation for Passover is almost universally regarded a) as non-moral/non-ethical, that is as objective cleaning of the home and b) as women’s work. But, why work so hard to remove Chomitz (leavening)? What is the point of this enormously busy work?

The Seder itself has also become an objective performance, consisting of white table cloths, beautiful plates and delicious food. But, again, why all this?

There is the “family” aspect of the holiday. But this is akin to the taste of Mom’s ham on Easter. These are the intimate rituals of family life. They are not insignificant, but they do not draw even a millimeter closer to the deepest pattern of reality.

Liberal Jewish groups for years have added prayers of various kinds to the Seder, such as for peace among the children of Abraham. Feminists have added symbols as well, such as Miriam’s Cup. But these prayers and symbols are literally added to a Seder ritual and to a holiday that are themselves no longer meaningful. Since the preparation for Passover is still the woman’s job, the holiday is the most sexist of any holiday I know in any religion, whether symbols are added to the Seder table or not.

What is especially odd in all this is that the Haggadah seems to understand the Seder as a discussion group. There should be no meal. There should be no singing. There should be the text from Exodus and other texts celebrating the liberation of slaves. Maybe we should all read the sermons of Reverend Wright, to get a more slave-like perspective. (See the prior post about Rabbi Waskow’s Freedom Haggadah).

What we who do not know God—we secularists--want to know, is the weight of liberation in history. Do slaves go free? Do slaves go free by human effort alone? Are these even meaningful questions?

It is fair to add that liberation in the Passover sense is entirely about history and not about psychology. It is not my liberation from the quirks of my own personality and context. It does not seem fruitful to ask, for example, how each of us is a slave. Perhaps, as Americans, we should ask whom we enslave. But that might lead to canned speeches about Iraq. Maybe, instead, slavery is a structure rather than a policy. Maybe power always enslaves. We could then ask how America could be liberated, even liberated from itself.

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