My Passover evolution

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As an Orthodox Jew growing up in Philadelphia, Passover was my favorite holiday because children were an integral part of the ceremony, and I got to sit at the Seder table with grownups. After the Seder leader hid the Afikomen (a piece of matzo) during the meal, the child who found it received a small prize. I always enjoyed sipping the ritual wine, while my mother voiced her concern that I would become an alcoholic. (I now think that Manischevitz wine would be an effective one-step program to prevent alcoholism.)


I especially looked forward to the Mah nishtanah…, the question asked by a child, which translates to “Why is this night different from all the other nights?” The scripted answers from the leader represent the substance of the Seder. Though I no longer believe the answers, the question reminds me of my favorite Passover joke:

“Because of his generous charitable contributions in England, Morris was to become the first Jew knighted by the queen. As part of the ceremony, Morris spent a great deal of time memorizing what he would have to say in Latin. But when the queen approached, Morris panicked and forgot the Latin passage. So he blurted out a familiar foreign phrase, ‘Mah nishtana halyla hazeh meecol halaylos?’ Surprised, the puzzled queen whispered to a member of her entourage, ‘Why is this knight different from all the other knights?’”

Before accepting Seder invitations, I always make clear to the host that I am an atheist. I believe the traditional Passover story to be both fictional and horrible. Here’s why: There is no historical or archaeological evidence that Moses existed, that Israelites were slaves in Egypt, or that they wandered in the desert for 40 years. And that’s the good news. I find the Passover story of the Exodus is horribly inhumane: An insecure and sadistic God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Why? So God could respond by bringing 10 plagues to Egypt, which culminated in killing innocent first-born Egyptian sons (but passing over Jewish households). Now and forever, we Jews are to thank God every Passover for creating plagues to benefit his “chosen” people.

Written By: Herb Silverman
continue to source article at washingtonpost.com

7 COMMENTS

  1. Each Lent for the last 3 years I have read a book of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy this year). It has been quite a revelation (sorry)! I now understand the description that Professor Dawkins gives about the god of the Old Testament. Herb’s description of Passover is a reminder of how much there is to dislike.

  2. “I find the Passover story of the Exodus is horribly inhumane: An insecure and sadistic God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Why? So God could respond by bringing 10 plagues to Egypt, which culminated in killing innocent first-born Egyptian sons (but passing over Jewish households). Now and forever, we Jews are to thank God every Passover for creating plagues to benefit his “chosen” people.”

    It’s sad but it almost seems like those books were written by someone who enjoyed the suffering of human beings, and enjoyed tricking those people into causing other people’s suffering. For what? To prove they’re the important ones on earth? I can’t even read the O.T. anymore without crying at some of the horrible things done “in the name of god” and by “god”(example Leviticus 10:1-2 two men were struck dead for offering unauthorized fire to god). It seems more like something a human would do if they had the technology(power) back then, posing as an “infallible god”(so no one would question their actions). But it’s more likely this is all fiction.

    • In reply to #2 by mmarieden:

      It’s sad but it almost seems like those books were written by someone who enjoyed the suffering of human beings, and enjoyed tricking those people into causing other people’s suffering. For what? To prove they’re the important ones on earth? I can’t even read the O.T. anymore without crying at some of the horrible things done “in the name of god” and by “god”(example Leviticus 10:1-2 two men were struck dead for offering unauthorized fire to god). It seems more like something a human would do if they had the technology(power) back then, posing as an “infallible god”(so no one would question their actions). But it’s more likely this is all fiction.

      Yes, the list of the horrible stories that all good Christians believe to be the inerrant word of God goes on and on and on. The incest, slavery, cannibalism, violence, bigotry is almost endless.

    • In reply to #4 by IDLERACER:

      I’ve often wondered why the God of the Sistine Chapel is an old man with a beard in the clouds, instead of the more “historically accurate” talking clump of burning shrubbery.

      The result of hiring a good PR-consultant?

  3. I don’t do obsessive-compulsive. I had my fill–overdose–of that ritual decades ago. Now I would rather be stung in the ass by a hornet than attend a seder, at any level from Orthodox to watered-down Reform. I get my excuses ready a week or more before Passover, knowing I will be invited to seders. If a relative invites me, I say I am going to a neighbor’s or friend’s that night, and vice versa. Trouble is (for me) that the flavor and aroma of the foods served at seders is imprinted onto my neonatal chemoreceptors, and I do miss that. But not enough to go to a seder to get it. Silverman is right about the unspeakable vileness of that Manischewitz wine, though.

    • I like the way Herb Silverman describes the secular celebrations he attends. That way he presumably gets to enjoy the great parts of the traditions and the culture without the unbelievable nonsense. The idea of shunning apostates seems more at home in Islam and to a lesser extent Christianity, so I respect Jews who don’t do this. I always enjoy talking to the Jews I know about their backgrounds and ideas and beliefs. As an atheist from a Christian background I always feel like they have a head start because they haven’t had Jesus rammed down their throats.

      In reply to #6 by 78rpm:

      I don’t do obsessive-compulsive. I had my fill–overdose–of that ritual decades ago. Now I would rather be stung in the ass by a hornet than attend a seder, at any level from Orthodox to watered-down Reform. I get my excuses ready a week or more before Passover, knowing I will be invited to seders. If a relative invites me, I say I am going to a neighbor’s or friend’s that night, and vice versa. Trouble is (for me) that the flavor and aroma of the foods served at seders is imprinted onto my neonatal chemoreceptors, and I do miss that. But not enough to go to a seder to get it. Silverman is right about the unspeakable vileness of that Manischewitz wine, though.

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