The Modern Passover Celebration — Freedom from Accountability

After my rebuttal of an editorial slandering Moses in the St. Louis Jewish Light, the slew of letters denouncing me as uncivil and judgmental prompted me to ask why so many members of the community considered it perfectly acceptable for a congregational rabbi to denigrate Judaism’s greatest leader but unacceptable for me to call him out for character assassination and trampling on Jewish tradition.

I’m still waiting for an answer.  However, one individual who frequently comments on my site (whose comments are less frequently fit to print), responded as I was certain he would:

While you may beleive that Moses was a real person many Jews believe he is a mythical character created by the Priesthood in the 7th to 9th Century before the common era.

In my comments, I replied that this is precisely the point. If you don’t believe in Jewish tradition, then anything goes. There is no reality, no morality, and no accountability.

Is this what we want to hear from our spiritual leaders?

In 2001, David Wolpe, a Los Angeles rabbinical clergyman, posed the question in his Passover sermon, “Why do we continue to commemorate the exodus from Egypt if it didn’t really happen?”

The question, of course, is self-contradictory:  We celebrate the exodus for no reason other than because it did happen; and if we don’t believe it happened, we have no reason to celebrate.

If the Torah is nothing more than a book of fables or inspired literature, then certainly any Bible critic is entitled to his own interpretations, as any critic of literature is entitled his own interpretation of Shakespeare or Milton.  (Then again, one requires credentials as a literary scholar before his criticism will be respected by his peers.)  However, if that is what we believe, then the foundations of Judaism have already disintegrated and we have no hope of restoring them.

Conversely, there is ample evidence supporting the truth of Torah and its historical record for anyone who wants to seek out historical truth. The overwhelming majority of those who dismiss the Torah as myth have made no sincere effort to discover otherwise. It’s difficult to take seriously the opinion of anyone who hasn’t bothered to understand the opposing point of view.

Historical revisionism has become possibly the greatest enemy of the Jewish people.  The historical imperative of the exodus and revelation at Sinai is at the core of who we are as a people, as well as defining the essence of the Passover celebration.  For more on the dangers of revisionist history, see my article from last week, Orwell, Santayana, and Me.

For past Pesach articles, click here.

May the Almighty grant us all a joyous and kosher Passover, and a true redemption from the slavery of our biases and misconceptions.

  1. #1 by Norm on April 9, 2010 - 6:52 am

    Rabbi I’m interested to see if you’ll delete this link to my newly started blog-today’s entry is a review of your new book.

  2. #2 by torahideals on April 9, 2010 - 11:13 am

    Well, well, life is full of surprises. My exchanges with Norm Pressman had convinced me that he would argue with me if I said the sky is blue, and I had assumed that his promise to review my new book was a threat to further denounce my opinions.

    I wasn’t completely wrong, of course. But I am quite astonished and pleased by the mostly positive tone of his review. Perhaps the Messiah is closer than I had believed.

    Nevertheless, Mr. Pressman cannot resist taking a shot at my discussion of the adequacy of science in explaining the origins of the universe and the beginnings of life. He writes:

    “[Rabbi Goldson] questions how the Big Bang could have occurred with matter exploding from the primordial, infinitely dense pinpoint of energy, because, he states, a “black hole” does not allow anything to escape from it. (The answer, of course, is that the so-called Big Bang was not an explosion, but an expansion of the infant universe, thus beginning time and space).”

    Very nice. However, I refer interested readers to my article Athiests in Bubbleland (
    in which I cite Astronomy Magazine columnist Bob Berman, who writes:

    “[W]hat existed before the Big Bang? I get that question a lot from students, and I’ll admit to being guilty of reciting the standard speech. “The Big Bang,” I explain grandly, “created time as well as space. Since there was no time before the Big Bang, your question is meaningless.”

    The student is silenced. The class continues. The professor obviously knows something wonderfully profound. But I can’t do it any more. The next time some one asks, I’ll tell the truth: “Nobody has the foggiest idea what happened the Tuesday before the Big Bang. That whole domain is part of Bubbleland.” Then the class will nod, and really understand. Ah, yes, Bubbleland. The realm beyond the present reach of science.

    Anyone attending a cosmology lecture can tell when the speaker arrives at Bubbleland. “It’s not galaxy clusters that travel outward,” he’ll say pedantically, “but space itself that grows larger. The galaxies don’t actually move.”

    So here I am thinking, wait a minute. Are we at a Daffy Duck convention?

    The late Carl Sagan, whom I love and admire, nonetheless said “Now that we’ve explained how life began, there’s no place for G-d.” Well, let’s leave G-d out of this and just address science’s explanation of life’s genesis. The prevailing account posits a mixing of organic molecules, the arrival of amino acids on comets from space, some accidental combinations, and then the great denouement: “and somehow life arose.”

    Beep! Hold it! That “somehow” may be only one little word embedded among the thousands comprising the “explanation,” but it changes the whole thing to: “We haven’t a clue.” How consciousness or self-awareness can arise from amino acids remains as deep a mystery as it ever was. But since we do not want our experts to stand mute and nonplussed, we have now supplied an out. They do not have to utter the dreaded “I don’t know.”

    Finally they can explain our origins. We come from Bubbleland.”

    Sounds to me like Mr. Pressman has been attending some of these lectures.

    For all that, I am pleased that Mr. Pressman found value in my book and hope others will, too. Although my work in no way compares to the great Shulchan Aruch (despite Mr. Pressman’s flattering but hyperbolic comparison), his reception of it offers some indication that my objective of making the wisdom of the sages available to a broader audience may prove to some degree successful.

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