It’s March and on a dozen blogs in the MJ blogosphere, in MJ synagogues all over, and with no doubt participation from others who are not in an MJ synagogue, we are all reading together. It’s the Jewish Book of the Month Club, or J-BOM. At the bottom, I’ll list the other blogs participating. Look for updates and reviews on all of the blogs to enhance your reading. The March selection is The JPS Commentary on the Haggadah.
Prelude: Getting Ready for Passover
I hope many of you will consider Messianic Jewish Musings as a place to learn about and prepare for Passover. It’s my favorite subject and March will be filled with Passover goodness. Are you a beginner? Perhaps you’re Jewish and Passover is something you’re not comfortable leading in your home. Perhaps you’re Christian and you want to celebrate Passover. If you want Yeshua integrated well into the traditional Passover, you need to pre-order the Vine of David Haggadah which is available here (get several if your family will use it). I’ll have articles ranging from beginner information to advanced study of the haggadah to exploration of texts in the New Testament about Yeshua’s crucifixion and Passover (new articles, not repeats from previous years).
Getting Started with the JPS Commentary
Reading the first part of the JPS commentary, I tried to think how this reading would feel for people who are relatively new to studying Passover and the haggadah. It may be for some this first part will seem obscure and detailed in its exploration of the history and meaning of the Passover foods. Perhaps some will have little patience with this section or not understand what it so significant about it.
Those who have been using haggadahs for years and who have wondered about the many details will find this a long-needed explanation of the confusion and obscurity of the haggadah and the Passover meal.
One thing you learn: the modern haggadah is a mess, a glorious, sticky, history-laden mess filled with compromises, changes unaccounted for, and traditions inserted without explanation.
Key points for understanding the Passover according to the haggadah include:
(1) The origin of many Passover customs in Greco-Roman dining customs and in the symposia, dinners at which intellectuals (e.g., Socrates) engaged in discourse after the meal.
(2) The sometimes poorly incorporated changes that occurred in the Passover rite after the destruction of the Temple when there was no more Paschal Lamb (especially in the four questions).
(3) The history of development which quite interestingly includes a long-lost Eretz Yisrael tradition not reflected in modern haggadahs (the modern haggadah developed from the Babylonian version — if you know Jewish history, you’re familiar with the ascendancy of Babylonian Jewry over Israeli Jewry during Talmudic times).
(4) The Passover Seder has very early sources, such as Jubilees, Qumran scrolls, the New Testament (which the JPS commentary neglects, in my opinion), Philo, and Josephus. Wine was a part of the Seder very early and by the time of the Mishnah (c. 200 C.E.), four cups of wine and readings from texts are the skeleton of the Seder.
(5) Passover customs continued developing into the late Medieval period (I think later he will show customs that were added even later as well, especially in the songs after dinner).
(6) Charoset is a pretty early part of Passover as well, probably because apple dishes were common desert in Roman times and explanations were added later (the consistency is like clay reminding us of brick-making in Egypt and wine is added symbolizing blood).
(7) Maror was originally lettuce (and still is in some Passover traditions, though I learned maror as prepared horseradish). Lettuce was thought to be bitter and hard on the stomach so that the charoset served to make it easier on the palate and the stomach.
(8) The four questions were originally three, one of them was about eating the Paschal Lamb, and the answer used to be contained in Rabbi Gamaliel’s statement about matzah, maror, and the Paschal Lamb. Now the four questions are not clearly answered because no one bothered to update the text to answer them as they were reformulated.
Did the early sections of the JPS commentary (pages 1-16) answer any long-held questions you have had? If so, what were they?
What do you think of the three periods of major change in Passover customs (the first Passover in Egypt, Passover until the Temple was destroyed, and Passover after)?
In your tradition, what food items have you put on the Seder plate and how did you understand each item? I ask this because I have seen so much variation. I will discuss this in a comment myself.
Other J-BOM Bloggers
FFOZ Blogs – http://ffoz.org/blogs
Judah Gabriel – http://judahgabriel.blogspot.com
Yahnatan Lasko – http://gatherthesparks.blogspot.com
Ovadia – http://orgadol.wordpress.com
Rabbi Russ Resnik – http://rebrez.wordpress.com
Seth – http://judeoxian.wordpress.com
ChidusheiYeshua.wordpress.com (Michael Murray)
HeavenIsNear.wordpress.com (Cliff Carlson)
TalkingSynagogue.blogspot.com (Dustin Koch)
LiterallyMessianic.wordpress.com (Wanda Shepherd)
ArlineLovell.wordpress.com (Arline Lovell)