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The PC Make-Over of Passover By: Steven Plaut
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, April 05, 2004


In recent years, Passover has undergone a make-over in the American Jewish non-Orthodox community, one that has converted it largely into a holiday devoted to celebrating human rights, protesting a long list of human rights abuses and promoting fashionable causes. The remake seems designed to make Passover a cosmopolitan holiday, one with a universal message in which all can join, in essence the Jewish answer to the Declaration of the Rights of Man of the French Revolution.

Back in the 1960s, a series of Political Correctness Haggadahs were written, in which the message of Passover was turned into a celebration of the civil rights movement in the United States. Arthur Waskow, the guru of the Tikkun-"Renewal" crowd, wrote at the time a Black Liberation Passover Haggadah, celebrating black militants like the Black Panthers, who were themselves coincidentally calling at the time for the annihilation of Jews. Later Political Correctness Haggadahs were devoted to homosexual rights, women's liberation, and assorted other faddish causes, not least of which was Palestinian "liberation". No doubt, this year will see Abandon Iraq and Restore Saddam Haggadot or No War for Oil ones. "Multicultural" Passover seders became fashionable in some circles, in which the seder became a mixture of acclamations for human rights and freedom, taken from a wide variety of non-Jewish sources.

As yet another illustration, a few years back, the Passover cause celebre of American Jewish liberals was Tibet, with Tibetan officials invited to Passover seders, and where the leftist Religious Action Center (RAC) of the Reform synagogue movement called on Jews to hold Tibetan-freedom Passover seders in solidarity with Tibet. The RAC is devoted to the proposition that Jewish values are nothing more and nothing less than this year's leftist political fads, including gay "marriage", supporting affirmative action apartheid programs, and opposing all welfare reform. Its head, Rabbi David Saperstein was quoted with approval a few years back by the American Communist Party's weekly newspaper.

In all of these attempts to recast Passover as the celebration of human rights, the Professional Liberals of the American Jewish Establishment (or PLAJEs, for short) seem to be overlooking one little point. And that is that Passover has absolutely nothing to do with human rights and is not at all a celebration of human freedom. Not that there is anything wrong with celebrating human rights, mind you. I would certainly not object to creating such a holiday, and my personal preference would be to hold it on Hiroshima Day, the day in which the A-bomb saved countless human lives and created the conditions by which freedoms could be extended to many millions of oppressed Asians.

For the record, Passover is the celebration of Jewish national liberation. It is one of three such Jewish holidays devoted entirely to celebrating Jewish national liberation, the other two being Hannuka and Purim, and the only one with Torah foundations. It is not the celebration of generic civil rights, nor even the celebration of freedom and dignity for oppressed peoples around the globe. It is the celebration of Jews achieving national self-determination and taking their homeland back by force of arms.

The only role that human rights play in the story of Passover is in showing that, under certain circumstances, human rights may be trampled upon for the greater good - namely, for Jewish national liberation. In order to achieve Jewish national liberation, God ran roughshod over the human rights of the Egyptians. He afflicted them with a series of plagues. He then killed all Egyptian first-born. While Pharaoh no doubt deserved everything he got, the entire Egyptian people were completely innocent, hardly responsible for Pharaoh's human rights abuses, subjects of collateral damages. They paid the price for Pharaoh's crimes and God saw this as necessary and just. The innocent first-born of all these innocent Egyptian parents, no doubt themselves nearly as badly treated by Pharaoh as the Hebrew slaves, were killed. And while it is not clear, apparently the first-born of the non-Jewish slaves were also innocent victims. And then, even the first-born of the animals in Egypt were killed, a development that would no doubt have driven Professor Richard Schwartz and the animal rights movement to hysterical outrage. What on earth did those poor animals do to deserve such a punishment?

While all of the above involve the Almighty's decision to violate the legitimate human rights of the Egyptian people, human rights abuses in the Passover story are not restricted to the divine. The Jewish slaves, before taking to the road, also take away the wealth and savings of the Egyptian people. While Pharaoh no doubt owed them some back wages, this wealth was in essence being taken from the innocent Ordinary Egyptians, and not necessarily only from the yuppie upper classes.

Incidentally, The poor sons of Haman, the 75 thousand or so Persians who get killed and the others who have their property confiscated by the Jews according to the Scroll of Esther, and all those innocent Greek Seleucid Republican Guards getting knocked off by the Maccabee Green Berets are other examples of human rights going out the window when Jewish national liberation and independence is pursued.

Passover is, of course, hardly a glorification of these human rights abuses. It is simply a celebration of Jewish national liberation even when it was pre-conditioned upon a certain necessary amount of moral tradeoffs and realpolitik. The lesson is clear:  When there is no choice, squeamishness over the "human rights" of innocent people is out of place. The human rights of the Egyptians in the story of Exodus count for no more than the human rights of innocent Germans and Japanese getting the hell bombed out of them in World War II, or innocent residents of Baghdad getting bombed by the Coalition forces. Such things are necessary in the real world. Human rights sometimes need to be compromised to protect Jews and achieve Jewish self-determination and other goals.

All of which is of course lost upon all those self-righteous PLAJEs whining about Israel shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at the Arab rioters and the fascist Palestinian hordes. And the lesson that innocent humans sometimes must be abused and have their rights compromised will no doubt serve as a refreshing reminder for all those urchins marching in the current "peace marches" in solidarity with Saddam and Sheikh Yassin.

The real lesson of Passover is that Jewish national liberation and freedom does not come cheaply. The real world involves difficult choices and moral compromises and tradeoffs. Achieving a higher moral end often involves taking steps that would themselves be abusive or immoral on their own grounds, but are required in order to achieve the greater good. Such tradeoffs are the stuff with which moral posturers and self-righteous practitioners of recreational compassion cannot deal. It does not fit into their simplistic worldview and lazy armchair moralizing.

It is the great tragedy of the American Jewish community, or at least the non-Orthodox majority therein, that it is so overwhelmingly dominated by assimilated Professional Liberals and self-righteous practitioners of recreational liberal compassion, people whose understanding of political tradeoffs and public policy analysis never go any deeper than a good bumper sticker.


Steven Plaut is a professor at the Graduate School of the Business Administration at the University of Haifa and is a columnist for the Jewish Press. A collection of his commentaries on the current events in Israel can be found on his "blog" at www.stevenplaut.blogspot.com.


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