Humanistic Jews view the biblical Exodus story as one of the most powerful myths of the Jewish people, a tale that relates the courage and determination of a people fleeing slavery for freedom. Secular Humanistic Judaism views Passover as a time to celebrate the modern, as well as the ancient, quest for freedom. A Humanist Haggadah includes both the legendary tale of the exodus from Egypt and the modern Jewish exodus stories, as well as the themes of its origin. Passover is also a celebration of human dignity and of the freedom that makes dignity possible.
A Humanistic Passover CelebrationHumanistic Jews question the traditional explanations of Pesakh. There is no evidence that the Exodus occurred or that the Hebrew people were in Egypt in the numbers described. The traditional Haggadah includes an anthropomorphic, active, ethnocentric God and the passive deliverance by God of the Hebrews. There are few, if any, women in this Haggadah, and there are no daughters while four sons are described. A secular Passover relates a nontheistic tale. Humanistic Jews celebrate the actions people take to improve their own lives. A cultural Passover recognizes gender equality and the value of inclusiveness so that both girls and boys, men and women feel connected to their history
So what is meant by a Humanistic Passover celebration? For one thing, Humanistic Jews continue the tradition of telling the Exodus story, but they accept that it is a story, not history. Humanistic Jews also talk about the possible history behind the story, perhaps a small slave escape that grew in the retelling. A secular Passover celebration emphasizes the themes of human freedom and dignity, the power of human beings to change their destiny, and the power of hope. Humanistic Jews recognize the power and value of many episodes in Jewish history, not only ancient times. Passover thus becomes a celebration of other times and events when people have left their homes for a new life and where human dignity and courage are honored. Events of the twentieth century record the courage of millions of Jews who left the land of their birth, escape persecution and seek freedom in Palestine and the land of Israel. Passover recognizes the struggles of millions of people to overcome oppression to achieve freedom and equality. The immigration from Eastern Europe to America, perhaps the largest Jewish Exodus ever, is a powerful part of a Humanistic Passover. Even more significant, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising against the Nazis in 1943 began on the first night of Passover; including a commemoration of this struggle provides a meaningful true story of a people fight for dignity, using their own power to control their destinies. The departure of Refuseniks from the former Soviet Union for Israel and America, the successes of the labor, Civil Rights and women’s movements in the twentieth century – all of these find a place in the Humanistic Haggadah. A Humanist Passover celebration is a celebration of human courage and human power, of the quest for human dignity and equality. This is what makes it one of the most meaningful and enduring Jewish holidays today.
The celebration of Passover lasts eight days. It begins with the Seder, a gathering of family and friends for a holiday meal, at home or in your community or congregation, during which the Exodus tale is told. Seder literally means “order,” as in the “order of events” at the Passover dinner. Most celebrations reflect the ancient and traditional celebration of the holiday and include new meanings for today. Most Jews who participate in a Seder retell the ancient stories and share the rich symbols of the holiday. Humanistic Jews add modern stories of human struggles and connect these with current issues and concerns. To the listing of the 10 ancient plagues, a cultural Seder might add modern plagues that we are battling today. The ancient tale becomes the non-theistic story of a people’s quest for freedom, providing a symbol for later struggles for freedom. The Humanist Seder becomes a celebration of human effort and achievements.
To the symbols on the traditional Seder plate (haroset, bitter herbs, roasted egg, parsley, lamb shankbone), the Seder plate in Jewish humanism might include:
- An orange, representing the historical marginalization of lesbians and gay men. It also suggested the fruitfulness for all Jews who contribute to Judaism.
- A potato, symbolizing the exodus of Ethiopian Jews from oppression to freedom, from famine to plenty, and recognizing the suffering and starvation of those in concentration camps during the Holocaust.
The retelling of our modern struggles for freedom from oppression contribute to make Passover a more meaningful and powerful community celebration for Humanistic Jews.
Thanks to Society for Humanistic Judaism for this informative article