I’m really glad to see that a few Jewish bloggers have taken public issue with Jennifer Rubin’s typically inane post branding Pres. Obama as “hyperpolitical and condescending” for suggesting that Passover has a broader meaning than just the Jewish people’s liberation from slavery in Egypt three thousand (or so) years ago.
Here is what Rubin wrote:
Obama, as presidents have traditionally done, released a Passover message. It is typical Obama — off-key, hyper-political, and condescending. The core of the message is this:
The enduring story of the Exodus teaches us that, wherever we live, there is oppression to be fought and freedom to be won. In retelling this story from generation to generation, we are reminded of our ongoing responsibility to fight against all forms of suffering and discrimination, and we reaffirm the ties that bind us all.
No, he didn’t have the nerve to recite the emphatic exhortation “Next year in Jerusalem.” And frankly, it sounds like Eric Holder and his civil rights lawyers drafted it. Is Passover really about discrimination? Or is it about the deliverance of God’s Chosen People by God from bondage to the land of Israel? Hmm. Obama notes the “rich symbols, rituals, and traditions” but skips the God part. What is missing from Obama’s secularized spiel is the unique, historic, and, indeed, religious message of the Jewish holiday.
Matthew Yglesias points out the difficulty of finding a contemporary haggadah that does not put the Passover story in a larger context of social justice. In other words, she is the one who is out of touch with the way many, if not most, American Jews understand this holiday. And about the Jerusalem bit, he adds:
… Obviously as a historical matter this phrase enters our passover ceremonies before the creation of the State of Israel and is meant to suggest a hazy aspiration rather than a specific plan. But for the modern-day American Jew it’s a bit of a problem. After all, nothing is stopping us from taking a Passover trip to Israel or, indeed, from moving to Israel. But I would actually be pretty upset if President Obama expressed the view that in his opinion the meaning of Passover is that Jews should all leave America and go move to Israel. Which is why, obviously, he’s not going to say anything like that. But there’s clearly a tension inside present-day diaspora Zionism. Nobody in my family, including its members who are quite a bit more conventionally pro-Israel than I am, has any intention of moving to a Hebrew-speaking Middle Eastern country. And neither, I take it, does the gang at Commentary. So what’s the problem with Obama not pretending that this isn’t the case?
Jonathan Chait is thunderstruck:
Gadzooks. Does Rubin really think Obama came up with this kooky notion that Passover has universal implications? I’m not much of a theologian. But I can spot somebody who’s faking it even more than I am, and Rubin is one of those people. At my seder last night, the Ellie Weisel Haggadah explained:
The text does not say that every Jew must feel as if he had come out of Egypt. It says “Every individual.” And here we find we universal dimension of Jewish experience.
And the American Jewish Committee says:
Passover also has universal meaning.
During the civil rights struggle, African Americans, yearning for full equality, sang a spiritual whose words include: “When Israel was in Egypt’s land, let my people go… Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land, tell old Pharaoh to let my people go.”
And did you know that John Adams, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson proposed a national seal with a scene of the Jewish exodus from Egypt?
Brad DeLong points out that Rubin is setting herself up against the Original Source for the meaning of Passover (emphasis is Brad’s):
The ONE WHO WAS, AND IS, AND IS YET TO COME blogs… somewhat differently:
Deuteronomy 15:7: If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the LORD against thee, and it be sin unto thee. Thou shalt surely give him, and thine heart shall not be grieved when thou givest unto him: because that for this thing the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all thy works, and in all that thou puttest thine hand unto. For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land. And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing to day…
Deuteronomy 24:6: No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge: for he taketh a man’s life to pledge. If a man be found stealing any of his brethren of the children of Israel, and maketh merchandise of him, or selleth him; then that thief shall die; and thou shalt put evil away from among you. Take heed in the plague of leprosy, that thou observe diligently, and do according to all that the priests the Levites shall teach you: as I commanded them, so ye shall observe to do. Remember what the LORD thy God did unto Miriam by the way, after that ye were come forth out of Egypt. When thou dost lend thy brother any thing, thou shalt not go into his house to fetch his pledge. Thou shalt stand abroad, and the man to whom thou dost lend shall bring out the pledge abroad unto thee. And if the man be poor, thou shalt not sleep with his pledge: In any case thou shalt deliver him the pledge again when the sun goeth down, that he may sleep in his own raiment, and bless thee: and it shall be righteousness unto thee before the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of thy strangers that are in thy land within thy gates: At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee. The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin. Thou shalt not pervert the judgment of the stranger, nor of the fatherless; nor take a widow’s raiment to pledge: But thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee thence: therefore I command thee to do this thing…
Deuteronomy 24:19: When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands. When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt: therefore I command thee to do this thing…
Cross-posted at Kathy’s TMV Posts. Comments welcome.