A Godless Passover

What it means to celebrate a humanistic Passover.

It’s only fitting for two religions to celebrate Passover. For me, Passover represents twos.

It’s false and true, disgusting and uplifting, religious and secular, traditional and nontraditional.

There is no historical or archaeological evidence that Moses existed, that Israelites were slaves in Egypt, or that they wandered in the desert for 40 years. And that’s the good news, because the Passover story of the Exodus is inhumane: God brought 10 plagues to Egypt, the last of which was killing innocent first-born Egyptian sons. God also told the Israelites to kill a lamb and put its blood on their doors so God would know not to kill first-born Israeli sons. (You’d think an all-knowing God would know where the Israelites lived without blood markers.) The traditional God of both Judaism and Christianity thrives on and even requires the blood sacrifice of innocent animals and humans. God provided an escape route from Egypt for the Israelites by parting a sea and drowning all the Egyptians in pursuit. These Israelites escaped, only to die in the desert, but their descendents reached the Promised Land by killing inhabitants along the way. I don’t care to participate in a Passover Seder meal where we tell this story and thank God for what He did for His “chosen” people.

Yet I still celebrate Passover, though not the one above, as in my youth. For me now, Passover is more about the present and future than about the past. The Society for Humanistic Judaism, one of 10 member organizations of the Secular Coalition for America, offers a godless Haggadah (book read during the Passover meal) that is consistent with my views.

In our humanistic Passover celebrations, we emphasize the themes of human freedom and dignity, the power of humans to change their destiny, and the power of hope. We recognize the struggles of millions of people to overcome oppression and achieve freedom and equality. We also look for ways to do our small part.

Here in South Carolina, celebrations abound to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War (the “War of Northern Aggression”). For some who remain Confederate sympathizers, the war was about the freedom of states to make decisions without federal interference. Our humanistic Passover celebration focuses on how the Civil War helped bring freedom to African-American slaves, and what we can do to promote equality and racial tolerance in our community.

Most Seders have traditional foods that symbolize real or imagined events. Several years ago, I attended a humanistic Seder in which a nontraditional orange was placed at the center of the table. When I questioned our leader about the orange, Leah explained that as a young girl she had asked her father when she could lead a Seder. He answered, “You, lead a Seder? Hah! A woman will conduct a Seder when there is an orange on the Seder table.” Mission accomplished! Interestingly, an orange is now placed on some Seder tables to represent the historical marginalization of gays and lesbians.

Traditions are important, but sometimes need a transformation to become meaningful.

My current tradition and Passover hope is that humans will work to bring peace to the world, equality to the marginalized, and freedom to the enslaved.

Image via Karen.

Herb Silverman
Written by