More Passover musings

Sorry for the light posting — between Passover, a crazy workweek, and a visit from my mother-in-law, something had to give, and this blog was it.

Overall, we’ve had a very mellow and pleasant Passover.  While it always makes me a little sad not to see my parents and siblings over Passover, I must admit that there’s something nice about not schlepping anywhere.  And we didn’t host our own seder either — went to a friend’s one night, and the shul’s community seder the second.  So relatively little stress.

It also simplifies things that I’ve decided that it doesn’t make any sense for me to make myself (and my family crazy) to avoid kitniyot for Passover (beans, corn, rice) given that I don’t keep kosher, don’t have separate Passover dishes, etc.  Not that I require absolute consistency in my religious practice — I don’t eat pork, but I do eat shellfish, even though both are equally treif.  (My logic is that no one was ever martyred for refusing to eat shrimp.)  But it’s not particularly meaningful to me to avoid rice and tofu.  I’m fairly sure that whatever the ancient Hebrews ate on their way out of Egypt, it looked more like pita bread or tortillas than modern matzah, but I haven’t quite been ready to follow that argument to its logical end.

Phantom Scribbler linked to a sermon by a reform Rabbi on the real meaning of Passover: "When we badger ourselves or one another about a drop of corn syrup in a Coca-Cola, but fail to work for freedom, we are in violation of Passover."  Or, as another teacher once put it:

   Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
       only a day for a man to humble himself?
       Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
       and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
       Is that what you call a fast,
       a day acceptable to the LORD ?

    Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
       to loose the chains of injustice
       and untie the cords of the yoke,
       to set the oppressed free
       and break every yoke?

Saturday morning, D woke up and asked if it was Easter.  We said, no, it’s tomorrow, but we don’t really celebrate Easter.  He insisted that we had to have an Easter egg hunt.  Ok…  We assumed that he had figured out that this often involved chocolate, so we told him that if it was really important to him, we could dye some eggs, and then he and N could look for them on Sunday. This sounded like a great plan to him, so off we went to pick up some dye.  (Mostly we dyed hard boiled eggs, but I blew a few, and used the insides to make matzoh balls, much to my own amusement.) Both boys had great fun dying eggs and finding them, and then we let them trade the eggs they had found for chocolate bunny pops left over from the Max and Ruby birthday party of two months ago.  And later we let them egg joust.

But somewhere in all of this, D wanted to know why we don’t celebrate Easter.  We sort of tiptoed around this one, not wanting to get into the details of the cruxifiction (remember, this is the kid who cried over March of the Penguins) but generally explaining that people believe lots of different things about God.  But he’s at the stage where he likes there to be RIGHT answers and WRONG answers, and wasn’t too convinced by our answers about uncertainty and tolerance.  Oh well, I figure we’ll have a lot more chances coming up…

A few more links:

  • Susan at Crunchy Granola’s got a bunch of Passover posts up.
  • For some thoughtful Jewish-Christian dialogue, see Sue at Inner Dorothy’s post about Christian Seders (via Phantom Scribbler).

15 Responses to “More Passover musings”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    I was asking my croatian father-in-law what he used to do for easter (it wasn’t about chocolate, pre-war!), and he talked about egg-jousting. I’d never heard of it before. It sounds fun! I’m impressed with your craftiness blowing the eggs.
    I’m also finding it tricky explaining crucifixion in our atheist household.

  2. Moxie Says:

    It’s tricky explaining crucifixion in a Christian household, too. At least you guys have the “that’s what other people believe” thing to fall back on! This was the first year that we went all the way through the story with my older son. At 4, he’s so black and white, that when we got to the crucifixion he yelled “I would take a gun and kill those people who hurt Jesus!”

