Passover and politics

A Passover Seder table setting

Passover is an opportunity for Jewish families to gather, pray and argue about politics. That last activity isn’t part of the official rituals, but it may be hard to avoid this year.

An election in Israel, President Donald Trump’s remarks to the Republican Jewish Coalition and congressional efforts to address anti-Semitism have exposed discord in the American Jewish community. Jews disagree on Trump’s presidency, the best path forward for Israel and whether the Democratic Party has done enough to support religious minorities.

At Passover, which begins April 19 this year, some Jews try to set politics aside, focusing instead on familial harmony.

“Passover is for celebrating the transcendent, the mysterious, the eternal, not rehashing worn-out political debates. It is a night to find new meaning in an old script, not to force the text into a preconceived political platform,” wrote Shmuel Rosner, a Jewish journalist, for The New York Times in 2017.

And yet other Jews see this holiday as a call to root out injustice in the world. In recent years, reflections on the Israelites’ escape from Egypt merged into discussions on the refugee crisis and immigration policies.

This edition of ReligionLink highlights Jewish leaders and scholars who can speak about the role politics plays in Passover celebrations.

Background reading

Potential sources

  • Jacob Blumenthal

    Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal leads Shaare Torah, a synagogue in Gaithersburg, Md. In July 2019, he will become chief executive of the Rabbinical Assembly, an international association for conservative rabbis.

  • Matthew E. Boxer

    Matthew E. Boxer is an assistant research professor of modern Jewish studies at Brandeis University, where he studies American Jewish life and identity.

  • Matthew Brooks

    Matthew Brooks is the chief executive officer of the Republican Jewish Coalition, a political organization working to strengthen ties between the Republican Party and American Jews.

  • Stosh Cotler

    Stosh Cotler is CEO of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, a liberal Jewish organization that combats conservative policies. Arrange an interview through Elliot Levy.

  • Nathan P. Devir

    Nathan P. Devir is an associate professor of Jewish studies, religious studies and comparative literature at the University of Utah, where he also directs the Middle East Center and Middle East studies program.

  • Marnie Fienberg

    Marnie Fienberg is the co-founder of 2 for Seder, which encourages Jews to invite at least two non-Jews to their Passover celebrations as a way to combat anti-Semitism. Her mother-in-law, Joyce Fienberg, died during the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018.

  • Jonathan Greenblatt

    Jonathan Greenblatt is the CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights watchdog organization with Jewish roots.

  • Rachel B. Gross

    Rachel B. Gross is an assistant professor of American Jewish studies at San Francisco State University. Her research interests include American religion, Jewish history and food.

  • David Halperin

    David Halperin is the executive director of the Israel Policy Forum, which advocates for a peaceful two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

  • Jill Jacobs

    Jill Jacobs is a Conservative rabbi and the executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, based in New York City. She has written and spoken about Trump administration policies and rising anti-Semitism in many outlets, including The Washington Post and NPR. Arrange an interview through Julie Wiener.

  • Rick Jacobs

    Rabbi Rick Jacobs is president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

  • Jack Moline

    Rabbi Jack Moline is president of Interfaith Alliance in Washington, D.C., as well as an adjunct faculty member of the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Virginia Theological Seminary. He’s spent much of his career creating common ground between people of diverse religious and secular backgrounds and speaks out often on religious freedom issues and faith-related policies.

  • Yisrael Motzen

    Rabbi Yisrael Motzen leads Ner Tamid, a modern Orthodox synagogue in Baltimore.

  • Elizabeth Pipko

    Elizabeth Pipko is founder and president of the Exodus Movement, a conservative organization for Jews who left the Democratic Party. She worked on President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

  • Maurice Samuels

    Maurice Samuels is a French professor at Yale University, where he also directs the Yale Program for the Study of Antisemitism.

  • Halie Soifer

    Halie Soifer is executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America. She previously served as national security adviser for Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

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