Passover, the Incomplete Festival

Most Jews don't understand that the Exodus we celebrate at Passover is only a prelude to the main event at Mt. Sinai.

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As 20th-century Jews entered the dominant culture's mainstream, they found it increasingly difficult to adjust their lifestyles in accordance with the mitzvot. So our grandparents and great-grandparents increasingly shunted Shavuot into obscurity, leaving their descendants-us-Jewishly bereft and impoverished without knowing it.

Jews aren't alone in our misunderstanding of Passover. In this respect we are joined by Christians, among whom the holiday has lately experienced a startling new popularity unknown since the first centuries of the Common Era. Back then, Christian authorities had to warn Christians not to observe Passover the threat of "Judaizing" was considered that severe.

Passover is the Jewish festival that Christianity has sought to take over and adapt as its own. Easter began as the Christian Passover, for good scriptural reasons having to do with the fact that Jesus died at Passover time, and the possibility that his last meal was a Passover seder. Easter used to coincide precisely on the Christian calendar with Passover until Constantine's calendrical reforms. In Christian theology and iconography, Jesus is regarded as the ultimate Passover sacrifice (John 19:36)-Jesus, this man who inspired a religion that gave Jews of his time what some (those who didn't reject him) took to be an honorable discharge from the Sinai covenant.


If Passover is the holiday par excellence that focuses us on the tension between Judaism and Christianity, it also suggests possibilities for resolving the tension. We live in a time of extraordinary Judaizing by Christians, especially among American evangelicals who are bursting with curiosity about Jesus' Old Testament background.

Christians hold seders and read books like Michael Smith and Rami Shapiro's Let Us Break Bread Together: A Passover Haggadah for Christians, Beverly Jeffers's A Christian Observance of Passover, Joan R. Lipis's Celebrate Passover Haggadah: A Christian Presentation of the Traditional Jewish Festival. We seem to be witnessing the emergence of the repressed Christian Passover.

How wonderful it would be if the Christian interest in Passover became an occasion for understanding the holiday's true meaning-a meaning, however, that stands in tension with one of the main teachings of Christianity. The teaching I have in mind holds that through Jesus' death the Jews were somehow freed from the "curse" (as the apostle Paul put it) of the eternal Torah. Passover, in recalling us to the beginning of the process whereby the Jews entered into the Torah covenant, refutes the Christian notion that Torah no longer describes the kind of relationship with the Jews that God wants.

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Related Topics: Faiths, Judaism