happy passover

March 30, 2010 at 10:00 pm 11 comments

It is the week of Passover, the Jewish holiday which commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. My father is Jewish, and I grew up celebrating Passover, though in a fairly secular way, my family was not very religious. I have fond memories of the seders (Passover service with dinner) with ethnic foods, and the whole occasion was a pretty big to-do. I still love matzah ball soup, though at some point I lost my taste for gefilte fish, I think after my wife made a comment about the fish in it being a “bait fish.” Hey, she’s the fisherperson, not me, so I’ll take her word for it.


As a Christian I early on learned about Messianic Judaism. Messianic Jews are people of Jewish ancestery who believe in Jesus. They consider it the natural progression for Jews, and have special concern for converting their bretheren to their faith in “Yeshua,” which is the Hebrew version of the name “Jesus” (Jesus is the Greek translation of Yeshua, in my understanding). Messianic Jewish movements (like the famous Jews for Jesus group), tend to be fairly close theologically to conservative evangelicalism.

I was somewhat recruited by some Messianic Jews in college, and while I found some attraction, I was ultimately turned off by the whole thing. I don’t know if it was an element of racial pride, or some kind of weirdness, or the feeling that I was being recruited, but I ultimately decided to go in a different direction.

But one element of of Messianic Judaism which I kept  personally was the Messianic Passover seder. At a Messianic seder, they practice the traditional Jewish seder, but with a twist in that they see Christian symbolism in the traditional Jewish elements of the seder.

The connections for the most part are pretty straight forward. For example, in the New Testament, Jesus is depicted as celebrating the famous last supper as part of a Passover dinner. The Passover ceremony commemorates the Israelites’ freedom from slavery, as Jesus represents Christians freedom from sin. The Israelites were redeemed from Israel, and the angel of death passed over their homes because of the blood sprinkled on the lintels over the doors, just as Christians are redeemed from the punishment of death for sin because of the sprinking of blood. And so on.

While Christians see this as a clear fulfillment of the Scriptures, Jewish people today often see it as a misappropriation and  incorrect interpretation of their religion. Interesting to me, I see it both ways. I don’t begrudge Christians reinterpreting the old Jewish stories and making their own new story. But at the same time I can understand why it makes Jewish people uncomfortable. It isn’t just that Christians are appreciating the Jewish roots of their faith, but some are actually saying they understand them better than the Jews themselves. That kind of thing can easily create resentment.

Like many religious  traditions, the Messianic version does seem to take things a bit far. For example, one of their interpretations is that the matzah, unleavened bread, used in the service forshadows Christ, because it is striped, just as Jesus was given stripes from the lash, and it is pierced, just like Jesus was pierced with a spear after being crucified. Those are rather silly interpretations. I’ll accept that kind of things as a cute and kitchy religious story, but matzahs that look like that are a modern invention. There aren’t really Jewish people going around wondering why they put little holes in matzahs, missing the point that God has them inadvertently pointing to his story about Jesus.

Growing up in a secular family, with parents of mixed religious traditions (Jewish and Christian), I guess I am not so sensitive over the synthesis of the two religions in the Messianic passover seder. I have personally led a few seders mixing the two traditions, and plan on doing so again. I like the tradition, I like being able to point out the roots of both religions in these stories, even while I take the stories far less literally than I once did. And why would I want to give up a holiday where matzah ball soup has a key roll? Pass me another cup of Manishevitz please, and “Next year in Jeruselem!” Happy Passover!


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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Christiana  |  March 31, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Besides, it’s a good excuse to listen to Matisyahu!

  • 2. atimetorend  |  March 31, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    I didn’t even think about Matisyahu! I need an excuse to listen to him? :^)

  • 3. Jay  |  April 1, 2010 at 9:52 am

    That’s an interesting perspective. I’ve personally had very little exposure to Messianic Jews, but I recall that when I first heard of the movement, it sounded to me less like Jews that have accepted Jesus and more like Christians who observed various Jewish traditions. As such, it seemed to me that it was sort of a cultural misappropriation by those people. (I’ve actually seen the term “cultural theft” used…)

    Clearly it’s a more complicated issue than that.

  • 4. The Wise Fool  |  April 1, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Well written sir.

    I’ve had Manishevitz before, and I make a pretty tasty mustard wine sauce with it, if I do say so myself. But now you’ve got me wanting to get my hands on some of that matzah ball soup. I’ll definitely have to try it next time I’m at the deli.

  • 5. atimetorend  |  April 1, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    Jay, I think you are accurate about Messianic Judaism being more like Christians who observe various traditions. I have read, on a Jewish site critiquing the Jews for Jesus movement, that their statements of faith are identical to South Baptist Convention statements. To be fair, if one has a Jewish heritage, there isn’t anything wrong with bringing your traditions into your new faith. But at the same time, in much of Messianic Judaism, the heritage can be very much at the center of the religion. And then to the degree that gentiles are brought into the traditions, it can seem a bit weird, and cultural theft can seem an appropriate label. Thanks for dropping by and reading.

    The Wise Fool, let me know how you like the matzah ball soup! Yeah, the Manishevitz would be much better in a mustard sauce than drunken from a glass. :^)

  • 6. Jay  |  April 2, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    Part of my perspective comes from watching a very…ahem…spirited discussion in one of the online forums between a Messianic Jew and what I can’t describe any better than a liberal Jewish guy. In between the semantic jousting, it became clear that the liberal Jewish fellow didn’t consider the Messianic guy to be any more Jewish than, say, the coffee mug on my desk.

    It’s not unlike Christians who show up on blogs written by other Christians complaining that the authors aren’t Christian enough…

  • 7. atimetorend  |  April 2, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    Julia O’Brien wrote a thoughtful piece about Christians observing passover, found -here-.

  • 8. the chaplain  |  April 4, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    Nice post. I liked O’Brien’s piece too. This piece of advice will be hard for Christians to follow, though:

    So, Christians, let’s celebrate and honor our own story and traditions rather than taking others’ as our own.

    Since Christians have had very few original ideas, it will be hard for them to break their 2,000 year-old habit of misappropriating ideas and practices from others.

  • 9. Sabio Lantz  |  April 4, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    The more mixing, the less dogma, the more secular. Sounds good to me.

  • 10. Lorena  |  April 6, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    We went to a Messianic service once, when I was still very much a Christian.

    We enjoyed the service, but the church members were a bit odd, to put it mildly. The non-Jews were Jews wannabe’s who thought the whole world should follow Jewish traditions, like the Festival of Tabernacles and the Passover.

    We never went back, even though my husband loved the rabbi who could recite complete Psalms by heart and cite Bible verses and explain them like a machine.

  • 11. Joshua Zelinsky  |  April 6, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Regarding the striping and piercing of the matzah note that that’s not in general true for matzah. That’s true for modern matzah made by Askenazic and some Sephardi Jews in the last few centuries. The piercing is unambiguously modern. The striping only occurs in machine baked matzah generally or in some rare cases as an artifact in hand baked matzah.

    Frankly, this sort of ahistorical silliness is a major reason why my own opinion of MJs is very dim. It doesn’t help matters that there’s a lot of evidence that the vast majority of MJs are essentially Protestant Christians with a few minor Jewish aspects thrown in and that the leaders of the MJ movement unambiguously run it to try to convert Jews. If they wanted to call themselves something that didn’t come across as misleading which is a major part of the massively deceptive aspects of the religion, I probably wouldn’t mind it as much.

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