Monday, April 09, 2007

Passover 2007

Here are some readings I compiled for use at my Seder's this year. I have to admit that they are a bit "heavy". People definitely needed to read along and pay attention to "get" them. But they did lead to some interesting discussions.

For next year I promise to do less French philosophy.

From the diaries of Moredechai Kaplan

Saturday Night, April 3, 1915

Last night I spoke at the YMHA services. The audience though far from filling the auditorium was fairly large so I was told. …

As introduction I took the passage from the Haggadah “In every generation [a person is obliged to see himself as if he went out of Egypt.] to point out the need of celebrating Passover not in the spirit of commemorating a past event but of noting an ever present truth. Passover gives us the opportunity of learning what God is. It tells us that God is the power that makes for freedom … God as the power that makes for freedom is … [neither] abstract or remote. It is a God each one can experience. “Taste and see how good the Lord is” [Ps 34:9], because each one of us has an immediate awareness of the inward striving to liberate [themselves] from the besetting forces of earth and temptation. [People] are not born free and equal, but are born to become free and equal. It is the goal of social endeavour to make [people] free. The tendency to retroject onto the past that which we hope to achieve in the … future is a common one. The … Garden of Eden … and the Passover story are cases in point. A thoughtful, responsible, freedom, which is the reflection of God’s own nature, is the freedom that is synonymous with personality, character. [intellect], and will.

The realization of true freedom is even more difficult in the aggregate of human beings, than in the individual. The mob mind is even more of a slave to the heredity and blind impulses of human nature, and knows even less of self-consciousness than the individual. The Jews, as a self-conscious group, have proved to be an exception to the law of the crowd, because in them, the God who makes for freedom has made himself felt. It was this self-mastery that gave The Jewish People exemption from fear of mortality or the angel of death. Having that freedom – national personality –, the Jewish people was never totally bereft of that power of initiative and reflection which saved it from losing itself to its environment.

* * *
And so, on this Passover let us reflect, and plan our next initiative.

From “Judaism and the Feminine” Emanuel Levinas

We may well ask whether ideas that cannot break through to the masses and cannot be transformed in to techniques can still determine the progress of the world, and whether Christianity was not the last and only entry of Judaism into World History. But this would be to scorn in advance the intrinsic values of truth; which is not to acknowledge any universality in it other than what it receives from the consensus of all. This would, and above all, be to think that revealed idea lives exclusively in the history in which it is revealed. This would be to deny it a profound life and abrupt irruptions into history. This would involve misunderstanding the volcanic existence of spirit and, in short, the very possibility of the revolutionary phenomenon.

From “A Religion For Adults” Emanuel Levinas
The [Jew] discovers man before discovering landscapes and towns [and ] is at home in society before being so in a house. [Hence the mythical formative years of the national existence -wandering in the desert. The Feast of Passover, the Feast of the Giving of the Law, and the Feast of Booths all precedes having a home. ] [The Jew] understand the world based on the Other rather than the whole of Being functioning in relation to land. [The Jew] is in a sense exiled on this earth as the Psalmists say, and finds meaning to the earth on the basis of human society. …

From this existence – free with regard to landscapes and architecture and all those heavy sedentary things that one is tempted to prefer in man, Judaism recalls that … its is rooted in the countryside … Freedom from sedentary forms of existence is perhaps the way to be human in this world. For Judaism, the world becomes intelligible before a human face and not, as for a great contemporary philosopher who sums up an important aspect of the West, through houses, temples, and bridges – culture. …

This freedom is not the least bit pathological, or strained or heartrending. It relegates the values to do with roots; and institutes other forms of responsibility. Man is after all not a tree, and humanity not a forest. Freedom promotes more human forms, and they pre-suppose conscious commitment; freer forms, for they allow us to glimpse a human society vaster than the village where we are born.

Is it not these consciously willed and freely accepted links … which constitute modern nations; defined more by the decision to work in common, than by dark voices of heredity? Are these accepted links less solid than roots? In one circumstance they certainly are: when the states formed by them cease to correspond to the moral values in the name of which they were formed. [We must] accord to people the right to judge, in the name of moral conscience, the history to which [they] belong. A freedom in regard to history, in the name of morality, justice above culture (ancestral land, architecture, arts) – these are finally the terms that describe the way in the Jews encountered God.

From Judaism
Emanuel Levinas

What does the voice of Israel say? … One must follow the Most High God and be faithful to God and His Law alone. One must be wary of the myth that leads to the fait accompli, the constraints of customs or locale, and the Machiavellian State and its reasons of State. One follows the Most High God, above all by drawing near to one’s fellow man, and showing concern for ‘the widow, the orphan, the stranger and the beggar’, an approach that must not be made ‘with empty hands.’ It is therefore on earth, amongst men, that spirit’s adventure unfolds.

The traumatic experience of my slavery in Egypt constitutes my very humanity, a fact that immediately allies me to the workers, the wretched, the persecuted peoples of the world. My uniqueness lies in the responsibility I display to Others. … [Humanity] can do what it must do; [it] can master the hostile forces of history by helping to bring the messianic reign, a reign of justice …

This is the extreme humanism of a God who demands much of [people] – some would say He demands too much! [But it is rituals like The Passover that train the mind, discipline the spirit, and encourage the soul to rise to the task, to accept the yoke of Heaven.]


A student asked: “Since God and Israel love each other why was Israel sent to Egypt to undergo serfdom? R. Haninah said: “It was measure for measure. Before the sons of Israel went into Egypt, we find tha the sons of Rachel and Leah disliked the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah and called then sons of serfs. God was distressed at this and cried out” ‘Thou My bride are completely noble!’ And God said: ‘I shall bring all of them down to Egypt and they will all become serfs, and when they are redeemed and celebrate at the Passover meal, they shall say “All of us alike were serfs unto Pharaoh.”’”

Mekiltah d’R. Isshmael Bo 9
R. Josiah said: Just as you must not allow matzah to rise, ferment or sour by lack of promptness in its baking, so you must not let a mitzvah sour by dealing its performance, by letting it wait.

V-E day Poem May 1945 Norman Corwin
Lord God of trajectory and blast
Whose terrible sword has laid open the serpent
So it withers in the sun for the Just to see,
Sheathe now the swift avenging blade with the names of nations writ on it,
And assist in the preparation of the ploughshare.

Lord God of fresh bread and tranquil mornings,
Who walks in the circuit of heaven among the worthy,
Deliver notice to the fallen young men
That tokens of orange juice and a whole egg appear now before the hungry children;

That night again falls cooling on the earth as quietly as when it leaves your hand;

That Freedom has withstood the tyrant like a Malta in a hostile sea,
And that the soul of man is surely a Sevastopol which goes down hard
then leaps from ruin quickly.

Lord God of the overcoat and the living wage
Who has furred the fox against the time of winter
And stored provender of bees in summer's brightest places,
Do bring sweet influences to bear upon the assembly line:
Accept the smoke of the mill town among the accredited clouds of the sky:
Fend from the wind with a house and hedge, him whom you made in your image,
And permit him to pick of the tree and the flock
That he may eat today without fear of tomorrow
And clothe himself with dignity in December.

Lord God of test-tube and blueprint
Who jointed molecules of dust and shook them till their name was Adam,
Who taught worms and stars how they could live together,
Appear now among the parliaments of conquerors and give instruction to their schemes:
Measure out new liberties so none shall suffer for his father's color
or the credo of his choice:
Post proofs that brotherhood is not so wild a dream
as those who profit by postponing it pretend:
Sit at the treaty table and convoy the hopes of the little peoples
through expected straits,
And press into the final seal a sign that peace will come for longer
than posterities can see ahead,

That man unto his fellow man shall be a friend forever.

From The Jerusalem Post

March 27, 2007

Every Sunday school student knows Pessah for its ban on food that rises, but a growing number of Jews are asking whether the holiday also precludes them from getting high.

Hemp has increasingly been spotted on the list of kitniyot, or legumes, that Ashkenazi Jews abstain from eating during Pessah, according to several influential rabbinical Web sites, including But not everyone agrees that hemp qualifies for the ban, and the debate has led many to question the definition of kitniyot.

While hemp isn't a kitchen staple for most people, hemp oil can be found in a number of hygiene products and in some alternative baked goods. But it's hemp's more notorious cousin, commonly known as marijuana, that has set the sparks flying. As debate over the kitniyot tradition has gathered steam among rabbinic circles, many are looking at hemp as a case in point of why the practice of abstention needs to be reexamined.

The ban on kitniyot during Pessah began because rabbis were concerned that certain legumes would come into contact with the grains forbidden during the holiday. Farmers often grew wheat and rice in adjacent fields, and families frequently stored all of their grains and legumes in the same containers. The kitniyot tradition only applies to Jews of Ashkenazi descent, since Sephardic Jewry never adopted the practice.

Of the dozen rabbis whom The Jerusalem Post questioned on this issue, none offered a conclusive statement about how hemp should be classified for Pessah. As Rabbi Daniel Kohn of Bat Ayin explained, the issue ultimately boils down to an individual decision by each rabbi about whether hemp seeds themselves could be considered edible. If a rabbi decides that the seeds are edible, then hemp - and, by extension, marijuana - would not be considered permissible for Pessah.

Israel's Green Leaf Party ("Aleh Yarok") said it was not taking any chances. Following an inquiry by the Post, a spokeswoman for the party said the group was sending out an e-mail to members warning them about hemp's possible kashrut problems.

"We are warning our people not to eat anything with hemp products if they follow the practice of kitniyot on Pessah," said party spokeswoman Michelle Levine. "We are considering announcing a ban on everything containing hemp just to be on the safe side. We are going with the rabbis on this. People should remove all cannabis and hemp from their homes."

Levine said one of the party's main arguments for cannabis legalization was biblical references to it.

"We would like to ask people... if it's listed as not kosher 'for Pessah,' [doesn't] that mean it must be kosher the rest of the year?" said Levine.

Hemp's tricky Pessah status has caused the first marital rift for Daniel and Sarah, who recently moved to Jerusalem from Chicago. The newlyweds, who asked not to use their last name, said they had just finished their Pessah cleaning when a friend asked them if he could buy the rest of their marijuana.

"We just had no idea what he meant. It turns out he was buying it from a lot of his observant friends so that they wouldn't have it in the house, [like] hametz," said Sarah. "We aren't habitual users, but we certainly smoke in our house, and we really aren't sure what our pipe may have come in contact with. It has caused a big crisis for us."

In the end, the two decided to quietly get rid of the rest of their marijuana (not by selling it to a friend, since it was kitniyot, and not hametz, they explained), and give their home one more cleaning before the holiday.

"There is no problem with hemp clothing, and of course, anything that is taken for medicinal purposes would be fine," said Kohn. "Many would look at it like cottonseed oil. There are a variety of opinions. If one considered it edible, then it is included in kitniyot."

On Monday, the religious court of the Shilo Institute issued a ruling that permits all Jews to consume kitniyot during Pessah. Rabbi David Bar-Hayim wrote the ruling, with Rabbis Yehoshua Buch and Chaim Wasserman co-signing.

The move is seen as a direct attack on the kitniyot tradition, as Bar-Hayim wrote that the current explanations for the custom were "unconvincing." ...


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