Five Reasons You Probably Shouldn’t Attend a Christian Seder

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

It’s Passover until this evening, and lots of Christians — especially evangelicals — are attending Passover Seder dinners. But they’re not traditional Seder dinners, with Jews. No, they’re a co-opted rite, sometimes hosted by a “messianic” Jew, and sometimes just by Christians who’ve read a Wikipedia entry.

I’ve been to a Seder for the past couple years. My family and I have been hosted by Rabbi Joseph Edelheit, a sometime contributor to this blog, and a dear friend. In his role as director of the religious studies program at St. Cloud State University, Joseph has hosted Seder dinners for Christian students — at the Lutheran campus ministry for instance — but the difference is that he’s really Jewish. He’s a rabbi. He’s not playacting. This is really his thing.

Many Christians, particularly evangelicals, are drawn to primitive Christianity. They want to follow Jesus like those first Christians did, before Constantine and Charlemagne mucked everything up with Christendom. I personally think that’s a noble goal, and I’m not totally averse to it. However, having a Seder meal at your church or Christian college is not the way to do here. Here’s why:

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Law and Prayer and Sin and Homosexuality [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

Questions That Haunt Christianity came back with a vengeance this week. Wow. I’m especially grateful to William Birch, who asked the question, for being so engaged in the comment section — you should go read them all.

William’s question was:

If God hates homosexuality so much, then why won’t He deliver me from it?

Many commenters took exception to the way that William posed the question. They didn’t like the “If…then…” formula, because if you reject the conditional clause at the beginning, then there’s nothing else to talk about. But everyone worked through that, since this is obviously a personal and haunting question for William (and many others).

For beginners, I’m going to agree with premises that William stated in the comment section. Even though I don’t necessarily wholeheartedly affirm these premises, they’re essential to answering the question in the way that William intends it:

  • The words of Leviticus and the words of Paul cannot be pitted against the words/thoughts of God. If it’s in the Bible, we’re going to assume that God intended it to be there.
  • God does actually hate some things.
  • God does actually answer prayers and deliver people from things that vex them.

With those as background, here’s my response:

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The Paradoxical Lesson of Paula Deen’s Language (for Tony Jones)

 

You’ve heard from my friend and rabbi, Joseph Edelheit, before. He’s in Brazil at the moment, and he’s been thinking about Paula Deen, Edward Snowden, and the contentious posts on this blog. He sent this piece and the above photo, unsolicited, and I post them here, unedited, for your consideration. This post may strike some as inflammatory, so I hope that you will keep your comments civil.

When we find out that someone in popular culture uses language, no matter whether in private or public, that is “outrageous” the response is immediate! Paula Deen’s popularity cannot save her from the swift judgment of corporate America. Her tears and explanations, even her plea taken from Christian scripture: let anyone who has not used words that are hurtful and unacceptable throw a stone at me! The “N-word” has become a recognized act of self-destruction even as the Supreme Court hands down legal discourse that seems to soften decades of legislation that set the standards of racial redress.

Paula Deen is gone, but the Supreme Court might have opened the door for Voter IDs? It might be worth taking a few weeks to consider whether our immediate repugnance of this oh-so Southern gal whose food and cooking masks her denial of diabetes and the much more dangerous institutional racism that was just nullified by the Supreme Court. Paula Deen used the “N-word” — shame on her; meanwhile, the majority of the Supreme Court gave permission to known racist state legislators to create new mechanisms to deny anyone the right to vote. The problem is we cannot cancel the Supreme Court’s television programs or their corporate sponsorships, so maybe Paula Deen is our collective sacrifice of shame?

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Ask the Rabbi: What’s With Cutting Men’s Penises?

Rabbi Joseph Edelheit

This is part of an occasional series in which I pose a question to my rabbi, Joseph Edelheit. I don’t set it up, and I don’t give him a warning. I just turn on the recorder and ask the question.

I asked him this question last night, as we drove home from co-teaching a class at St. Cloud State University on anti-Judaism in the New Testament, particularly in the book of Hebrews.

This has been a question that’s been haunting me about Judaism for a while now. We’ve all got wacky practices in our religions — heck, I drink blood and eat flesh each week. But the severing of the penile foreskin seems to me wackier than most. In fact, I find it shocking that it’s still so prevalent — almost unanimous — among Jews.

Joseph didn’t skirt my question at all. In fact, I found his answer fascinating:

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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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There’s No Good Reason that God Preferred Abel to Cain [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

David tweeted a question into the series asking a question about one of the most troubling passages of the Bible, and many of you answered him:

It’s a great question, and one that I must say is all the more poignant because of the blood shed yesterday. For someone who is drawn to René Girard’s scapegoat theory of the atonement, as I am, then Cain’s murder of Abel is telling: the human cycle of mimetic desire and bloodshed is primitive in its genesis, and it afflicts us still.

But that wasn’t your question, David. Your question has to do with God’s preference of one brother and his offering over the other’s; you asked about the rejection that led to the murder. So yesterday morning, before we’d heard about the Sandy Hook school shooting, I went over to my rabbi’s house for a cup of coffee and a chat. I asked Rabbi Joseph Edelheit your question, and I recorded his answer. I didn’t give him any warning, or even a hint as to what it was about. I simply told him that I had a question for him and turned on the recorder. Here’s what he said: [Read more...]

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.

Looking Forward to Tonight’s Seder Dinner

Roasting the Passover eggs as I post this. From today’s StarTribune:

Edina pastor and author Tony Jones, a theologian-in-residence at Solomon’s Porch church in Minneapolis, plans to attend a Seder with his family at the home of Rabbi Joseph Edelheit on Saturday. Jones met Edelheit in the Nashville airport, struck up a conversation and became “fast friends,” he said.

“I think the ecumenical and interfaith movements of the late 20th century were great,” Jones said. “But they were almost always at a very high level, a bishop talking to a rabbi talking to a seminary professor. I think for Gen Xers and younger, we’re probably more likely to just reach out and make those connections on our own with our neighbors or our co-workers rather than because our bishop or pastor or priest tells us, ‘Hey, we’re having an official interfaith dialogue between the rabbi and the seminary professor.’

“The fact is, we live in a more pluralistic society,” he said. “Jews and Muslims and Hindus and atheists live on the same street with me, the Christian. Multiple religions has become the very fabric of society we live in.”

Christians have long held an interest in Passover because the events of Easter — Jesus’ death and resurrection — happened during the Passover festival when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem.

Read the rest of the article: A shared Seder that nourishes connections | StarTribune.com.