Friday, April 14, 2006

Jesus Was a Jew: You're Not.

I was going to write a post critical of the All Spin Zone, one of my favorite sites, for getting a bit self-righteous about Christian throwback jerseys. There are so many awful things going on in the name of Jesus Christ in this country, that getting into Nelson Muntz mode about something as piddling as jerseys seems petty and wrongheaded.

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Besides, there are an awful lot of devout Christians who are as progressive and left-wing as anyone else on the left: just visit Street Prophets an explicitly religious site that grew out of the greater daily Kos community, or the Faithful America list (which for some unknown reason I'm subscribed to). It's like jumping on the Schmaltz Brewing Company for bringing religion into beer. I have nothing against benign public display of religion.

Furthermore, I didn't see the aforementioned piece as comparable to recent ASZ criticism of the Church of Christ and Mary Winkler story, a snarky series I wholeheartedly agreed with. This isn't the time to criticize and speculate, it is a time to love"? Gimme a break: I didn't see too many churches peddling this line during the whole Terri Schiavo carnival (I use that term in the sense of "festival of meat"), and ASZ was right to call them out on wanting what can only be defined as "special treatment."

So I was going to write something critical. But then I read the following article about Christian seders:

The hall had been symbolically cleansed of all leaven, and now, over the hush, Meri Harris's voice rang out in solemn intonation: Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech Haolam . . . Blessed Are You, Lord Our God, King of the Universe . . . And as she lighted the festival candles, the Passover Seder began.

Over the next two hours, the ritual proceeded in order -- from the blessing of the wine to the washing of the hands to the symbolic opening of the door for the prophet Elijah. There were the questions -- "Why is this night different from all other nights?" -- and the answers, as the story of the Jews' deliverance from bondage in ancient Egypt unfolded.

It was just like a traditional Jewish Passover Seder. Except:

The Seder meal was served before the Seder service started, instead of two-thirds of the way through.

There was dancing.

And Jesus was everywhere.

The stripes and the holes in the matzoh represented his whipped and pierced body. The wine (actually grape juice) represented his blood. The matzoh was wrapped in white cloth, symbolizing the way Jesus's body was wrapped for burial.


You wanna hold a traditional seder as "a way to connect with the heritage of our religion and to see how the practices of the ancient world are still relevant to us as Christians today"? Be my guest. I think Passover is one of the most beautiful holidays on the planet, a celebration of freedom and escape from bondage. And yes, "since three of the four Gospels say the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, what could be more natural than for Christians to learn more about the ritual meal Jesus shared with his apostles before he died" is absolutely true, and I have long wondered why Christians don't at least acknowledge the Jewish holidays as the man they worship did. Everyone should celebrate Passover. It would be a great addition to our national holidays in my opinion, like Thanksgiving.

But observing, out of respect, the same holiday your saviour did is one thing; changing the symbolism of the holiday to celebrate him rather than Exodus, the event which the holiday was established to celebrate, is another. Jesus and his followers were a Jews: it is fitting that they observed Passover. The majority of Christians are not Jewish, a religion one is born into, and while they may choose to celebrate Passover, they have about as much right to change the rites of Passover as I do, which is to say none. The line is drawn when you start incorporating outside figures into what is a pretty straightforward series of symbols that tell a pretty specific story. Jesus is not part of the Passover story and should not be incorporated into the symbolism or the narrative.

I'm not exactly sure why this makes me so irritated. Only my father is Jewish, so technically, I don't really count. Furthermore, with Mom a lapsed Catholic and Dad an atheist, we never particularly got into religion all that deeply. A few midnight masses are all that I remember, a few stabs at temple. Meh. Yet perhaps due to the combination of my father's New York Jewishness, my mother's German roots (she's first generation American), and the crossover of cuisines, our family has always been always very culturally Jewish, if that makes sense or means anything. Passover was always one of the big four we celebrated.

One of the many things that I think has held my mother and father together for so long is their mutual love of history: the walls of their house are lined with antique tools, and sepia-toned, victorian-era photos of strangers doing victorian-era things. What my father would always emphasize during Passover was that the escape from Egypt actually happened. Did he believe the specifics of the narrative? Of course not. The overall story of slavery and escape? Indubitably.

It is not references to Jesus that I object to; there are certainly allegories that religious discussion brings out, and lord knows that debate is a hallmark of the Jewish faith. It is the physical representation of Jesus, the incorporation of the man into the cermony. The stripes and the holes in the matzoh represented his whipped and pierced body"? The wine...represented his blood? The holiday isn't ABOUT Jesus. It's about the birth of the Jewish nation. It's like bringing Haman into Easter. Or making yourself the center of attention at someone else's birthday party.

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Sorry, it's not all about you.

So to recap:

Christians educating themselves about Passover and participating with their Jewish friends or Interfaith ceremonies? Good.

Christians appropriating and tinkering with Passover? Bad. (but typical: go ask the Pagans about how all of their festivals strangely ended up as Christian holidays. It's like the fucking Borg.)

In sum: if you're gonna celebrate a holiday, you might as well do it rite!


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