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Passover is the most popular of all Jewish holidays. It is the greatest of the Jewish festivals. It is the oldest of the Jewish festivals, and it is the most universally observed Jewish festival.
The rich Seder pageantry, with its appeal to the young and the old, the display of sparkling dishes, the traditional gourmet meals, the family reunions, and the general gay and festive atmosphere, all combine to create a charm and exuberance unparalleled on other occasions.
Passover began as a tribal and family celebration, became a temple event both in the first and second temples, and, after the destruction of the second temple returned to a family event.
Memes are units of cultural information, comparable in their effects on behavior, to those of chemically coded instructions contained in the genes. Memes are passed from one generation to the next by example, communication, and imitation. Memes, once created, are independent of their creator and have a life of their own. Passover is a meme. Our behavior, under control of a meme becomes automatic. It controls us rather than our controlling it. We tend to believe our current version of a meme existed from the beginning of the meme.
Passover was shaped as a meme over thousands of years, in a large part by very Orthodox Jews. We face the challenge of how should we modify the Passover meme from a Humanistic Jewish viewpoint for ourselves and for future generations of Jews.
Festivals change and develop in accordance with various modes of life and periods of history. Holidays usually start as nature festivals and are observed in that season of the year when nature itself changes. Later however when people reach a higher cultural
When we celebrate Passover we are committing ourselves to an unending struggle for freedom from oppression for all people. We recognize that the myths we recite (the Exodus) and the symbols we use, food, wine, matzoth, are just a legend - a legend that brings an historically proven methodology of inculcating and teaching that pursuit of freedom meme into all peoples, not only Jews.
It behooves us to address the issues of our times, and add our version to the festival. We then will pass that modified meme on to future generations. In order to remain vital, the past must be capable of being revitalized by every generation expressing its own fears and hopes in telling the stories of their forefathers.
This is precisely the point made in the Haggadah story of the rabbis meeting in B'nai B'rak and discussing the Passover issues all night. The rabbis were in fact the leaders of the Bar Kocha rebellion against Rome, and they spent the evening planning the rebellion. They in turn made modifications to the Passover festival.
Some leaders of the American Revolution saw their situation similar to that of the Israelites in ancient Egypt. Thus they chose for the seal of the Declaration of Independence, a scene depicting Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt, and they added the motto "To Rise Against Tyranny Is To Walk In The Way Of God".
Negro slaves saw their plight reflected in the biblical story of the Exodus which included an injunction against slavery. So they sang: "When Israel Was In Egypt Land- Let My People Go."
More than 100 years of determined and immensely expensive historical research and archaeological quest in the Nile delta have not yielded one single shred of verification of Jewish origins and the Exodus. No record of this monumental event appears in Egyptian chronicles of the time. Israeli archeologists combing the Sinai during intense searches from 1967 to 1982 did not find a single piece of evidence backing the Israelites' supposed 40 year sojourn in the desert.
A legend is as unverifiable popular story, handed down from earlier times, and may in
fact be developed out of an ancient myth. There was a cultural pattern in the Near East
in primitive times for spring festivals that included:
Wearing of new clothes
The exchange of gifts.
Sacrifice and feasting
Recital of epics of creation of the world and human kind.
Rites of purification
A going out of the city to open country.
Food has to be eaten in haste so that it is pure and free of fermentation.
impurity that may inadvertently have been consumed.
The recementing of the bonds of kindship and community by "breaking bread together:"
The first born belongs to the Gods
Primitive man, at the new year, is preoccupied with the coming year with hope and anxiety. There is a desire for continuity in the orderly benevolence of nature. It is necessary to approach and exert pressure upon the powers that govern the order of the universe and to maintain friendly relations with them.
The ritual is directed towards a special divinity, it must be held on a fixed date, and at a certain shrine. It is preceded by ceremonies of purification and all who participate, including the animal victims, are ritually clean.
The ritual is an assembly attended by all male adults, and this assembly is regarded as a mustering for military as well as for religious purposes. The people are divided into tribes, and the tribes into families. The people are led by a chief. There is a recital of the myths of Creation and the legends of the beginning of the tribe. There is also ritual dancing, and finally there is an exodus into the desert.
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