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Saturday, April 12, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Rabbi Mark Glickman

Passover seders are out of place in churches

Special to The Seattle Times

Next Saturday night, Jews will gather in our homes to celebrate the Passover Seder. This ancient ritual — involving song, ceremony and copious amounts of food — will allow us to recall and relive our ancestors' exodus from Egyptian slavery, and to renew our pledge to work as God's partners in building a world of freedom and peace for all people.

The Seder, of course, is a Jewish event — an expression and celebration of the relationship between God and our people. This is why I find it so baffling that so many churches conduct "Seders" at this time of year. And as Christian events, no less!

"The Last Supper" was a Passover Seder, they argue, "so our church Seder is a celebration of an event in the life of Christ."

"The Seder celebrates God's salvation," they add, "and pursuing salvation lies at the very heart of Christianity. Our church Seder is therefore perfectly appropriate."

Neither argument works. For starters, the Last Supper couldn't have been a Passover Seder, because the Passover Seder didn't exist until several decades after Jesus' death. There were Passover celebrations during his day, of course, but the particular liturgy and ritual of the Seder was a response to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in the year 70, and it wasn't finalized until sometime during the third century.

What's more — and to be perfectly honest — the Seder developed, in part, as an anti-Christian polemic — a "slam" on the then-new and growing religion called Christianity. Such religious critique is all but absent from contemporary Seders, but the anti-Christian roots of the event are unmistakable.

A church Seder is thus a Christian event rooted in anti-Christianity. It makes about as much sense as a GOP rally for Barack Obama or a symphony boosters fundraiser for punk rock.

Furthermore, while it is true that the Seder celebrates salvation, it celebrates salvation as Jews understand it, which is quite different from the Christian concept.

In Judaism, salvation happens here in this world, not in heaven; in Judaism, we achieve salvation through the performance of the sacred acts God commanded of us, not through belief; in Judaism, salvation is always collective and never individual. And it is this Jewish notion of salvation that the Seder celebrates — not the Christian one.

Perhaps I shouldn't be so critical. After all, Christianity was founded on a repackaging of Judaism — on new understandings of Jewish scripture and values. Christians turn to the Hebrew Bible as their "Old Testament," after all. And while I disagree with many Christian understandings of the Bible, I can certainly live with, and even celebrate, their embrace of it as a sacred text.

But the Seder is different. It's one thing for Jews and Christians to diverge in our understanding of certain elements of our shared past, as we do with the Bible. But, having chosen to leave the Jewish fold, it strikes me as disingenuous for Christianity to reach back into Judaism to co-opt Jewish rituals that developed only after we split.

The Passover Seder is a delightful celebration. To see for yourself, ask a Jewish friend if they or someone they know might have an extra place at their Seder table this year. In all likelihood, there will be great food, terrific music and a warm, lively spirit around the table. Plus, unlike Christian events that go by the same name, this celebration will be a real Seder, a sacred Jewish celebration of our past and future journeys toward redemption.

Rabbi Mark S. Glickman leads Congregation Kol Shalom on Bainbridge Island and Congregation Kol Ami in Woodinville. Readers may send feedback to faithcolumns@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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