  3. bj Says:

    We’ve been navigating this one too — i.e. easter. For my daughter it’s not so much about right and wrong as it is about being left out. She hates to be left out, and likes doing things like decorating eggs. When we explained that we don’t “do” Easter, she came up with a solution last year: we would decorate eggs on another holiday — spontaneously suggesting that we do it on holiday that has the four-leafed clovers, because we don’t do that one either!
    In the end, what we’ve been trying to do is to celebrate these holidays with others who do celebrate them. Cousins who are catholic came over to decorate Easter eggs with our daughter, which she enjoyed enormously, and which I’m comfortable with (because although I don’t want to celebrate a holiday that isn’t mine, I’m willing to celebrate with others, their own holidays).
    With explaining the religious traditions, our Athiest/Jewish/Hindu household talks about stories and what other people believe, while firmly stating what we believe.

  4. Elizabeth Says:

    I have some reluctance about celebrating holidays that aren’t ours, but decided that there was no way I could make a logical explanation of why dying eggs is part of the holiday that celebrates Jesus’ death and rebirth, but not part of the one that celebrates liberation from slavery. Truth be told, Christians dye eggs for the same reason there’s an egg on the seder plate — it’s spring.

  5. trishka Says:

    i was wondering if it would make it simpler or more complicated to tell him that the egg part of easter is actually taken from ancient pagan spring fertility rituals, and doesn’t have anything whatsoever to do with the crucifixtion and resurrection of christ.
    you’re still getting in to the sticky wicket of “what other people believe”, but it might be fun (maybe when he’s a little older?) to do some research into the practice of egg dying and what actually was celebrated at the pagan spring fertility rituals.
    my understanding of the egg dying is that it comes from the very old days when people didn’t have a lot of cooking appliances, and they would make a big stew as part of the spring festival. because of the time of the year, there wasn’t much in the way of fresh vegetables, but there was lots of root vegetables left over from the fall — beets, carrots, onions. they’d also have eggs that they’d gathered from birds’ nests, which they would throw into the stew whole in the shell to boil. you know where this is going, they would come out of the beet/onion/carrot stew all brightly colored, and voila a tradition is born.
    chocolate, i think, came much later. ;-)

  6. Jody Says:

    I keep meaning to write more on my blog about our kids’ internalizing the Easter story (short intro: they first started actually hearing the story at church, and the death part of it, when they were three — far, far earlier than I expected them to be paying enough attention to get it — which raised all sorts of challenging and difficult questions, especially at bedtime) but meanwhile, what didn’t go “right” with “Easter is a Christian holiday and we’re Jewish”? I ask because the kids are sort of obsessed with the whole different religious beliefs issue (actual question posed to Grandpa at dinner the first night of his Easter visit: ARE YOU CHRISTIAN? yes, that loud) and we don’t find that we have to explain Yom Kippur or Purim really for the kids to understand that those are other people’s holidays.
    Then again, no one is using Purim to sell a lot of plastic toys from China.
    The discussions about death that we’ve had (and almost always in the car, or in bed after the lights are out; why do the kids wait until I can’t see their faces until they raise these questions? I can never see whether I’m going too far, or have lost them) have danced a little bit around the question of heaven and eternal life and other people’s religious (and atheist) beliefs. I tend to fall back on the potentially condescending-to-others explanation that we believe God loves all God’s creation and of course takes care of all of God’s people, and our job is to live our lives the way Jesus wants us to. But that leaves the evangelistic aspect of Christianity rather hung out to dry (hey, what can I say, I’m a midwestern Lutheran) and it’s an answer that doesn’t really respect the atheist belief that there is no God in the first place.
    I’m not quite certain in my own mind how I can live truly respectfully of other people’s religious convictions, when the three monotheist religions in particular do tend to make some fairly absolutist truth claims. I mean, what does it mean to believe that Jesus died and rose in redemption of human sinfulness, and to live in a multi-religious world?
    I mean, at the end of the day, we do want the kids to believe that we’re right to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Which means that implicitly or explicitly, we think other people are missing out on something important about God. And yet — in fact, when I consider my brother’s Buddhist practice or my closest friends’ Jewish households, I don’t think they’re missing out on anything.
    Well, I guess ultimately, I think it’s a better thing to have to struggle with these questions, rather than imagine that I have all the cut-and-dry answers.
    Honestly, day to day, I worry a little bit more about the messages about Jesus loving us and God providing everything we need, knowing that those songs make sense in our privileged lives, but are mind-boggling in the context of world poverty and war. Our Christianity seems, in some way, cheaply gained, because we don’t have to sing those songs or believe those words in the face of any real challenge to their meaning. But that’s wandering very far afield from the topic at hand.

