The Chassidic masters explain that matzah represents humility and self-negation, as matzah is flat, simple and unassuming, whereas chametz (product of leavened grain) signifies vanity and egotism, as symbolized by the fermentation and bloated texture of chametz. When the Children of Israel prepared to depart from Egypt, they humbled themselves to the commands of God and uncompromisingly submitted to His directives, despite their inability to fully appreciate all that was being charged to them at the time. Slaughtering the deities of Egypt, rushing through the Pesach meal and girded to scurry out of the country at midnight, adhering to new and stringent dictates in the face of local animus – it was all quite a challenge. Yet that is what Passover is about, as our nation was freed from enslavement to human beings and entered into a redemptive form of servitude to the Almighty, who lovingly saved us and brought us close to Him.
It is thus always disturbing to read of ideas and observances whose authors and promoters claim are in the spirit of Passover yet so clearly contravene the message and values of Passover, and rather than embodying service of God embody service of self.
Unfortunately, several prominent Open Orthodox leaders have once again shown how far their denomination has strayed from Orthodox/Torah Judaism of any form. On the day before Passover, a celebrity Open Orthodox rabbi appealed to us to exclude a section of the Haggadah:
Friends, please consider omitting the passage שְׁפֹךְ חֲמָתְךָ (asking G-d to pour wrath) in the Haggadah this year. This was a justifiable addition in the past (added during the oppressive Crusades) & anti-Semitism is certainly still alive today, but our prayers today, need to focus on peace, justice, love, & healing. This is a powerful moment in the Haggadah to feel a little pain, pray for strength, and meditate on our crucial moral leadership role in our un-redeemed world. We are to take the high road & not hide behind prayers of old laden with anger & hate, justifiable then (in powerlessness & isolation) but potentially dangerous today (in an era of power & inter-dependence).
Aside from the fact that this section of the Haggadah, as explained by Rav Soloveitchik, bears the message of the Aleinu prayer – that all nations recognize the authority of God and that that those who manifest evil and frustrate the Divine Will be removed – it is stunning that a rabbi, in the name of Orthodoxy, exhorts people to delete this portion, or any portion, of the Haggadah.
Another top-tier Open Orthodox rabbi, after discrediting the Sages of the Talmud who spent Passover night in halachic discussion as “elitists” whose actions have been rejected, just postulated that we insert our own characters and values into the Haggadah:
Through retelling we make the story our own. We decide what to emphasize and what to leave out; we tell it in a way that makes us a part of the telling… It is the bringing of the fullness of our selves – our experiences, values, worldview, questions, critical thought, and faith – into conversation with God’s Torah. What results is a Torah she’b’al peh, a Torah that is both God’s and our own.
That is why the characters of the Haggadah are not Moshe, Aharon and Pharoah. The characters of the Haggadah are Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Tarfon, Rabbi Akiva, and all those who were a part of explicating the Haggadah, all those who found themselves in the story. The key question this night is, can we engage and retell the story in such a way that we, too, will become characters in the Haggadah?…This night, we must all make the story our own…
I don’t know which Haggadah text this rabbi uses, but all of my dozens of different Haggadahs feature the Passover story as per the traditional Midrashic exposition and the words of the Sages; no one imposed his own personality or values into the text or its rendition. The explanation of the Open Orthodox rabbi, as was sort of to be expected, signals the imposition of something foreign into the Haggadah, which otherwise is an objective, holy and timeless text with a very clear message that needs no remaking or reforming from the perspective of an alternative worldview.
Shortly before Passover, this same Open Orthodox rabbi, along with a sex therapist and an Open Orthodox rabbinical student, presented the third installment in a very graphic series of podcasts about Judaism and sex:
In this episode, Dr. Marcus and Rabbi Linzer tackle female masturbation and interview Miryam Kabakov about Eshel, a group for LGBT Orthodox Jews. In the Q&A: is it permissible to talk “dirty?” This episode was recorded live at Limmud NY.
2 Q&A episode! Pre-Marital Condom Use, Sneaking Out to the Mikvah.
1 Sexual Fantasy, Concealing Abuse, Kama Sutra (illustrated sex) cards and vibrators.
Although these topics can be very legitimately important to many people, Orthodox/Torah tradition shuns and strongly disapproves of their discussion in the open (along with audience giggles and cavalier, light sex humor).
Immediately before Passover, the leading halachist of Open Orthodoxy issued a lengthy responsum that permits and even encourages breastfeeding in the synagogue, including in the open presence of men at prayer (such in the case of a woman who is temporarily in the men’s section of the synagogue), when the men will view the woman’s exposed breasts before and after feeding. Aside from the fact that the responsum is loaded with assumptions and extrapolations – the basis for the responsum is the halachic sanction to recite the blessings for a bris in the presence of the momentarily unclothed infant who is about to be circumcised – and aside from the fact that the repsonsum’s conclusion is violative of uniform Orthodox practice and clearly contradicts the rulings in Shulchan Aruch/Code of Jewish Law Orach Chaim chapter 75 and chapter 90, paragraph 26 (as the responsum posits that temporary viewing of adult nudity during prayer is permissible, whereas the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries make no such exception in their discussions of the prohibition of prayer in the presence of those who are not fully clothed), the issuance of the responsum at the commencement of Passover speaks volumes about its clash with the message of the holiday, which exudes the values of tradition, humility, modesty and the meticulously careful handling of Halacha.
Rav Soloveitchik explained that Passover represents the struggle of the Jew to free himself of inclinations that are not in consonance with the Torah. Bi’ur chamtez, eradicating leavened grain product, symbolizes the elimination of tendencies that pull one away from the Will of God.
Let us recommit ourselves to Mesorah/Torah Tradition and pray that the true and authentic messages of Passover be promulgated and integrated into us all.