Closing or Opening the Door on Passover

By Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Erev Pesah, 2017/5771

Several years ago, one of my students for conversion to Judaism was invited with her Jewish boyfriend to a Seder in the local Orthodox community. A few days prior to the festival a guest who was coming to that Seder, upon hearing that a non-Jew was attending, reminded the host that it was forbidden to have a non-Jew attend the Seder.  The hosts consulted their rabbi, who informed them that his understanding of the law indicated that a non-Jew could not attend the Seder.  The hosts apologetically and awkwardly told my student that she could not attend.  She was surprised and hurt by the disinvitation, and ultimately decided against converting several months later.

The source for the practice of excluding the non-Jew at Passover is in Exodus.

“The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, These are the regulations for the Passover: No foreigner is to eat of it. Any slave you have bought may eat of it after you have circumcised him, but a temporary resident and a hired worker may not eat of it. It must be eaten inside one house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. The whole community of Israel must celebrate it. An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you”. Exodus 12, 43-49

Many modern authorities have ruled that this passage only applied when the Temple stood when we still performed the Paschal Sacrifice.  Some others have ruled that non-Jews are welcome to attend the Seder, but should not eat of the Afikomen, since it stands in for the Paschal Sacrifice in the post Temple era. Conservative, Reform, and other liberal authorities find the reasoning behind the rule of exclusion no longer applicable or relevant.  The welcoming of non-Jews to a Passover Seder in liberal Judaism is so widespread that many liberal Jews are surprised to hear that a rule excluding non-Jews from a Seder even exists.

Hospitality on Passover is something that liberal Jews and many modern Orthodox Jews have broadly accepted, not only because we have integrated into the American social landscape, but because we understand that the themes of liberation from slavery and freedom are themes that we share with other Americans regardless of faith. 

I teach that Passover should be a festival in which we embrace hospitality and invite our non-Jewish friends to partake with us.  In 2017 the practice of hospitality is even more important as the new president has dramatically increased deportations and attempts to slam to the door on refugees and potential immigrants. 

It is true that Passover historically can be called the Festival of Identity.  It is the festival that marks the birth of the Jewish people. Before Egypt, the Israelites were a small family grappling with the transmission of the covenant with God.  But the sojourn in Egypt is described in the Torah as the birth of a nation, even as it was forced into servitude.  In our liberation we were no longer were just a family, but the people of Israel.

The importance of identity in the festival is reflected in the our parental obligation to tell the story to our children.  Relying on our best pedagogy and storytelling we are supposed to convey to the next generation our people’s experience of slavery and liberation.

I have always embraced and celebrated Passover as a festival of Jewish identity, but I don’t see the need to exclude others as following from the retelling and reliving our story of origin.  I strongly object to that tradition of exclusion. 

But I also do not believe that watering down the Seder and removing the celebration of our identity out of concern for discomfort of our non-Jewish friends robs the festival of its great power and emotion.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks articulates how we can practice hospitality while celebrating our unique tradition in a pluralistic and diverse free society.  

“There is all the difference in the world between the attempt to impose your faith on others and the willingness to share it with others.  Our faiths are different. Judaism is not Christianity; Christianity is not Islam; the Abrahamic monotheisms are different from Eastern mysticisms on the one hand, scientific humanism on the other. Yet when we bring our respective heritages of wisdom to the public domain, we have no need to wish to convert others. Instead, we are tacitly saying: if this speaks to you, then please take it as our gift.  Indeed, it is yours already, for wisdom (unlike revelation) belongs to us all. The willingness non-coercively to share our several traditions of moral insight is, in a religiously plural culture, an essential part of the democratic conversation, indeed of societal beatitude.”  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World p. 126  

This teaching on hospitality is critical during these times when pluralism, diversity, and freedom is threatened by hatred, narrow-mindedness, and demagoguery.

Following Rabbi Sacks, it is possible to understand the sharing our Seders with our non-Jewish friends, with those who fear deportation, with those who are fleeing persecution is essential this year.  Let us be generous in our practice of this hospitality not only on Pesah, but throughout the coming turbulent years.    

Hag Same’ah, Happy Passover

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

Hospitality and this Week’s Executive Orders on Immigration

Panim Hadashot-New Faces is a unique organization in the Jewish community that is focused on revitalizing Jewish hospitality traditions.  We believe that hospitality is not only a critical spiritual practice.  It also has important ethical implications on how we treat the stranger.   As leader of Panim Hadashot, I feel moved to react with alarm and concern to this week’s Executive Orders on Immigration.

I have signed onto to a statement which I have appended below which clearly states my objection to these orders and deep concern for the impact these orders will have on millions of people and the reputation of the United States around the world.  Please join me in objecting to the emerging policy on immigration by the new administration.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg

The Faith Action Network of Washington State

Statement on President’s New Executive Orders on Immigration

 

The Faith Action Network of Washington State strongly opposes the Trump Administration’s executive orders to drastically restrict refugee admissions to the United States, especially from war-torn nations like Syria; build a barrier wall at the southern border of the United States; and aggressively pursue and deport unauthorized immigrants. We join with millions of Americans of all faiths, leaders of local and state government, and other community leaders to say we will step up our own efforts to provide direct support to immigrants and refugees who are threatened by these new policies, and organize our faith communities to challenge these policies through nonviolent means.

We believe these new executive orders violate our cherished religious values and what it means to be an American. ­­­­­­­­­­As people of faith, we are called to love and serve our neighbors from near and far, particularly those most vulnerable to violence and persecution. We honor the God who commands that “the alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens…” As Americans we know the great contributions that immigrants and refugees make to our nation’s culture, history and economy, enriching our life together. Welcoming the stranger is at the heart of the American story.

Therefore, we call upon President Trump to uphold our shared American values and rescind his new executive orders. We call upon the members of our own faith communities to speak out and act in support of refugees and the neighbors among us who may face deportation. We offer our support to elected leaders and local law enforcement agencies that refuse to be part of implementing aggressive deportation policies on behalf of the federal government.

As leaders of diverse faith traditions, we have come to know that our differences are a blessing and that love can cast out fear. We must act boldly for the vision of an America, where the most vulnerable are protected and welcomed.