Jewish Ritual & Tradition

G-d-Talk and the Passover Seder

A few years ago I wrote a column about my friend Valeria’s “Catholic Tsuris.” [I have used pseudonyms for all names here.] Despite Valeria’s providing her son Michael with parochial school education, Michael went ahead and found himself a Jewish girlfriend, Lisa. The couple got married this past summer, in a ceremony that had neither Catholic nor Jewish religious elements. Over these past years, Valeria has spent a lot of time with Michael and Lisa. To her surprise, Lisa told Valeria that growing up through all her (Reform) Jewish educational frameworks (Sunday school, summer camps, etc.), there was absolutely no talk about G-d. Talk about ritual and practice, yes; G-d, no. Valeria was dumbfounded since for her G-d-talk is a key part of Catholicism. The truth is that since Lisa attended and still attends Passover Seders, she was exposed to much discourse about G-d—at least in print. The Haggadah is replete with G-d talk. Indeed, Moses is completely absent from the Haggadah’s narrative in order to concentrate our attention solely upon G-d’s role in the Exodus. For Lisa this powerful theological message got lost amidst the ritual meal with its four cups of wine, matzo, maror, and haroset.
    With so much going on at the Seder, it is perhaps understandable how G-d could get overlooked, and yet what about the entire course of Lisa’s Jewish education? Apparently the strategy that guided Lisa’s teachers was as follows: with a limited amount of time for Jewish education, it’s best to emphasize what is unique in Judaism (i.e., Jewish ritual and tradition). If this strategy was designed to increase intra-Jewish marriage, my hunch is that Lisa was not the only one for whom it was misplaced. At any rate, it’s hard to square such a strategy with the Hagaddah’s bold G-d-talk; for example take the Hagaddah’s dialoguing with Exodus 12.12: “‘And I will pass through the land of Egypt’; I and not an angel. ‘And I will smite every firstborn in the land of Egypt’; I and not a seraph. ‘And I will carry out judgements against all the G-ds of Egypt’; I and not a messenger. ‘I am the Lord’; it is I and no other.”
    This year, during your Seder, I encourage you to engage in G-d-talk. Questions are especially encouraged on this night (indeed one explanation for certain portions of the Seder, such as the hand-washing before eating the Karpas vegetable, is that they are designed to stimulate questions)—so please don’t feel that you have to go easy on G-d. For example: Why was it part of G-d’s plan for the people of Israel to be enslaved; after all, remember that G-d told Abraham: “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years” (Genesis 15. 13). And after the Holocaust, can we really speak about how G-d saves his people “in every generation.”
    There is no getting around the fact that American Jews are a tiny minority amidst a huge nation with a majority Christian culture. Talking about G-d may therefore not do anything to lower the assimilation numbers, but it certainly does better justice to Judaism in general and to the Seder night in particular.

TEDDY WEINBERGER is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.



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