Matzah Is the Bread of Freedom Precisely Because It Is the Bread of Affliction

March 18 2021

While there can be no doubt about the centrality of unleavened bread to Passover, its meaning is not at all straightforward. The Torah itself calls it the “bread of affliction,” but elsewhere implies that it is in fact a symbol of freedom. While some rabbis have claimed this paradox is fundamental to understanding matzah, others, writes Shalom Carmy, see no paradox at all:

Rabbi Judah Loew, the late-16th-century rabbi of Prague, known by the acronym Maharal, . . . rejected the idea that matzah can represent two conflicting themes, namely, liberation and enslavement. . . . To the [Maharal], matzah is the simplest kind of bread. Quickly prepared, it is dough and water and nothing else. In the Maharal’s opinion, nothing is more emblematic of freedom than a simple food of this sort, the very opposite of luxury and superfluity, which so easily weighs us down with the cares of this world.

[W]hen I taught a course on the Maharal last spring, I was in for a surprise. His claim that matzah, precisely as the food of simplicity, is the quintessential bread of freedom provoked vigorous resistance among my students. In their minds, freedom is predicated on not being bound by material constraints. Necessity is the great enemy of doing as one pleases. It is not hard to recognize that the life of a poor but saintly person is morally more authentic and religiously richer than that of those who enjoy greater material resources. Yet doesn’t poverty enslave one to exigency and dearth? How can a life held hostage to need possibly be freer than one that has the option of material comfort?

I demurred. Maharal is not focusing on the desperation of penury—matzah, for all its lack of culinary sophistication, is physically nourishing. What he stresses is that life conducted with simplicity is unencumbered by preoccupation with material acquisition and consumption. In that sense, it enables and expresses a freedom not available to those possessed by their wealth and possessions.

Can this awareness help us move toward the kind of unencumbered existence that Maharal associates with the liberation of Exodus? . . . The story of Passover is not only about God redeeming our ancestors from Egyptian slavery. He redeemed their descendants along with them. The challenge of spiritual and moral liberation confronts us today no less than then. The simplicity of the unleavened bread can be a starting point, a powerful reminder that what we need is often far less than what we want. It is a recognition that frees us to enter into what God gives.

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Read more at First Things

More about: Freedom, Judaism, Maharal, Matzah, Passover

 

Reforms to Israel’s Judiciary Must Be Carefully Calibrated

The central topic of debate in Israel now is the new coalition government’s proposed reforms of the nation’s judiciary and unwritten constitution. Peter Berkowitz agrees that reform is necessary, but that “the proper scope and pace of reform, however, are open to debate and must be carefully calibrated.”

In particular, Berkowitz argues,

to preserve political cohesiveness, substantial changes to the structure of the Israeli regime must earn support that extends beyond these partisan divisions.

In a deft analysis of the conservative spirit in Israel, bestselling author Micah Goodman warns in the Hebrew language newspaper Makor Rishon that unintended consequences flowing from the constitutional counterrevolution are likely to intensify political instability. When a center-left coalition returns to power, Goodman points out, it may well repeal through a simple majority vote the major changes Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition seeks to enact. Or it may use the legislature’s expanded powers, say, to ram through laws that impair the religious liberty of the ultra-Orthodox. Either way, in a torn nation, constitutional counterrevolution amplifies division.

Conservatives make a compelling case that balance must be restored to the separation of powers in Israel. A prudent concern for the need to harmonize Israel’s free, democratic, and Jewish character counsels deliberation in the pursuit of necessary constitutional reform.

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Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Judicial Reform