I believe that as a Christian, I am also a Jew. Christ was born, lived, and died as a Jew. Curiosity brings me to question why Christians don’t include Jewish traditions in their religious observations. As a Catholic I find my fellow Catholic believers biblically deficient. They seem to give the Old Testament a token nod of acknowledgment only as a precursor to Christ. I find the deliberate omission of Jewish traditions counter-productive to being a Christian. Easter Holy Week dwells on the death of Christ; reliving it through three days of gospel “Passion” readings. The relentless repetitive readings are supposed to bring the savior’s final agony closer to his ultimate victorious resurrection on Easter Sunday. It is the Catholic’s version of “closure” to the death on the cross. We want to go through it. We feel an urge to empathize with his pain; resurrection notwithstanding. “Passion” readings inadvertently relive the alleged “brutality” of Jews demanding Christ’s death. Although dissimilar in many ways, the four gospels’ common denominator remains Jesus’ death. The “Jews” were the villains. Having said that, I will go out on a limb and surmise that early Christianity might have wanted to distance itself from this Jewish “connection”.
The celebration of Passover or Pesach is a reminder of God’s love for his Chosen People. God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian tyranny and slavery. It is a bitter sweet celebration of love and hardship. Passover is the triumph of good over evil. God’s final punishment and incentive to set the Israelites free was the killing of every first born child. But God saved the Israelites’ by “passing over” their homes and not subjecting them to the last “plague”. Hence: Passover. God asked his Chosen People to commemorate the end of slavery, and most important; how it was made possible. The eight-day celebration coincides with Spring and with the Christian Easter season. Coincidence? Not really. In Acts 12: 1-4, King Herod is said to have persecuted Christians; including James, one of Jesus’ apostles. The persecution “pleased the Jews” and incited Herod to round up Peter for good measure. It happened on the Feast of Unleavened Bread; Passover. The St. James Bible version of the same text substituted Feast of Unleavened Bread with Easter; giving Passover Christian legitimacy. So why do Christians still ignore Passover? Why not include Passover in Easter observations? Is it payback?
Connecting historical biblical dots between Judaism and Christianity may be difficult for some. Historically, Jews have been persecuted; check out the Inquisition. For millennia they were scapegoats for Christ’s death. But we tend to overlook political significance in Christ’s death. Living under Roman rule was not easy. Power and politics are always a dangerous combination. Politicians rarely define the common citizen. The temple “priests” of that time were no different. They played the political game with the Romans to retain power, and often misrepresented common folk. Jesus became a liability through his rebellious nature; he would not conform. He appealed to the downtrodden and those ignored by the religious and political elite. These Jews were the “deplorable” of their time. They eventually became the Christian founders who logically would have kept their Jewish traditions. So how did Christians lose this Judeo-Christian connection?
I own two Hanukiahs and love to celebrate Hanukkah. One time or another I have been known to pack and transport a Hanukiah when on vacation in December. Call it nuts; but I am endeared to an observance that celebrates a miracle. It is also a biblical event directly correlated to what I fondly call: my Jewish heritage. As a Christian, it gives my Christmas spirit a boost. Two miracles in one month: the birth of Jesus and the miracle of oil burning for eight days. Who could ask for more? Why not embrace the best of both worlds? It shames me to confess that fellow Christians, especially Catholics, are biblically ignorant past Genesis. I must also confess that if it were not for my trip to Israel I would have joined the similar ranks of Catholic biblical ignoramus. Israel made me realize that my faith goes way beyond the cross. It goes back 3,000 years when a covenant was made between God and his Chosen People. By virtue of my Christian-Judeo faith heritage; I am part of that covenant and promise to God. If I am to stand by my own conviction that Christ was born a Jew and died as one; than logically and as a Christian I should celebrate Passover.
Some might call this a leap of faith across a very wide chasm of religious supposition and hypothesis. I am sure that just as many Christians may find my reasoning somewhat over reaching; fellow Jewish brothers and sisters might shake their heads and utter “Oy Vey!” But I submit to both sides that celebrating biblical Jewish traditions does not diminish my Christian faith, but enhances it. As a Jew, Jesus celebrated all Jewish traditions to include Passover. The Last Supper we observe on Maundy Thursday was the Seder supper and part of the Passover rituals. Historians are of the thought that as early Christians travelled across various lands to preach and convert; they realized that they had to simplify their teachings to minimize confusion. It is sad to say that some Christians might have developed strong anti-Semitic feelings by virtue of their belief that Jews were solely to blame for Christ’s death. During the reformation, Martin Luther expected Jews to convert to his reformed Christianity. When that did not happen he turned anti-Semitic and published his odious thesis: “On the Jews & Their Lies”. This book was protagonist to Hitler’s justification of the Holocaust.
Technology might be the answer to the merging of Judeo-Christian traditions. Social media has opened a world of information and possibilities to those who otherwise would not have had access other than a library book. This generation seems to be more open to change than our generation or that of our parents. They seem to embrace emotional connections more than we ever did. Social media reaches far beyond our immediate neighborhoods. It is exposing everyone to cultures, beliefs, and experiences unattainable in our time. In Israel I felt closer to God and to my faith. Praying at the Western Wall made me realize that there was more of a Jew in me than I had previously thought. It was that closeness to God at a predominant Jewish “shrine” that urged me to pursue and learn about the significance of Passover and other Jewish observances. It does not make me less of a Christian, it just turns up the volume on my faith. As I shared my Israel faith experience on social media, I discovered that others opened up to the possibility that being a Christian does not exclude one from biblical Judeo traditions. Thanks to Google, I have learned how to celebrate Pesach correctly. So: my lamb is bought, my house is cleaned, the Chametz is gone, and my matzah is ready: this Christian is prepared for Passover. Sameach Pesach!