  7. dave s Says:

    So, after we had our Easter egg hunt in the yard, my kids wanted to go to Target to spend their allowance, and when we got there it was closed. So I set out to explain why, that this was a very big Christian day and so for that reason the store was closed, and my #2 son said, “What does the EASTER BUNNY have to do with JESUS CHRIST??!!” and it was clear to me that, well, we have not been educating them very well, seculars that we are…

  8. Elizabeth Says:

    The problem with just saying that Easter is a Christian holiday and we’re not Christian is that D wants to know WHY. So I asked him if he had heard anyone talk about someone named Jesus, and he said no. So, I’d have had to explain Jesus, and what Christians believe about him, and what Jews believe about him, and what Easter has to do with him, and then D would want to know what all this has to do with dying eggs pretty colors.
    So I let him dye the darned eggs. I think we’re raising the boys with enough of a Jewish identity that a few pink eggs aren’t going to make a difference in the scheme of things.
    (It also complicates things that my mother-in-law was visiting, and D knows that grandma and grandpa celebrate Christmas.)
    Jody, does your interpretation of Christianity hold that Jesus redeemed all humanity, or only those who accept him as their savior?

  9. Susan Says:

    There is such a mingling of secular and religious, popular and profound religious traditions, and this year I’ve been amazed at how much my daughter notices about the various religious traditions that she encounters in visits with our extended family (none of whom have exactly the same versions of religious belief or practice). So far, she hasn’t really started asking questions about why we do X and other people do Y, but these comments are making me realize that these questions will be rolling out in abundance. She thinks a lot about death, too–10 minutes of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at a neighbor’s has led to months of questions about Joseph, his brothers, and why they put blood on his coat and why Jacob thought Joseph was dead. I think crucifixion is going to be a hard conversation.
    Watching her start to learn religious songs and rituals has got me thinking about the value of truth claims and religions. My partner and I have both moved quite far away from the religious traditions in which we were raised, and I’m much more comfortable framing my religious or spiritual choices in terms of choices that make sense for me, in a community that feels like home to me. And if that community appears to make some absolutist truth claims from time to time, I don’t really think it infringes on anyone else’s belief that their (different) choices give them the guidance or community or whatever they seek to make principled choices about their lives. Yet that’s not what the literal claims often say. Interesting stuff (which I am not being altogether coherent about–sorry!)

