Interview: Rabbi Evan Moffic on What Every Christian Needs to Know About Passover

Posted on February 2, 2015 at 3:58 pm

Rabbi Evan Moffic’s latest book is What Every Christian Needs to Know about Passover: What It Means and Why It Matters, a guide for Christians to the celebration observed by Jesus at the Last Supper. It will be published tomorrow, and is already a seller on Amazon in the categories of Jewish holidays and ritual. Rabbi Moffic is one of my favorite thinkers about our connection to the divine and the meaning of religious traditions, and I am a big fan of his earlier book, Wisdom for People of all Faiths: Ten Ways to Connect with God. He very generously took time to answer my questions about the book.

What would Jews and Christians be most surprised to learn about each other’s beliefs?

I think Christians will be surprised to learn some of the Jewish legends surrounding the exodus. For example, the story about the angels singing when God drowned the Egyptians, but then God telling the angels that the Egyptians are God’s children as well. Or some of the Jewish interpretations of why God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.

I think Jews will be interested to know why many more Christians are holding seders and will be fascinating by some of the interpretations and meanings Christians draw.

Was there ever a time when Christians observed Passover or held seders?

Definitely in the first century where most Christians saw themselves as Jews. It faded away as Easter replaced it. But over the last three decades, as Christians have embraced Jesus’s Jewishness and tried to recover first century practices, more and more have been conducting seder.

Copyright 1999 Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie

Which of the traditions of the Passover seder were practiced at the time of Jesus?

It’s unclear. Certainly it was not the same kind of seder we do today. That was not finalized until after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E. But we do know communities and families held Passover meals in which special foods were shared and the Exodus story was told during the time of Jesus.

Are there any depictions of the Last Supper that include matzah or other symbols of Passover?

No. The last supper was definitely a Passover meal but not a seder—with its precise order and ritual foods that we understood today.

Which elements of the Haggadah are of most relevance to Christians?

The story of the Exodus. It is so universal. We all search for freedom in our lives—from addictions, from unhealthy relationships, from idols like success or perfection. Passover tells us God wants to grow and escape the narrowness that traps us.

Why do you call this a “holiday we share?”

Because the Hebrew Bible is part of Christian scripture as well. The Exodus is part of the Christian story as well. It is a story of redemption that Jesus certainly knew and whose meanings are universal.

Do some Jews express concern about sharing this celebration with non-Jews? How do you respond?

Absolutely. Some Jews feel Christians may be appropriating and misinterpreting a Jewish ritual. People have said to me, “How do you think Christians would feel if synagogues did some sort of communion or eucharist?” My answer is always the same. Yes, some people or communities could abuse the ritual and interpret it in ways that make the Jewish part of it irrelevant or superseded by Christianity. That’s why we need this book. It gives an authentic traditional Jewish interpretation that can educate and guide Christians in observing Passover in a meaningful way. It will prevent abuse rather than encourage it. And truthfully, we live in a free society. Our own religious sensibilities should not be threatened by those of others, even if they are deeply consistent with our own. The fact that others celebrate Passover in ways different than our own does not threaten the meaning and truth of our own.

What is the most important lesson you want readers to understand from your book?

Celebrating Passover can change your life. It can help you see your life as an ongoing journey to freedom and purpose. The story of the Bible is also the story of ourselves.

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Trailer — Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Story of Moses with Christian Bale

Posted on October 1, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Christian Bale and Sir Ben Kingsley star in “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” the story of Moses and the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. It opens this December.

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Tuesdays in September on Turner Classic Movies: The Jewish Experience on Film

Posted on September 1, 2014 at 9:21 pm

This month, TCM has an excellent series of films about the Jewish experience, every Tuesday.

TCM proudly presents The Projected Image: The Jewish Experience on Film, a weekly showcase of movies focusing on Jewish history and heritage as portrayed onscreen. Co-hosting the films each Tuesday is Dr. Eric Goldman, an expert on Yiddish, Israeli and Jewish cinema, and founder and president of Ergo Media, a video publishing company specializing in Jewish and Israeli video. Goldman is also the author of The American Jewish Story Through Cinema (2013) and Visions, Images and Dreams: Yiddish Film Past and Present (2011).

The screenings are divided into themes, which air each Tuesday beginning on September 2 at 8pm with The Evolving Jew, featuring two versions of The Jazz Singer, the story of a young American performer who defies the traditions of his devout Jewish family. Al Jolson starred in the revolutionary early sound version from 1927, and Danny Thomas took over the role in the lesser-known 1953 remake. That same night, The Immigrant Experience focuses on Joan Micklin Silver’s Hester Street (1965) and Barry Levinson’s Avalon (1990), telling of Jewish families from Europe and Russia who settle in, respectively, the Lower East Side of New York City and a neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland.

Among films dealing with The Holocaust on September 9 are two powerful classics from the 1960s: Stanley Kramer’s all-star Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), about the trial of war criminals in 1945-46; and Sidney LumetÕs The Pawnbroker (1965), starring Rod Steiger as a concentration-camp survivor. Also screening are Orson Welles’ The Stranger (1946), in which he plays a Nazi fugitive, and Edward Dmytryk’s The Juggler (1953), with Kirk Douglas as a Holocaust survivor.

September 16 sees Israeli Classics including two TCM premieres, Thorold Dickinson’s Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer (1955), the first feature film produced in Israel; and Ephraim Kishon’s Sallah (1964), a satire that became the most successful film in Israeli history. Also showing are a pair of films focusing on The Jewish Homeland: George Sherman’s A Sword in the Desert (1949, TCM premiere), which deals with the immigration into Mandatory Palestine during the mid-1940s; and Otto Preminger’s Exodus (1960), which concerns the founding of the state of Israel in 1948.

Tackling Prejudice on September 23 are three absorbing films based on novels about anti-Semitism: Laura Z. Hobson’s GentlemanÕs Agreement (1947); Crossfire (1947), based on John Paxton’s 1945 novel The Brick Foxhole; and Arthur Miller’s Focus (2001, TCM premiere). A fourth film, The House of Rothschild (1934), was taken from George Hembert Westley’s play about the celebrated Jewish banking family and its struggles for dignity and equality in the European financial world.

Among Coming-of-Age stories on September 30 are The Young Lions (1958), with Montgomery Clift as a soldier coming to grips with anti-Semitism during World War II; The Way We Were (1973) with Barbra Streisand as a Marxist Jew who shares a bittersweet romance with a handsome Gentile (Robert Redford); and Hearts of the West (1975), with Jeff Bridges and Alan Arkin in a comedy about a young writer who stumbles into a career as a cowboy star.

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