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Is it Still a Seder if Jesus is Invited?

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Photo courtesy of FLBL

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.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. The Nudnik permalink
    Tuesday, 22 March 2011 6:53 am

    I read the book by Cokie and Steve Roberts about marriage, in which they described their wedding ceremony. Certainly, Cokie Boggs Roberts is much more a Catholic than Steven V. Roberts is a Jew.

    From where I stand, it is not possible for a Jew to whom his or her Judaism is important to marry a non-Jew.

    • MARK permalink
      Monday, 18 April 2011 12:47 pm


      • Frume Sarah permalink*
        Monday, 18 April 2011 2:55 pm

        We’re gonna need you to be more specific as there is nothing inherently hateful in what Nudnik said.

  2. Tuesday, 22 March 2011 9:25 am

    Thanks for the post, Frume Sarah! I laughed out loud when I read the title!!
    It seems to me that some Christians use Judaism to point to the created, salvific nature of Jesus, i.e. the Hebrew Scriptures fortell the coming of Jesus as “Messiah,” Pesach becomes a Christian celebration because it was the first “communion,” etc. While I am a big proponent of interfaith education I think it’s crucial that each tradition’s rituals/sacred texts stand seperate and apart from other traditions. Any attempt to combine two rituals and/or texts and assign them a singular meaning results in misunderstanding bordering disrespect.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 18 April 2011 2:55 pm

      I clearly agree with you.

  3. Becky permalink
    Tuesday, 22 March 2011 11:00 am

    Thank you!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 18 April 2011 2:55 pm

      My pleasure.

  4. Tuesday, 22 March 2011 12:41 pm

    I’m a lurker, I’m a Catholic and I quite agree.

    In passing a Priest once related a conversation he’d had in a Catholic school with a little girl who related that *she* was being raised Catholic, like her mom, and her *brother* was being raised Jewish like her dad – both parents, still married, thought this was a good “compromise.”

    One is left with the sense that neither parent found their own religion terribly important, because it was something to compromise on – or maybe, something to be compromised.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 18 April 2011 2:57 pm

      Oy to the voy, as my friend Liz says.

      The first time that I heard of this “compromise” was on Little House of the Prairie when Nellie and Percival made a similar choice with their twins.

      Needless to say, this type of arrangement makes no sense.

  5. Tuesday, 22 March 2011 10:32 pm

    Thank you for this blog post. I totally agree. I wish everybody a Chag Semeach I also think that if Judaism is important to you, you would want a Jewish home.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 18 April 2011 2:59 pm

      I agree. The question, or challenge, is in the creation of the Jewish home. I know plenty of Jewish homes that include a non-Jewish parent/spouse/partner.

      Which is totally different from the type of home created by the Roberts.

      Chag Sameyach!

  6. Wednesday, 23 March 2011 3:18 am

    I was a little surprised by your statements about serving international Jewish foods: “Again, a wonderful subject for a class on “Jewish Foods Around the World,” but not the right way to go in one’s home.” I certainly understand your concerns with the theological integrity of this haggadah, but – a “right” way to plan your menu? Beyond the many limitations already proscribed by the Rabbis? I think whatever you can do to make your seder meal both delicious and kosher for passover – kol ha kavod! And if it’s your choice to serve the same foods as your family, good for you! But why add more have to’s to an already long and difficult list?

  7. Wednesday, 23 March 2011 6:08 am

    I’m going to agree with Amy here – our Seder meal highlights so many food traditions , many of which are a part of our family, and some are not. As my husband is half Italian (Catholic, not Jewish), and his Italian heritage is very important to him, we make sure to include dishes from the Jews of Italy, as well as my Ashkenazic background. We also make sure to try a new dish from a Jewish community we don’t know much about in order to celebrate every Jew’s liberation. We feel that too often non-Ashkenazic Jews are ignored, and we want it to be a part of our children’s education that all Jews are descendants of the freed Israelites – not just Eastern European Jews.

    I do not think that a Jewish Passover seder is a time for interfaith exploration, IMHO. However, I think adding foods from Jews around the world only highlights the extent of the freedom we have achieved.

  8. Wednesday, 23 March 2011 9:23 am

    To clarify — i have no problem with introducing other foods. In this particular case, the Roberts have chosen foods that, davka, do not reflect the cultural origins of the family. With one exception, at Cokie’s insistence, the food is purposely different.

    I apologize for not being clearer.

    • Wednesday, 23 March 2011 11:57 am

      Curious – haven’t read the book – what are Cokie’s food choices?

  9. Wednesday, 23 March 2011 6:31 pm

    Loved this post! People are so afraid to say or even insinuate some of the points you made. I’m so with you!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 18 April 2011 2:59 pm

      Thanks 😉

      And, why am I not surprised!!

  10. Thursday, 19 May 2011 8:27 pm

    I love reading you: well-spoken, talented writer, on-target, lacking venom. Perfect read…and I’m not even Jewish.

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