A Tomato on the Seder Plate

The Seder plate at Joseph Edelheit’s home, including oranges, olives, and tomatoes.

For the second year in a row, Rabbi Joseph Edelheit graciously invited Courtney, the kids, and me to share in his family Seder dinner for Passover. It was a wonderful experience.

There are longstanding, traditional elements on a Seder plate, including maror, charoset, karpas, z’roa, and beitzah. We had all of those.

But one of the things that I like most about the traditions of Passover is that they are open to change and modification, at least in the Edelheit home. Last year, he added an orange to the plate, to show solidarity with women and GLBT persons.

This year, he added two elements. One was tomatoes, in solidarity with migrant workers who work in near-slavery in America:

Over the last few years, the issues of actual slavery (estimates of people working today as slaves in the world today range between 12 and 27 million) and workers’ rights (many, like the tomato pickers in Florida, are said to work in near-slavery conditions) have achieved greater visibility in parts of the Jewish community. Especially at Passover, the holiday that commemorates the ancient Hebrews’ freedom from slavery. Individual seder leaders, and organizations like RHR (which produces an “anti-slavery” Haggadah supplement and table cards that contain stories of modern-day slavery), Boston’s Workmen’s Circle branch and Congregation Dorshei Tzedek in West Newton, Mass., have incorporated reminders of farm workers’ rights into their seder readings.

This year the tomato — along with words of accompanying text — becomes the latest symbolic food officially added to some seder tables.

RHR and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (the central labor representative of agricultural workers “in low-wage jobs” in Florida) this week announced that they are urging Jewish homes to put a tomato on their seder plate.

Of course, this reminded me of my friend, Brian McLaren, who has been fighting for the rights of Immokalee workers in Florida for several years.

But the other element on the plate really took my breath away.

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My (Second) Favorite Rabbi

The Jewish Journal has a story about my friend and rabbi Sharon Brous*:

Rabbi Sharon Brous

The first thing Rabbi Brous brings to the table that some rabbis do not is a clarity of vision. She sees Judaism as it has been practiced in the recent past, and she sees where it could go. Her vision includes the desire to create a sense of surprise, to foster innovation, and to create a sense of connection to God and to others in the community.

Not only does she have this vision, but she is able to communicate it to others in a way that is convincing and easy to understand.

But she doesn’t just talk about this vision. Rabbi Brous has been able to bring these ideas to fruition by founding Ikar, which says on its website that it is “a religious approach that fuses piety and hutzpah, obligation and inspiration, tradition and soul.” In other words, she isn’t just writing and speaking about what needs to be done to reinvigorate Jewish life; she is taking it to the next level by putting her ideas into practice in the real world.

via What’s So Special About Rabbi Sharon Brous? | Jewish Journal.

(My favorite rabbi)

*Sharon was among a group of “emer-Jews” with whom I and others met several years ago. I’m glad to say that we’ve stayed in touch, and we’re hoping to announce a joint project soon.

The Rabbi Says, “Sure Jesus Had a Wife!”

I had a little fun with the idea that Jesus had a wife last week. This week, something a little more serious. My dear friend, Rabbi Joseph Edelheit, often posts at the Emergent Village blog; he regularly co-preaches with me at Solomon’s Porch, and he and I are co-presenting next week at Luther Seminary’s Celebration of Biblical Preaching Conference. I asked him what a Jew might think of Jesus being married, and he wrote this superb guest post:

The Rabbi says, “Of course Jesus was married!”

The recent headlines regarding a fourth century papyrus fragment in which we read a reference to Jesus’ wife raises a wonderful dilemma for Jews and Christians in dialogue.

When Christians search for their (Jesus’) Jewish roots, the question of marriage and even children is not very radical. The first commandment of the 613 mtizvot (commandments) in the Torah is “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28). Jesus would not have consciously chosen to be single nor celibate as a first century Judean following normative Torah, but the Christ, the risen and incarnate Messiah, is beyond those normative structures. When Jews are asked by Christians to explain what it means to be a Jew, far too many begin with the self-definition of: Jews don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah, tragically defining themselves by rejecting the primary religious axiom of all Christians.

Rabbi Joseph Edelheit

So, this news about Jesus being married is a wonderful and unexpected opportunity for Jews and Christians to reconnect about who they are in relation to each other. Since Jews do not have a problem with the historical reality of Jesus and they assume the necessity of marriage, the possibility of Jesus having a wife is not very challenging.

The Essenes — the desert monastic cult that is mentioned along with the Sadducees and Pharisees of Jesus’ time — were celibate and are therefore outside any Jewish norm. Christians can help Jews understand that their focus is actually on the Christ and not the human Jesus, the Judean for whom marriage would have been the norm. Christians might feel ambivalent about giving up their Jewish roots, but for the sake of honest dialogue it is important to explain that the risen Christ is their salvation and the human Jesus while mysteriously linked to the Messiah/Christ can’t be married according to later doctrine!

Jews and Christians alike must face the challenge that the Scriptures and traditional histories and commentaries from which the Judaism and Christianity of today are based cannot be defined by facts discovered out of context. Our two communities will always be challenged by the next new discovery which as a matter of course will counter our traditional point-of-view. Our faiths, observances, and theologies are not accumulated facts that will be changed when new facts are found.

The current legal battle over circumcision requires contemporary medical and legal thinkers to accept that this is a ritual that defies rational debate. The rational possibility or even necessity of marriage for Jesus, the Judean/Galilean teacher, is of little importance, because the Christ Jesus could not have married! Jews have to listen and learn from their Christian dialogue partners that arguing against a Christian’s religious values is not a valid act of 21st century religious pluralism.

“Yes,” the rabbi would say, “Of course Jesus was married!” But if the rabbi wants to understand how Christians must intellectually multi-task, having both a Jesus in history and a Christ beyond history, then listening might be the best tactic.

Anti-Jewish Rhetoric in the Gospel of John



As I wrote last week, I had the good fortune of co-leading the Solomon’s Porch sermon discussion on Sunday evening with Rabbi Joseph Edelheit — you can watch the full 50+ minute video here; it was streamed on UStream via my iPhone, so forgive the audio and video.

I had asked Joseph, who serves as a kind of resident rabbi to Solomon’s Porch, to join me because we were tackling the 18th chapter of the Fourth Gospel, in which Judas leads the Roman Guard to the garden to arrest Jesus.  We didn’t get through the whole chapter, being that Joseph and I — and many Porchians — are quite talkative.  In fact, we only got through 14 verses, and here are some of the points 0f interest: [Read more...]