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

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

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict