Angel Analysis

Angel Analysis

Feb 3, 2001 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Bo | Pesah

The Passover seder song, Had Gadya, is sung to a merry little tune that belies the violent content. Why this song is sung at Passover is the subject of varying interpretations, but one connection seems clear: malakh ha-mavet, the angel of death. After all wasn’t it the angel of death that slew the first-born of Egypt? Actually, it was not.

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The Right to Question

The Right to Question

Jan 15, 2000 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Bo | Pesah

The custom at many a Seder table is to have the youngest child recite the famous four questions which open the evening’s dialogue. Often the child, still several years away from knowing how to read, recites from memory, having learned them by heart in pre-school. The performance is more than a moment of pride for parents and grandparents. It is a taste of the spirit of Judaism which the child will only come to appreciate years later. Judaism is a religion that not only permits but encourages us to ask questions. Because things are sacred does not mean that we have forfeited the right to think for ourselves.

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Empathy for the Other

Empathy for the Other

Feb 7, 1998 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Beshallah | Pesah

It took God but six days to create the world; it took my mother at least twice that long to prepare for Passover. At the seder on the first night she would often doze contentedly from a mild case of exhaustion. Everything sparkled; nothing was out of place. The beauty of the table and the aromas coming from the kitchen attested to her toil and artistry. By turning ritual into a fine art, she enhanced the presence of God at our family seder.

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Trading Pharaoh for God?

Trading Pharaoh for God?

Jan 31, 1998 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Bo | Pesah

Everyone knows that four children are mentioned in the Passover Haggadah and that one of them is the evil child. Probably fewer of us are aware that the question attributed to this child is a biblical verse found in this week’s Torah portion, “What do you mean by this rite [avodah]? (Exodus 12:26). 

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4 Cups of Wine

4 Cups of Wine

Jan 11, 1997 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Va'era | Pesah

As envisioned by Rabbi Yehuda ben Tema at the end of the second century, the standard curriculum of a young Jew begins with the study of Bible at five, Mishna at ten and Talmud at fifteen. Age thirteen marks the transition to adulthood with the onset of obligatory adherence to the norms of Jewish life. Our parasha offers an instructive example of what this curriculum entailed, and a fleeting glimpse of the nature of rabbinic Judaism as a whole.

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The Sanctity of the Land

The Sanctity of the Land

Apr 30, 1994 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Emor | Pesah | Shavuot | Sukkot

At the new Jewish Museum one can feast on the panorama of Jewish history in a single spectacular, permanent exhibition, subtly conceived and brilliantly executed. It opens with a replica of an ancient agrarian calendar found in 1908 at Gezer, northwest of Jerusalem in the Shefela region. Written in good biblical Hebrew, the calendar seems to date from the 10th century B.C.E., coinciding with the reign of Solomon, when Gezer became part of the expanding monarchy of Israel. The calendar may not be anything more than a mnemonic ditty for children, and yet it is a cultural artifact of rich significance.

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Reconciling the Generations

Reconciling the Generations

Mar 26, 1994 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Shabbat Hagadol | Tzav | Pesah

My father died in 1982, some five weeks before Passover. Till then I had never conducted a seder, except for the two years I spent as an army chaplain at Fort Dix, New Jersey and Taigu, South Korea. The custom in the Schorsch family since time immemorial had been to celebrate the seders in the home of my parents. Each Passover my older sister and I, with spouses and children, would happily converge on that sacred space to hear our father sing, read, and talk his way through the Haggadah and to savor our mother’s delicious Passover menu. My mother died the following year and my sister and I, awash in memories, are now the older generation. Ten years later our families are larger and more widely dispersed and the rendezvous changes, but the tradition of an inclusive family seder has not unraveled. I have assumed my father’s mantle.

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Four Special Sabbaths

Four Special Sabbaths

Feb 19, 1994 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Shabbat Zakhor | Tetzavveh | Pesah

Judaism does not allow Passover to catch us by surprise. Long before its arrival, while the ground is still covered with snow, the Jewish calendar alerts us to its coming. A series of four special sabbaths prior to the month of Nisan (Passover begins on the full moon of the 15th of Nisan) picks up the liturgical pace of the synagogue service. After a long and largely monotonous winter, the pace quickens as we are brought to anticipate the renewal of nature and the redemption of Israel. In the words of our tradition, “With the coming of Adar (the month before Nisan), we indulge in more merrymaking.” The last month of the year (Nisan is the first) goes out in a flurry of festivity which transcends the celebration of Purim.

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Holidays

Holidays

By The Jewish Theological Seminary | Collected Resources | Hanukkah | Pesah | Purim | Rosh Hashanah | Shavuot | Shemini Atzeret | Simhat Torah | Sukkot | Tishah Be'av | Yom Hashoah | Yom Hazikaron-Yom Ha'atzma'ut | Yom Kippur

Explore these sources from scholars and students at JTS to enrich your holiday experience.

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Passover Learning

Passover Learning

Collected Video, Commentary, and more from JTS scholars to broaden the holiday of Pesah

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The Haggadah

The Haggadah

The order of the Seder is codified in the Haggadah. The text evolved over millennia, and varied regionally. The JTS Library has many illuminated and rare haggadot, including this manuscript which was found in the Cairo Geniza, marking the Seder rituals of the Jews of Palestine–note there are only two questions as opposed to four. […]

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