Just in time for Passover, my commentary on the Haggadah has been published by Haaretz. Here is an excerpt:
My mother’s Israeli boyfriend hates Passover. He loathes the holiday because of a single passage in the Haggadah (the ritual text) which he describes as “immoral and spiritually bigoted.”
This passage is the famous (or rather infamous) section which asks of God to exact revenge on those nations who lack divine awareness, and who have maltreated the Jewish people. It reads as follows:
“Pour out Your fury on the nations that do not know you, and upon the kingdoms that do not invoke Your name, for they have devoured Jacob [the Jews] and destroyed his home. Pour out Your wrath on them; may Your blazing anger overtake them. Pursue them in wrath and destroy them from under the heavens of the Lord.”
The passage itself is a combination of three verses from the Bible (Psalm 79:6-7, Psalm 69:25 and Lamentations 3:66). It was compiled and added to the Haggadah during the Middle Ages as a response to the massacres of the Crusades (beginning in 1096), and to the persecution of the Jews during the time of Easter (which usually coincides with Passover). Throughout the ages, the Jews, who had no recourse to violence, vented their indignation by sublimating and spiritualizing their desire for vengeance.
In modern times, in an era in which coexistence is valued by Jew and non-Jew alike, it is no surprise that these words have rubbed people the wrong way: after all, the verses cited in the Haggadah are perpetuating a worldview of religious warfare and animosity. Moreover, the message of “Pour out Your wrath” seemingly contradicts the ethos of Passover with its universal emphasis on freedom and compassion (both human and divine).
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