Asking the Right Question

The news yesterday was that President Obama will hold a Passover Seder in the White House tonight, the first time a Seder has been held in the White House.

So, who is going to ask him to hold Family Home Evening some Monday night?

Seriously, the number of Mormons and Jews in the United States are comparable. If a Jewish custom, especially one that covers events recognized as important by most religious people in the country, can be adopted by the President, why not a Mormon custom, especially one meant to strengthen an institution that is almost universally considered important?

I am being a little facetious, I admit. But I think its worth pointing out… and suggesting to myself (and anyone else willing to listen), that we could be a little more forthright about who and what we are.

Of course, there is another issue here also–when does it make sense to adopt another group’s cultural artifacts?  There are Mormons who have adopted Passover (Julie even reviewed a book on the subject here a couple of years ago), as have many Christians.

As I said above there isn’t anything that I know of that would make Passover incompatible, but if we take over Jewish customs, do we remove something that makes Jews unique?

21 comments for “Asking the Right Question

  1. But if we claim that Mormons are Christians, then aren’t we already getting a significant shout-out to our Christianity in the White House, like the celebration of Easter, Christmas, etc.?

    “I pray that one day we may live in an America where Christians can worship freely, in broad daylight, openly wearing symbols of their religion, perhaps around their necks. And maybe – dare I dream it – maybe one day there could even be an openly Christian president. Or, perhaps, 43 of them. Consecutively.” – Jon Stewart

  2. As an aside, IIRC, in 1974 then-Governor Jimmy Carter declared a particular Monday evening in Georgia as Family Home Evening night. I can’t believe I’m remembering this (I was 9) but for some reason it stuck with me that he had recognized this important observance. So, I guess I’m saying there is some precedent.

  3. Our family held a modified Passover seder last night. We were very careful not to pretend we were actually Jewish. Likewise, we were careful not to make the event into an overtly Christian re-enactment of the Last Supper. So, yes, if we “take over” Jewish customs, yes, we might remove something that makes Jews unique. Instead, if President Obama is participating as an act of respect, and perhaps to inform his own cultural and religious understanding, no, I was would say. It only increases respect for Jewish heritage.

  4. We celebrate Passover in my home. (We’re delaying it this year because we’re going to include my husband’s counselors, and one has a wife due to deliver a baby any day–so we’re holding off a bit.)
    It is difficult to find everything I need to make Passover; I usually have to go to Salt Lake (I live in Provo). But my children love the tradition, and my oldest daughter includes it in her family’s Easter traditions. I won’t tolerate stuffed, pastel bunny rabbits, but I love the Seder plate.
    For any who have felt the bondage of sin, for any whose ancesters were enslaved, for any who have felt marginalized, the dipping of bitter herbs into salt water to remember the tears of the Hebrew slaves should be personal. As I’ve stated before, the Haggadah we use tells the father to explain not just the general history, but to get personal.
    “What makes this night different from all other nights?
    I was in bondage, and G-D delivered me.”
    My daughter is going to have her children watch _Prince of Egypt_ before their Passover feast. In our family, we have watched _The Passion of the Christ_ sometimes as part of Easter.
    Since last Easter, we have lost three family members to death. The shankbone of the lamb, with its promise (in our interpretation) of resurrection, has special significance for us right now.
    I freely borrow traditions which I find “virtuous, lovely and of good report.” And I’m willing to celebrate any festival which my Savior celebrated.
    I hope the White House is filled with the spirit of the Passover.

  5. When I was at BYU Victor Ludlow used to do a Passover seder for students. I never actually attended one of these, but I well remember a letter to the editor of the Daily Universe written by a Jewish girl who was attending the Y complaining about the expressly Christian explanation of the symbolism expressed by Professor Ludlow.

    So my impression based on that experience is that Jews don’t seem to mind particularly if others want to hold a seder, but if you’re going to do it you should do it authentically and not adapt it to overtly Christian symbolism.

  6. Has all leaven been eliminated from the White House? I don’t know much more than what I read in Herman Wouk’s non-fiction This Is My God (and Exodus), but the preparations for Passover are not trivial and involve more than preparing some special dishes.

  7. John–in a traditional Jewish home, obviously much more attention is paid to the details. And they drink real wine. When I taught at a Jewish Girls’ school in Michigan, the Rabbi instructed me to give no homework to my students for the week before Pesach, because they needed to help their mothers clean the house. I find no harm in taking elements of others’ rituals and incorporating them into my own household. In fact, I find that the elements I have selected enhance our Easter celebration.
    We do not celebrate Chanukah, but I do light a Menorah on Christmas Eve and remind my family that God can work miracles through the Anointed One, symbolized by the oil, and can make our feeble efforts far more enduring and significant than we might imagine.

  8. Passover: Perhaps the most important event of the year for Jewish people.

    FHE: Perhaps the most dreaded event of the week for Mormon people.


  9. …if we take over Jewish customs, do we remove something that makes Jews unique

    An odd question, in my mind. Don’t think I’ve ever seen a good idea and refused to incorporate it due to the thought that someone else will be “less unique” afterwards. (OK, except maybe in buying a prom dress.)

    Reminds me of the guy who wrote on my site that if women gave opening prayers in Sacrament Meeting, it wouldn’t leave anything “special” for the men to do.

    Are things only valuable if no one else can have/do them?

  10. I like and agree with Margaret’s approach. My family has learned a lot about other religious traditions and our own this way. Religious symbols, rituals, and traditions are universal in many ways. Their value doesn’t decrease if others participate in a different, respectful way.

  11. Allison Moore Smith (10) wrote: “Are things only valuable if no one else can have/do them?”

    NO, but if you remove everything unique from a culture, doesn’t that culture lose its cultural identity?

  12. In this case, the cultural identity of Judaism is part of the cultural identity of Christianity–it’s what we call the Judeo-Christian identity. The conversation might have been different if we were talking about adopting Hindu practices for Easter.

  13. Although I am in favor of teaching our kids about different religious holy days and even encourage their participation if invited to a family’s seder or a Hindu wedding, I do fear that in an attempt to show every religious practice that religious rites can be made trite. One of things that I have noticed is at school different religious holidays are mentioned and sometimes kind of celebrated. While exposing kids to different cultures it turns sacred things into games and activities with no meaning. The month of December being a prime example where Christ’s birth, Kwanza, and Hannakah have been turned into mass opportunities of commercialization with most meaning stripped away in a large cultural context. Admittedly, there is a balance in teaching your children about different religions. Passover is a huge deal within the Jewish community, I would hate to see it turned into another commercialized holiday in the name of trying to be more inclusive of differing religions. Hopefully, a balance can be struck where we can appreciate the beauty of other religious rites without cheapening those rites. As a Latter-day Saint how would you feel if people began participating in our sacred rites just for a taste of cultural awareness?

  14. Kellie, as a Latter-day Saint, it wouldn’t bother me. The meaning I find in our sacred rites isn’t affected by anyone else who is participating, in whatever form. This is one of the major reasons I think religious symbols (and a number of symbols in the temple are universal) can’t be claimed by one religion. Is the importance of Passover to Jews lessened because Muslims sacrifice a sheep for one of their holidays? But I do understand that many people disagree with me, and I don’t shout from the rooftops that we’re observing Passover or any other religious holiday. It’s just something we do at home.

    I wonder if the Obamas will observe Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr in the White House, and what the reaction would be to that.

  15. President Bush has held at least one and I think two Eid celebrations in the White House.

  16. We live in China and participate in festivals that have nothing remotely to do with any mid-eastern religions. But participation helps us to be more part of the community and culture, and our neighbors clearly appreciate our efforts. We avoid certain customs, such as burning pretend money to our ancestors, that seem to be incompatible with our LDS/Christian faith. And other social customs we modify – such as substituting fruit juice instead of alcoholic drinks during ‘ritual’ drinking at business and social gatherings. We feel our way along and seem to be able to get it right after a few – sometimes clumsy – experiments!

  17. We had a Messanic Passover Seder for our FHE this year and last year. I highly recommend it. So maybe he has FHE covered too. For me, FHE is time spent with family. A Passover Seder is a sacred ceremony.

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