What Exactly Is the Freedom Celebrated on Passover?

April 23 2019

The Hebrew word for “freedom,” ḥerut, appears prominently in the Passover liturgy and in the Haggadah, but nowhere in the Bible. Nor do equivalent biblical Hebrew terms occur anywhere in the Bible’s telling of the Exodus story. To resolve this paradox, Yehoshua Pfeffer argues that the Torah does not view the purpose of redemption from Egyptian bondage to be liberation, but rather the actualization of the covenant between God and Israel:

[I]n the Jewish tradition, liberty is not presented as an independent value, but rather as a crucial means by which to achieve an ultimate end. This end is not the freedom to choose, but the choice of forming relationships with others—relationships that involve duty, responsibility, and fidelity. The relationship, with all it entails, is the end. Freedom is merely the means.

The Torah [seeks to create] elevated relationships—first and foremost between each person and God, but also relationships between a person and his family, friends, and acquaintances. The greatest principle of the Torah, stated Rabbi Akiva, is that of “love your fellow as yourself.” A necessary precondition for fulfilling this principle is liberty; a coerced relationship cannot be classified as a relationship, let alone one of love. The end, however, is the relationship rather than the liberty.

Before the Jews entered into their relationship with God, they first had to be redeemed from Egyptian bondage and oppression. Somebody who lives under an external yoke cannot make a covenant with others; he cannot commit himself to the duties and fidelity that true relationships demand, for his duty and fidelity are not his to allocate. The Talmud states in this spirit that a slave cannot fully enter into matrimony; . . . he lacks the most basic tool required for human relationships.

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More about: Exodus, Hebrew Bible, Passover

With Talk of Annexation, Benny Gantz Sends a Message to the U.S.

Jan. 24 2020

On Tuesday, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, who is campaigning for a third time to oust Benjamin Netanyahu from the Israeli premiership, announced that if elected he will seek to annex the Jordan Valley. He added the important caveat that he wants to do so “in coordination with the international community”—a promise that, as many have pointed out, is nearly impossible to fulfill. While it is easy to speculate about the political calculations behind this pledge, Jonathan Tobin suggests that it is also intended as a message to American liberals:

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More about: Benny Gantz, Democrats, Israeli Election 2020, Jordan Valley, U.S. Politics