Passover Celebrates Both “Freedom from” and “Freedom for”

The story of the exodus told at the Passover seder, in the view of Shalom Carmy, evokes two primary interpretations. According to the first—which is the one known to most American Jews—it is a “social and political” tale of “moving from slavery to freedom.” But according to a rich body of rabbinic commentary, the liberation from Egyptian servitude appears as a “prelude to the revelation at Sinai” and its attendant covenantal obligations. “Freedom,” in this understanding, “is to be cherished because it paves the way to divine law.” Carmy finds that the biblical text supports both attitudes, and seeks to reconcile them:

Having been commissioned to lead the people out of bondage, Moses returns to his brothers in Egypt. He tells them that God knows their sufferings and will fulfill his covenant with the patriarchs. He tells them, and he tells Pharaoh, to let the people go so that they may offer sacrifices in the desert. He does not yet tell the people that in the desert they will be introduced to a radically new religious commitment grounded in faithfulness to the covenant.

In other words, if all we had before us were the words God communicated to the people through Moses, even if these words were supplemented by what God told Abraham [in Genesis 15] about exile, oppression, and salvation, we would have heard much about the oppression and the toil from which God would rescue us, and we would know the promise of being restored to the Land of Israel. We would have heard nothing binding the exodus to the giving of the law.

What the standard social-political reading of the exodus leaves out is not only the transcendent experience of Sinai. The social-political reading also fails to confess that liberation alone, without the transcendent dimension, does not ennoble or sensitize one to the plight of others. The slaves whom Moses encounters at the beginning of his mission are not yet prepared for the heroic, all-encompassing, and commanding voice of Sinai. In the first days and years that follow Sinai, they may be prepared to respond to the divine reminder, in the laws of Exodus, that they were sojourners in Egypt—but they are not yet able to integrate into their moral identity the degradation of having been enslaved. That integration is accomplished 40 years later, when Moses speaks to their children in Deuteronomy.

Read more at First Things

More about: Exodus, Hebrew Bible, Judaism, Passover


Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University