The Puzzle of Primogeniture

The conventional assignment of the family birthright to the firstborn comes under criticism in all of the family stories in Genesis; in Exodus, the issue becomes even more complicated.

From Death of the Pharaoh’s Firstborn Son by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1872. Wikimedia.

From Death of the Pharaoh’s Firstborn Son by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1872. Wikimedia.

Response
April 27 2020
About the author

Ronna Burger is the Catherine & Henry J. Gaisman chair in the department of philosophy and Sizeler professor of Jewish studies at Tulane University. She has also taught in the Maimonides Scholars program of the Tikvah Fund.


In his essay “The People-Forming Passover,” Leon Kass has once again given us a probing reading of the Hebrew Bible, approaching the text with an openness to discovery, fostered by the fundamental questions that guide his inquiry. Here, as elsewhere, his perceptive attention to detail prompts us to think through issues of nature and law, politics and theology, the realm of the human and the divine. We see how and why The Beginning of Wisdom, Kass’s inspiring study of Genesis, has led to Founding God’s Nation, his eagerly awaited study of Exodus from which his essay in Mosaic has been drawn. As Kass argues here, focusing on chapter 12 and the early sections of chapter 13 in Exodus, the Passover ordinance represents the first national law of the Israelites: a definitively new political-cultural development, significantly beyond the parameters of the extended family that was the main subject of Genesis.

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More about: Exodus, Hebrew Bible, Passover, Religion & Holidays