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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Passover 2014

Posted on April 14, 2014 at 8:00 am

Hag Sameach! Passover is not just about remembering the story of the Exodus from Egypt. It is about telling the story.  The word “haggadah,” the name of the book we read aloud every year at the meal (seder) to remember what happened and help make it real to us, means “story.”

Thousands of years before people talked about “learning styles,” the seder included many different ways of telling the story, so that everyone would be included, and everyone would feel the power of the journey toward freedom. The Haggadah makes the story come alive through taste, smell, and touch as well as sight and hearing, and through the example of the four sons it presents the story to the wise, the simple, the skeptic, and most especially to the young — one of the highlights of each Seder is when the youngest person present asks the traditional four questions, beginning with “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

If they had known about movies back in the time of Moses, they would have included that form of story-telling, too. For younger children, The Prince of Egypt and Joseph – King of Dreams are a very good introduction to the story of how the Jews came to live in Egypt and how Moses led them out of slavery. Shalom Sesame: It’s Passover, Grover! is a great introduction to the holiday for preschoolers.  Children may also enjoy Chanuka & Passover at Bubbe’sOut of Egypt – The Passover Story and The Passover, which explains all of the elements of the seder.

Older children and adults will appreciate Charlton Heston’s The Ten Commandments and the more recent versions of the story, starring Burt Lancaster, and Ben Kingsley.
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