PASSOVER AND PARADOX

Tonight, Jews observe the first night of Passover. Sunday, Christians celebrate Western Easter. Christians will declare, “He is risen.” For a week, Jews will forego eating anything risen—bread, bagels, cake. Calls will go out to unify Jews and Christians by following the commandment in Leviticus to love thy neighbor. There’s a paradox here. 

Linked as two of the three Abrahamic faiths, Christianity and Judaism hold different theologies. Christians hail Jesus as the Messiah—the anointed one—who rose from the dead after being crucified by the Romans (or, as some Christians have it, the Jews). To Jews, Jesus was a fellow Jew, perhaps in the mold of the prophets. Christianity views Jesus as humanity’s savior from original sin. Judaism believes sin not to be inherent—humans possess good and evil inclinations, and must make choices. 

There’s nothing wrong with having different beliefs. History hasn’t always agreed. I write in God’s Others: Non-Israelites’ Encounters With God in the Hebrew Bible, that Christianity saw itself as the universalistic religion of a particularistic God. Universalistic: the only true religion. Souls could be saved only by accepting Jesus. Particularistic: God will damn nonbelievers to hellfire. Not all Christians still believe this. Many do. 

Judaism is the particularistic religion of a universalistic God. Particularistic: Only must follow the Torah’s commandments. Universalistic: God created us all. Monotheists who follow a few basic universal moral principles will share the World to Come—whatever it is—equally with Jews. 

Condemning Jews as Christ-killers, the early Christian West decided to let Jews live to endure exile and whatever punishments Christendom chose to inflict. The infamous blood libel arose: Jews mix Christian children’s blood into their Passover matzahs. This despite the Torah’s strict prohibition against consuming blood. What resulted? Read James Carroll’s frightening Constantine’s Sword.

Has America outgrown historic Christian animus towards Jews? Many millions of Americans embrace Jews as fellow citizens. But we’re hardly there. Witness, among others, Charlottesville and Pittsburgh. Anti-Semitism rears its head in such statements as those by the arch-conservative Ann Coulter. In 2007, she told Jewish talk show host Donny Deutsch, “We just want Jews to be perfected.” Deutsch asked if all Americans should be Christian. Coulter answered, “Yes.” 

Paradoxes also abound within Judaism. In the Diaspora, we conclude our Seder (home dinner service) with “Next Year in Jerusalem.” On May 9th, Israel celebrates its 71st anniversary, but as many Jews live outside Israel as in. “Next Year in Jerusalem” may now represent a yearning not to return to the land—beyond visits—but to Judaism and its values. For decades, North American synagogue involvement has declined among non-Orthodox Jews. 

Paradoxes abound within Israel. From bondage in Egypt through the monarchies of Saul, David and Solomon, Israel consisted of 12 confederated then united tribes. Modern Israel is home to at least as many political parties, and the Jewish world to many more religious and cultural streams and sub-streams. In effect, we’re still wandering in a wilderness, this one consisting of questions: How do we gain peace and security? Achieve unity while respecting diversity? Survive a seductive secular culture?

From my perspective, paradoxes cast a shadow of uneasiness over Passover and Easter. Yet what better time to recommit to respecting the integrity of every human being.

To all observing Passover, Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday). To all celebrating Easter, may you find renewed joy and love. To everyone: Peace be upon you.

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3 Comments


  1. RON EATON
    Apr 19, 2019

    David, I disagree that Coulter’s statement was in itself antisemitic. Putting Coulter politics and reputation aside, let us consider only her statement. The word antisemite implies at best a nasty animus and at worst a murderous and even eliminationist one. Coulter thinks that Jews are wrong in their understanding of God, and Christianity is an evangelizing faith. So of course she wants Jews to be Christians. She most likely also wants Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Unitarians, Muslims, and Atheists to be Christians. That doesn’t mean that she must hold some vicious hatred of them or wish them ill. And it seems to me that putting her statement in the same paragraph with Charlottesville and Pittsburgh is deeply unfair. Disagreement over even profound questions isn’t necessarily toxic.
    RWE


    • David
      Apr 19, 2019

      Therefore, Ron, I disagree without a trace of toxicity. When people like Coulter make statements not about their own beliefs but about others’, they often categorize others as not worthy, second-class. Coulter declared that I as a Jew am imperfect. A red flag is waving there. Jews’ refusal to accept Jesus—a theological matter—stands behind a great deal of anti-Semitism. Fuels it. We can talk more about this in person—sans toxicity. And thanks for taking an opposing position.


    • Tracy Boxer Zill
      Apr 23, 2019

      I’ve watched that Donnie Deutsch interview many times. I think it’s pretty clear that AC views Jews as “unperfected Christians.” And I get Ron’s perspective that there may not be anti-Semitic animus there. However, she’s a smart, smart lady with a JD from Michigan. She knew what she was saying, and she knew the wound she was poking at. She doesn’t care. Her take was essentially “anyone who doesn’t believe as I do is wrongheaded.” And that’s fine; she’s got a right to that opinion. But her right to that opinion doesn’t make the opinion itself respectful of Jews and our faith tradition. And that’s where we start to cross the line into anti-Semitism.

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