Sunday, April 24, 2005

Passover: Not Just For Jews Anymore

Mark Kleiman has a nice post on Passover:
The willingness of Jews to stand up for vulnerable non-Jews, which I had always attributed to centuries of being the out-group, turns out on closer examination to be really quite deeply rooted in the religion.

Last week in the faculty Torah study group at UCLA -- which has been fighting its way through Deuteronomy at the rate of about two verses a week for the past decade -- we were examining Deut. 24:17-18:

Thou shalt not pervert the justice due to the stranger, or to the fatherless; nor take the 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.
A quick check with a concordance showed that the formula: "Do X, because you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord redeemed you" occurs five times in Deuteronomy, in each case following a commandment about dealing fairly with the vulnerable...

That, then, is the deeper meaning of the first phrase in the answer to the Four Questions at the Passover Seder: "Avodim hayyinu" -- "We were slaves."

It seems, if you think about it, a rather remarkable assertion to put at the very center of a celebratory feast. What other group, instead of boasting about being nobly born, makes a fuss about being descended from slaves, and then personalizes it so as to say that everyone present was a slave until redeemed?

But linked to the commandments in Deuteronomy, that phrase comes to mean: "We were slaves" and therefore must never, never, ever act like slaveowners. That makes sense of the empirical link between Judaism and liberalism.
Hell, it makes sense of the emprical link between liberalism and anyone. Most any nation you can think of has been oppressed at one point or another. We've all been slaves, serfs, sold, bought, worked to death, and chained for life in systems we had no control over. And some of us a lot more recently than Moses under the Pharoahs. It's nice that some of us try to remember it, though.

I've only put up a part of Mark's post. Go read the rest.

No comments: