WE OFTEN find ourselves entertaining both Jews and Christians
for dinner. This is hardly surprising for a Jewish theologian and a
Christian exploring a calling to ordained ministry in the Church of
England. But it is a bit different when one of those dinners
happens to be a Passover seder, and even more so when it
coincides with Holy Week, as it does this year. To borrow a
question from the Haggadah - the text Jews follow during
the celebration of Passover - "why is this night different from all
other nights?" What does it mean for Jews and Christians to
celebrate a seder together, and what can they learn from
For us, it is important to emphasise first and foremost that
everyone is a guest in our home. Indeed, hospitality is one of the
primary lessons of Pesach, or Passover. During the
seder, Jews recite the words of Ha Lachma Anya
over the matzot, the unleavened bread: "This is the bread
of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Let all
who are hungry come and eat. Let all who are in need come and
celebrate Passover. This year we are here. Next year in the land of
Israel. Now we are slaves. Next year may we be free."
And yet, while this message of liberation, charity, and equality
is fundamentally universal - none should go hungry, whether Jew,
Christian, Muslim, atheist, or other - the meal itself is a
Passover feast, the hope for redemption inflected by centuries of
identifiably Jewish dreams and experiences. A Christian celebrating
seder is thus doubly a guest, welcomed into both a home
and a religion; a position of particular honour, but also
IN RECENT years, especially with the increasing popularity of
seder celebrations among Christians, this responsibility
has sometimes taken a back seat. On the positive side, this passion
for Passover signals a genuine desire and potential for interfaith
dialogue. However, there are aspects of this trend that might
justifiably make Jews a little nervous. The primary attraction of
the seder, for some Christians, lies in discovering what
the Last Supper of Jesus "was really like".
The first problem is that this is historically anachronistic
since the Haggadah only developed many centuries after the
death of Jesus. There is profound paschal imagery in the eucharist,
to be sure, but Jesus certainly did not celebrate a seder
in a way we would recognise today.
A second issue is even more worrying. When Jews and Judaism are
valued principally for the light they shed on Christian history and
theology, the door is flung wide open to the spectre of
supersessionism. There is an echo here of Saint Augustine's advice
to "slay them [the Jews] not"- less for the sake of the Jews
themselves, than for the historic witness they bear to the Law.
While the Jews of antiquity and the Middle Ages might have been
glad of any reason that helped to save them from persecution by
Christians (which often spiked horrifically at Easter), Jews today
are unwilling to be seen as the librarians of Christendom.
SO CHRISTIANS can't learn from Passover as much about their own
religion as they might have hoped, but they can certainly learn
about Judaism: real, living, changing, contemporary Jewish life.
There is a tendency, in interfaith dialogue, to assume that other
religious groups are monolithic, governed by one, orthodox way of
doing things. It is important to remember that there are many ways
of celebrating Passover.
First, there are cultural differences, especially between
Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. There are also differences of
denomination, with many Reform Jews favouring innovations such as
placing Miriam's cup alongside Elijah's, to symbolise women's
contributions to the faith, or including an orange on the
seder plate to honour the struggle for inclusion by
homosexuals. Above all, the seder presents Christians with
an opportunity to ask Jews about their religion. In fact, as the
recitation of the Four Questions during the seder
demonstrates, asking questions is not just tolerated during
Pesach, but is actively encouraged.
WE BEGAN by emphasising that Christians are guests when they
celebrate Passover. They are certainly guests when they come to a
Jewish home. Yet, even within their own churches, they might
consider themselves guests of Jewish tradition when they
participate in a seder.
Being a good guest, however, doesn't mean keeping silent. A good
guest at Passover questions, laughs, and even argues. We are often
told that it's bad manners to talk religion or politics over
dinner. But debating during Pesach isn't disrespectful to
Jewish tradition: it is Jewish tradition. Open, honest
discussion leads to liberation.
In celebrating Passover we talk our hopes for humanity into
reality: "Now we are slaves. Next year may we be free."
Dr Aaron Rosen is Lecturer in Sacred Traditions & the
Arts at King's College, London. Carolyn Rosen recently completed a
Ph.D. at Royal Holloway, University of London, and is currently
exploring a calling to ordained ministry in the Church of
England. Together they are curating a series of interfaith
and intercultural exhibitions at the Jewish Museum in London, on