The Seder Is Not the Time to Apologize for the Defeat of the Egyptians

March 26 2021

At the Passover seder, there is a venerable custom for each participant to dab some wine out of his cup with a finger at the mention of each of the ten plagues. Stuart Halpern notes that the widely quoted explanation for this practice has no basis in traditional texts:

The familiar and inevitable answer [as to why we remove the wine] is some variation of “we diminish the joy of our liberation because of the pain the Egyptians endured during the plagues.” We are being taught not to lift a full cup of liberation if it isn’t tempered by a measure of sorrow for what our enemies have lost. . . . “It must be,” goes the refrain, “that we temper the recitation of triumphant singing by the winners as a sign of respect for the Egyptians, who lost.” As they say on the playground, “Be a good sport.”

Yet as Halpern demonstrates, although the practice dates back at least to the 13th century, generating a variety of suggestions as to why it is done, the now-standard rationale originated in the work of a German rabbi named Eduard Baneth, who died in 1930. Halpern adds:

Whatever its provenance, the empathetic explanation of drips of wine reminding us of Egyptian suffering appealed to the universalistic sensibilities of American Jews.

Much ink, let alone wine, has been spilled in wrestling with how best to express relief in a divine salvation that necessitated the death of others. Perhaps the impulse to empathize with the Egyptians who drowned in the Sea of Reeds springs from too distanced an attitude toward our own suffering, a failure to internalize the injunction to regard oneself as having been a slave in Egypt. It is easier to forgive what you can’t really remember. Indeed, one wonders whether even Rabbi Eduard Baneth, who taught for decades at the Academy of Jewish Studies in Berlin, would have spilled wine in memory of our oppressors had he lived just a decade longer, into that long night of European bondage and worse.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Passover, Seder, Ten Plagues


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount