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History Without Moses

The question of the historical authenticity of the Exodus story gets into far larger questions, namely, does history matter and if so what are the claims it can make on us? Personally I have gone back and forth on the issue. People care about historical records and for good reason. They want to know if their parents and ancestors were slave owners, anti-Semites, liars–or social heroes feeding the poor when no one was looking. People invest a great deal in knowing their origins. Whether or not people are ever able to get a clear picture of how they really came to be who they are and who they can trace their lineage to, the search and struggle animates many. If you don’t believe me, go down to YIVO in New York City and look at all the people who spend hours of their free time tracing their genealogy. Yet, I would agree with Rabbi Waxman that the historical authenticity of the Exodus is not nearly as important as its enduring messages.


I would go even further than Rabbi Waxman and suggest that the whole nature of the Haggadah is not to narrate the course of historical events. Rather, the historical events are there only to illuminate specific core ideas. For example, in the Passover Haggadah, a text complied over a 1,700-year period, the name Moses never once appears. What could be a greater distortion of the actual story of the Exodus than leaving out the man who freed them from Egyptian bondage? The reason Moses does not appear is because ultimately what is most critical is not the historical event or the specific human actors, but the eternal message of faith, redemption, and collective responsibility.

Read the Full Debate: Does It Matter If the Exodus Happened?

Explore Beliefnet’s Complete Passover Features:

Comments read comments(9)
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Grethel Jane Rickman

posted March 28, 2007 at 11:45 pm

Rabbi Stern, that was very beautiful! I also agree. It is the message that is important. Shalom.

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Chana Silverman

posted March 29, 2007 at 4:02 am

I also agree. We are called in this day and age of speculation based on serious research, to exercise a mature faith. Not the blind faith of a child who engages in developmental magical thinking, but the faith of a person who has expierenced a personal “Exodus”, a personal “deliverance”. And many of us have causing this powerful story to ring true in our core going beyond any speculation and nay-sayers. The bonding with our fellow Jews in this community celebration, past and present, plus the joy of HaShem’s lovingkindness and care for us is what strikes a cord of truth and encourages us to live a life filled with the reality of possibilities and freedom even while accepting life’s setbacks. I love Passover and sense something special about it – a sense of holiness – a sense of power. Maybe my senses are only reacting to the ritual and story, never the less, I come away from Passover feeling inpowered to live better, to be more thankful and to celebrate being Jewish. My spirit thrives on the fast from bread/hametz making me feel like I am being “spiritually cleansed” to step out on that path to the “promised land” with a deeping faith. Did this story really happen? Does not matter when spiritual growth really happens, when joy really happens. Shalom all and Happy Passover!

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Donald Wolberg

posted April 1, 2007 at 2:05 am

Attempting to be as objective as possible (and fully aware that bu so staing a position is taken!), it seems to me that there are certain core beliefs that if determined to be not factual, the religions that proclaim them cannot survive. For the various Christian sects, the divinity and resurrection of Jesus have a centrality. To deny this as fact, is to deny the reason (message) for Christianity. For Judaism, it seems to me that the centrality of the bondage period in Egypt; the “selection” of Moses and his identification with his (Moses’) people; the devestation of Egypt until until they let “His” (the God of Moses) people go and that miraculous escape and saga in the wilderness, until “The Land” was made there’s (again by the intersession of God”–all this is the central pillar of the reality (not ideology) of the Jewish faith. I suggest that to say that there is deeper meaning to this that transcends the reality is all well and good. But, that transcendence is dependent on the reality. To deny the reality, by science or ideology, is to my mind to deny the reality of the faith, no less than would be the denial of the “holiness’ and God-nature of Christ for Christians.

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posted April 5, 2007 at 4:28 pm

Excuse me, Moses was speaking as a Prophet FOR God, when he said “Let my people go!” Israel were God’s property. So to speak. Moses didn’t enter the promised land, but God’s people did. The Exodus story was between God and His people the Israelites. Moses was just along for the ride. Maybe in the front passenger seat, with a great view of where Israel was going, but God was driving. Moses and the Exodus story are a fact. Otherwise Israel would not exist today. Never forget that “a Jew” is a living breathing miracle, one can see and talk with. Within the blood of a Jewish person is the ancestor that heard God at Sinai. Such a fact should make anyone that desires an eternity, to rejoice like there are millions and millions and millions of endless tomorrows. Because there are.

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Grethel Jane Rickman

posted April 6, 2007 at 3:15 pm

Donny, God expects us to focus on Tikkun Olam, now. We have work to do here in this lifetime. If we do what God desires for us to do, we do not need to spend our time worrying about eternity. Shalom.

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posted April 8, 2007 at 6:00 pm

I have to say that I never heard of ‘tikkun olam’ when I was a kid. Show me the names of books and articles before, say 1980 that mention ‘tikkun olam’. Show me in the Torah or any other part of the bible where ‘tikkun olam’ is mentioned. The Rambam, Rashi, when did they mention tikkun olam? ‘Tikkun Olam’ is a concept invented by a minor middle ages sage that was adopted by a bunch of American new-aging Jewish hippies and spread by people like non-Rabbi Michael Lerner among others. Do the Orthodox who study Torah for years regularly mention ‘tikkun olam’?

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posted April 9, 2007 at 2:09 pm

David, you write >Do the Orthodox who study Torah for >years regularly mention ‘tikkun >olam’? They Probably don’t, but then again if you lived in your own little world, would you care if everyone else was falling to peices. While not Embraced by the Orthodox, there are even tinges of this concept appearing in the works of the 20’th Century Religious Existentialists, when they talk of concepts that Scientists call “non linnear time”, the idea that TIME, if it is not linnear, is affected by things happening now, in the past and in the future. Its a rather hard concept to explain in a few words, so i’ll invite you to e-mail me via my webpage, maybe I can explain it to you. As far as Rambam is concerned, he was a Rationalist….to him there is a finite logic, and a rational explanation for everything. Rashi wasn’t so much a Philosopher as a comentator. If the rabbis before Rashi had not really written it, and it wasn’t from Northern Europe(Rashi was from France, I believe), and never really wrote more than commentary, no new Insights to the laws.

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Grethel Jane Rickman

posted April 9, 2007 at 7:20 pm

No Orthodox Tikkun Olam? Ah, okay…interesting. What is the Breslov movement, then? Breslov Tikkun Olam: Chabad, too? What is Chabad, then? Read the part explaining Kabbalistic concepts. Tikkun is Kabbalistic! Orthodox Kabbalists exist and have always existed! BTW, they study Torah for years!! Okay, let’s look at the OU! OU isn’t Orthodox??? Shalom.

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Grethel Jane Rickman

posted April 9, 2007 at 7:24 pm

Wait! Safed??? What about Safed? Here {one of my favorite sites!}: Here’s more: And:

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