This coming Saturday it will it the 15th of Nisan, 5768. (Can you believe it? I’m still writing 5767 on all my checks.) For those who keep time by the Gregorian calendar, it will be Saturday, April 19. As I’m sure you know, the 15th of Nisan marks the beginning of Passover, the Jewish festival of freedom. So this Saturday night, I’m hosting a Passover seder.
If you’ve never been to a Passover seder before, I highly recommend it. It’s the most accessible of all Jewish ceremonies to those unfamiliar with Judaism. It’s self-explanatory: the point of the seder is to explain and discuss why you’re doing it. And you get a nice meal in the process.
(But I wouldn’t suggest attending a seder in an Orthodox household as your first seder. It will be long, and substantial sections of it will be in Hebrew.)
Although I was raised in a Jewish family, I left that behind in the mid-70’s. I went through life without a strong feeling about religion one way or the other until 1991, when I became Wiccan. The Passover seder is only Jewish holiday that I still celebrate.
To answer that, I turn to the Haggadah I use. The Haggadah is the text of the Passover ceremony. There are a few “mandatory” prayers, but otherwise it’s not a sacred text. It tells the story of Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. (Yes, just like in “The Ten Commandments” [if you’re over 30] or in “Prince of Egypt” [if you’re under 30].)
Many Jewish/Pagans (some call themselves “Jewitches”, though I do not) use special Haggadahs that combine the story of the Exodus with the philosophy of paganism. That’s OK, but I don’t use them. I use the Haggadah that our family used when I was growing up: “The Family Seder” by Alfred Kolatch.
I see it as a “mid-range” Haggadah. It’s longer than the free Haggadahs you can get from Maxwell House (called “coffee-house Haggadahs” for obvious reasons), but not as traditional or elaborate as some other Haggadahs I’ve seen.
Like Judaism itself, the Haggadah is definitely patriarchal. It contains some phrases that a Pagan might find directly offensive. It takes Biblical stories at face value, even though there’s historical scholarship that indicates events such as the Exodus never actually occurred.
So why use it? And what does this have to do with my first question, about why a Witch does Passover?
It’s because this Haggadah explicitly describes how the three most important foods served at Passover relate to issues of freedom. The foods are pesach (a lamb shank), matzoh (the flat unleavened bread), and morror (horseradish); the issues are sacrifice, preparedness, and hope.
The message of freedom, and how to achieve it and maintain it, is universal. Witches, Wiccans, and Pagans are especially sensitive to these issues. After all, the one thing that Christians, Muslims, and Jews agree on is that polytheism is intolerable.
I am lucky. I live in a time and a place where the open practice of my minority religion is accepted. I can wear my pentacle to work and no one thinks anything of it. Millions of others around the world are not so lucky. Heck, millions living in this country are not so lucky.
In celebration of my fortune, and for the freedom of others, I lift my cup of wine at Passover every year.
(Actually, it’s a cup of diet grape soda, but the spirit is there!)