  10. Jody Says:

    Well, I wasn’t really thinking about the egg issue at all, and certainly at all about your kids’ identity as Jews. I mean, besides it not being remotely on my mind, it’s pretty obvious that you think a lot about that stuff, and your family IS Jewish. It’s a fairly overt part of the blog. But obviously I’m an outsider to the debates about what parts of American secular “Christian” practice can be safely adopted/accepted without compromising Jewish identity.
    No, I raised the question because it seemed like such a LEAP to get from eggs to the nature of crucifixion and resurrection, which Moxie herself only introduced to her Christian four year old this year. Although I’ve certainly been in enough conversations lately that start in one place and end up far more intense than I expected, to appreciate the problems of the “why” here. I guess I didn’t see where explaining who Jesus was connected to the cross, since it seemed (apparently mistakenly) like a fairly straight-forward, “some people believe that Jesus was the Messiah/God’s son/a special prophet but neither we nor our ancestors believe that, and Easter is a holiday celebrating Jesus, so since we don’t believe Jesus was special, we don’t celebrate that holiday. We celebrate these other holidays instead. Now, let’s go dye eggs and celebrate spring.” And if I’d been confronted with the whole “WHY don’t we believe that,” I don’t know, I guess I’d say, because it doesn’t make any sense or because it doesn’t conform to Torah or (the fall-back answer of parents everywhere) because we just don’t.
    Now, I have the extreme privilege of living within the dominant religious tradition in this country. So that’s probably why I don’t/didn’t get the difficulty of that sort of dismissal. I’m going to step way outside my comfort zone here, please delete this if it’s offensive, and write that when we’ve explained Jewish belief to our kids, we’ve said that their Jewish friend are Jews because most Jews 2000 years ago didn’t believe that Jesus was G-d’s son, and they still don’t. We say that Jews follow the laws and rules of Abraham and Moses (I know this isn’t a comprehensive answer, but I have to stick to terms they understand for now, and my own knowledge of Talmudic Judaism is … well, tenuous at best) instead of the laws of Jesus, because Jews don’t believe Jesus was the Messiah.
    And someday we’re going to have to talk about our complicity in pograms and crusades and the Holocaust (especially because of Martin Luther’s particular sinfulness in that regard) but for now, it’s most important to me that we point out it was the Romans who killed Jesus for making trouble in Jerusalem (I’ve read enough on This Woman’s Work to understand that Jesus’ existence in the first place isn’t a settled fact, but I guess I don’t think I’m obligated to incorporate that into my explanations, at least not at this point) and that the Jews are God’s chosen people (I realize this trends perilously close to a kind of condescension, and I apologize for not having found a better way to talk about it with my kids) and that ultimately, we can trust God to take care of everyone. Because frankly, these conversations have mostly arisen in two contexts: the kids are either feeling bad for their friends who don’t get presents from Santa (to which we reply that their Jewish friends have their own holidays) or they’re worrying about whether their Jewish friends and Buddhist uncle (who is, somewhat ironically, godfather to Elba: and yes, he never fails to do a Marlon Brando impersonation when we get together) will go to heaven.
    And of course, I hardly even know where to start with the heaven question, since most of the Jews I know don’t imagine an afterlife in the first place and neither, obviously, do the Buddhists (well, that’s more complicated, and I’m still trying to figure out the prayers we said at the end of my brother’s wedding, to send good news about the event to the ancestors). But as I said before, we fall back on: God loves all people, so of course God will protect and cherish us all.
    As for my own interpretation of Christianity, that’s where it gets very personally complicated for me. The bare fact is, I probably believe that G-d redeems all of humanity, and that She uses a variety of instruments to do so: Jesus, the Buddha, Abraham and the Prophets, Mohammed. Which doesn’t, frankly, make me a very good Christian. My pastor would not approve. Maybe (maybe) I can get on board with the idea that Jesus alone redeems all of humanity (I do believe that Jesus redeems me, and that it’s not a past-tense event at all) and that all of us will be given the chance, at the Second Coming, to accept that redemption. (This is another theological difficulty, because as a good Lutheran, I’m not supposed to believe in Free Will, so God is the only instrument of my salvation, by Grace, and that’s what will matter at the Second Coming, not anything I do or don’t do, now or in the Future Time.) But in practical terms, that’s just offensive: well, here we are, having accepted Jesus now, but you’ll be given a chance to make it right later. Ick.
    It might be marginally better if I believe (and maybe I do) that all of us will have to be re-judged, or make the choice for Salvation again, at the Second Coming, and that what I did on earth as a follower of Jesus (which frankly, isn’t very much when held against the standards of the Gospels) will matter no more or less than what anyone else did as a follower of any other set of rules. Or maybe that doesn’t help at all.
    Meanwhile, the semi-official teaching of the ELCA Lutheran church now is that the Covenant between God and the Jews was never broken, so Jesus is beside the point when it comes to Jews anyway.
    I’m sort of up against a pretty irritating cognitive dissonance: that I do believe Jesus was the Incarnate God, but I am not even remotely prepared to believe that my brother or my best friends are going to Hell because they don’t believe Jesus is their savior. I sort of feel like I can be a good Christian or a good modern person but not both. Which is why I have never been able to write coherently about any of this on my own blog. Also, I have some evangelical readers who would rake me over the coals, and I just don’t want to deal.
    Oh, and to complicate matters further, my sister probably isn’t going to be baptising her new baby, because my sister just doesn’t care. And this is happening at the same time that the kids are incredibly anxious to categorize everyone’s religious beliefs: are they Christian? Are they Jewish? Buddhist? Hindu? (They used to attend a preschool with three kids from India.) And so we’ve been having to explain, not just atheism (atheism is pretty easy, actually) but secular cultural Christianity. Try getting that one through to a persistent set of five-year olds.
    Hmmm, I guess I should have had a better appreciation from the beginning about your Jesus problem. Because I’ll tell you, I feel like I’ve been living with a very hard-headed set of religious inquisitors for the better part of a year, and it’s quite exhausting.
    My, I have gone on and on. Sorry about that.

