Is it Still a Seder if Jesus is Invited?
Frume Sarah likes order. Everything according to its rightful time. So even though this post has been percolating since last week, it would have gone against the natural order to address it until after Purim. But with Pesach looming…
So there I was, driving to shul last week, when I heard an interview on Larry Mantle that nearly caused me to drive off the road. The interviewees were promoting how successfully an interfaith marriage can work, especially when exposing the children to both religions. The couple? Cokie and Steve Roberts. Promoting their new book. Our Haggadah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families.
They are everywhere these days, it seems. The book is getting a lot of press. They are both highly respected journalists and authors and, I believe, their credentials have a great deal to do with the success of the book.
So what’s my problem? Or, shall I say, problems?
Oh where to begin.
First of all, a seder is a religious ritual that is part of the Passover observance. Passover is one of the three pilgrimage festivals and is one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar. It is much more than a meal. And each part of the seder has historical and religious significance.
While non-Jewish friends and family members ought to be welcomed to the seder table, the service itself loses its religious potency when mixed with interpretations, practices, and readings that hold theological meaning in other faith traditions. So while it might be an interesting fact, for example, that the historical Jesus observed some type of Passover seder, that point belongs in a world religion class and not during the Jewish ritual.
An interfaith marriage presupposes that it is a union between two individuals who practice differing faiths. In the case of Cokie and Steve Roberts, only one of the two is a practicing member of a religion. Cokie is a committed and knowledgeable Catholic while Steve lightheartedly quips about his family’s Judaism being defined by the non-Jews who treated them badly in Europe. There does not seem to be a great deal of connection between Steve and Judaism. Even with the food that is served. The meal reflects not the Jewish origins of Steve’s family, but of Jews around the world. Again, a wonderful subject for a class on “Jewish Foods Around the World,” but not the right way to go in one’s home. After all, one of the many goals of the seder is to connect us with our past. And food is a very effective vehicle. For example, my children will never know my paternal grandmother, Selma, z”l, for she died when their Tante PepGiraffe, Uncle JockBro, and I were quite young. Though they hear stories about her, it is through her sponge-cake, which we eat only during Pesach, that lends an air of reality to the stories and hazy photographs. If all of the foods that were served came not from family recipes but from other sources, those familial bonds are weakened.
As for rearing their children with both. I submit that their children were, in fact, reared with neither. While the kids were certainly exposed to certain cultural traditions from their Catholic mother and their Jewish father, it does not appear as though they were raised with any theology. Which is often, though not always, the case.
This book is fine for those families who wish to create some type of inclusive seasonal meal. For those who are concerned with the continuity of Judaism, it falls short. I reiterate my earlier statement that non-Jewish friends and family can and should be welcomed to authentic seders. As our guests. Involved guests, if they are so comfortable. But once other theological similarities, viewpoints, meanings are introduced, the authenticity is compromised.