Thoughts about Passover
April 3, 2020
We can argue if it really happened, but there’s no doubt that the Exodus is a great story, with or without Hollywood stars or best selling authors.
Yet it has also been associated with problems. The association of Passover and Easter brought forth an increase in Christian animosity and violence. Too often in European history it was a season of pogroms rather than celebration.
There’s no better evidence for the stories of Jesus than for the story of the Exodus. Both rely on what was written by religious partisans, with the story of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, and resurrection told by rebels against Jewish and Roman establishments.
Part of Jesus story (Matthew 21) has been cited time and again as affirming Christian piety against money-grubbing Jews.
Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of those selling doves.
What the Christian story does not tell is the importance to Jewish rituals of what Jesus destroyed. The sacrifice of doves or larger animals was at the heart of Jewish practice, especially at the time of Passover. It was one of the holy days when Jews came on pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Those traveling from a distance could not carry the proportion of their produce required to sacrifice. They were expected to sell what was meant for sacrifice at home, bring the money with them to Jerusalem, and there buy what they needed to sacrifice. Insofar as Jews came with different kinds of coins, the moneychangers were an essential link in the process. Doves were a common means of sacrifice, especially for the common people, who could not afford more expensive goats, sheep, or cattle.
Josephus describes tens of thousands of people milling around the Temple at the time of Passover, anxious to perform what was expected of them. For Jesus to create a commotion in such a setting would have threatened the capacity of Roman authorities to keep order. For a Jew to threaten both disorder and an essential ritual of Judaism at that time, explained the trial and punishment that became a cause of plunder and slaughter against later generations of Jews.
There’s a long and still applicable tradition of moneychangers’ tables. The Talmud employs the term, men who sit at tables, for the activity. Years ago, while lecturing for the U.S. State Department in Tehran, I found myself with an excess of local currency. I asked an embassy official for his advice, and he told me, “Go to the Jews.” I wondered about the expression, but followed his directions to a major street, and a row of Jewish-looking men sitting at card tables, each with small piles of currency on the tables. There was no security obvious, but it may have been there.
To be sure, most Iranians look as if they might be Jews, and I have since heard from Persian friends that Jews have no monopoly on the trade. I do recall that the tablesitter I dealt with responded to my Hebrew inquiry positively.
Muslim extremists have replaced Christians as most likely to attack Jews, but neither the history with Christians nor the present conflict with Muslims is all that simple. Just as some clerics fired up their followers to avenge Christ, other clerics provided refuge in their churches to Jews fleeing the mob. And Muslims have saved Jews on a number of occasions when others were screaming for blood.
Currently Israel is cooperating with Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia against Muslim extremists. The Sinai is one of the battlefields, and the Israeli government is warning both Arabs and Jews of Israel against vacationing on the beaches south of Eilat. There are no nicer beaches anywhere, with Bedouin to provide tea, water, food, and sleeping accommodations for those who don’t bring their own. But other Bedouin have joined ISIS or one of its cousins.
Israel authorities have also indicated that Palestinian extremists will seek to exploit the crowds in Israel in order to try something that is highly visible as well as deadly. Police, the IDF, and other security services are indicating that they’ll be fully staffed and on high alert, and they are urging people to take care. They are also updating the list of countries likely to be dangerous.
What “taking care” means during a holiday of travel and lots of crowds is anybody’s guess.
The police are also likely to be on high alert before and after the Seder, first when about half the Jewish families are driving to relatives, and afterwards when many of the drivers will have consumed four cups of wine.
There’s also some domestic unrest, which is gaining some heat due to the holiday. It is a time of a week long vacation, family reunion, cleaning and refurbishing, festive meals, gift giving, and considerable financial outlays. Recent newspapers have been fattened with more than their usual advertisements for what Israelis might be inclined to buy. There’s also a lot of international travel or movement to hotels or B&Bs within Israel by families wanting to avoid the commotion closer to home.
The political turmoil is focusing on a long rumbling reform of public radio and television, which has a number of unresolved and confusing elements, but is likely to involve the dismissal of several hundred employees. Insofar as these include highly articulate and well known media personalities, the campaigns against the dismissals--as well as against other features involved in the reforms—have gotten a lot of mention in news and discussion programs. And they are emphasizing the problems of individuals who will become unemployed on the eve of Passover.
Passover is the height of Jews’ calendar of festivities and spending. Getting fired on the eve of the holiday, or being threatened with dismissal a few days before Passover is close to the height of what shouldn’t be done, especially by politicians who depend on the voters.
We’ve had weeks of government officials blaming one another for what may happen, with those at the top doing what they can to assure that the dismissals will occur mostly in someone else’s bailiwick.
It’s a time of too much eating and too much of other things, but also a time to enjoy. And at least for a while, to ponder that story from long ago.
Comments welcome. Irashark@gmail.com