  11. Genevieve Says:

    >Meanwhile, the semi-official teaching of the ELCA Lutheran church now is that the Covenant between God and the Jews was never broken, so Jesus is beside the point when it comes to Jews anyway.
    This is essentially what my Episcopal husband believes. He would also, by the way, categorize himself as an evangelical, and would stress that that word doesn’t mean only the sorts of people who are usually categorized by it. (I’m not phrasing that well at all — I think it’s best worded as he considers himself evangelical because he believes in sharing the good that God/Jesus does, among other things, but that can include sharing it with people who are interested in learning about it and approach his church, and in his worldview does not include trying to convert people or change people who have their own “way to God”. But I generally leave it to him to explain, so I certainly may be phrasing it poorly.)
    Anyway, his belief that the Jews’ covenant with God was never broken is part of what makes him happy to raise our son Jewish with me.
    On the other issue, we make Sephardic roasted eggs (bimuelos, I think they’re called) for Seder every year – they roast in the oven on low for hours, surrounded by coffee grounds and onion skins (and a little water, salt, and oil), and they come out looking like mahogany. So far, that seems to have satisfied the egg-dyeing urge.

  12. Elizabeth Says:

    Genevieve, do you eat the eggs after cooking them that way, or is this just to make them look pretty?

  13. Hanifa Says:

    How is it possible for one to speak of the crucifixion if there is not a personally crucified life from which to speak?
    This would be like trying to teach someone to swim while having never been in the water.
    What a person believes, is what their life is. The words that come out of one’s mouth concering what they think they believe have far less impact in moving another soul.
    Debt? Contention? Unhappiness? This is the belief of one’s life no matter what they call themselves.
    Quiet heart? Unconditional Love? Always at rest? This is the Life that one believes in if this is their experience all the time.

  14. amy Says:

    Oh, we had those eggs for the first time this year! One of our hosts’ mothers made them. Yes, we ate them, and they were lovely, delicately flavored.
    About why Jews are Jews: We give our (Jewish) daughter a simpler answer: Because her mama is Jewish, and her mama, and her mama. (We’ll get to reform later) If your mama is Jewish, you’re Jewish. And I suspect that for most Jews, that’s actually more important than the religion angle. ;) You might eventually want to let your kids know that from the POV of Judaism 2000 years ago, Christianity was a dangerous, splintering-off cult, and eventually it did very well.
    We talk about other religious views as is opportune. My 2-yo’s been interested in life, death, and aging in one direction lately, so when she offered to share her jeans with me “when you are a little girl again, mama,” I told her how there are some people who believe that after you die, you get born as a new baby again, you start over. And that I don’t know if they’re right or not; nobody knows. I expect to get questions about it tomorrow.

  15. elswhere Says:

    This whole thread is fascinating!
    Elizabeth, I also blew eggs to make a Passover dish (matzo brei, in my case) and felt sort of jolly and subversive about it.
    And when I pretended ignorance about the chocolate eggs that showed up in our egg cartons along with the dyed ones we’d made the day before, sort of implying (without saying) that maybe the Easter Bunny had left them, my daughter rolled her eyes, exasperated yet gleeful at catching me out: “Mommy, the Easter Bunny doesn’t come here, remember?! We’re Jewish!”

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