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

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.

Read more at First Things

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

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy