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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Christian “Seder”

A good friend who is a Mormon invited my wife and me to a Passover Seder to be held at their church. I don't understand why a non-Jewish group would have a Seder, and I am uncomfortable about going. But I also do not want to offend my friend. What should I do?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Hmmm... These seem to becoming more popular. I also heard that the First Baptist Church in Delray Beach, Florida, has scheduled a Passover celebration for Palm Sunday. The church is inviting Jews from the community to join in the church's Passover Seder, which weaves the Last Supper and Passover together.

Why would they do such a thing? One explanation is that it is a missionary activity. Jews are generally are turned off by Christianity, so missionaries use traditional Jewish devices in order to make Jesus more palatable to Jews.

I'm sure there are different varieties, but I have heard that at such Christian Seders, the table appears quite traditional: Seder plate, matzah and wine. Once the ceremony begins to unfold, however, things take on a decidedly non-Jewish tone. Participants are told that the Seder wine represents the blood of Jesus, and the matzah represents his flesh. The three matzot represent the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Why is the matzah perforated? they ask. Because Jesus' body was pierced when he was crucified. Why is the matzah wrapped in a white cloth? Because Jesus was wrapped in a white burial shroud. Why is the middle matzah hidden? Because Jesus was hidden away in the tomb following his crucifixion. Why is the matzah brought back at the end of the meal? Because Jesus will return in the Second Coming at the End of Days. Etc., etc., etc.

It is frightening to see Christians usurp Jewish traditions in what is either an overt or covert effort to convert Jews. The Mormon faith is particularly known to have a strong bent toward missionizing. This is not to say that your friends have any bad intentions. They are probably just encouraged by the pastor to bring friends, and felt that it would be nice to invite you also.

The real issue here is that Jews need to learn more about their Jewish heritage. Too many feel burned out after the Bar/Bat mitzvah grind, and as adults never really got the chance to experience what Judaism is truly about.

Fortunately, many communities run authentic Passover Seders - sponsored by Aish, the Jewish Federation or one of the other organizations. Check your local Jewish newspaper for info.

As for your friends, you can politely explain that Passover, as it says in the Torah, is a time to be dedicated to one's family.

Egyptian Children Punished for Parents' Sins?

In the Book of Exodus, God indicates that He will slay all the Egyptian first-borns if Pharaoh will not allow the Israelites to leave. Why should the son suffer for the sins of the father? This contradicts the normal concepts of justice and Jewish law. Please explain.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

In one place, the Torah says "...each man shall die for his own sins" (Deut. 24:16), while in the Ten Commandments it says the opposite: that God "counts the sins of the fathers on the sons." (Exodus 20:5)

The Talmud explains the distinction: Children are only held accountable for their parents' misdeeds only when they perpetuate those bad actions. (Actually, the children can be held even more accountable than the parents because a bad behavior which continues for more than one generation deepens the damage to society.)

Accordingly, all the Egyptians were punished in the Ten Plagues because they participated in mistreating the Jews. Although it appeared as if Pharaoh was solely responsible for the slavery, in truth the suffering and humiliation the Jews suffered would not have been possible without collective agreement, and a national effort on the part of all Egyptians.

As for the first-born, given their influential position within the family they bear more responsibility, and were subject to an especially strong punishment.

By the way, someone who carries on their parents' bad values – but never had the opportunity to learn otherwise – is not held accountable.

(Sources: Talmud, Sanhedrin 27b; Rashi and Ibn Ezra to Exodus 20:5)

Being Judgmental of Others

More than once I have come across Jews who I felt looked down upon me for not being as observant as they, and don’t respect me as a Jew. I got the impression I am not a good person in their eyes because I don’t keep the rituals like they do.

Do you feel they have the right to be judgmental?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Unfortunately, there are some Jews who consider themselves observant who are judgmental. This attitude, however, has no source in Judaism, is quite contrary to Jewish teachings, and should be condemned. Judaism teaches that only God has the right and the ability to judge people.

To illustrate: There was once a young man who became the leader of a Chassidic group when his father died an untimely death. The elders approached him and asked how it is possible for such a young man to be the leader of those much older than himself. He answered with a parable. Two men trained for many months to climb a very high mountain. After weeks of climbing, they got to the end of their strength, and stopped to rest on a plateau. They were shocked to see a young boy playing and chasing butterflies. They asked him in amazement, how did you get here?! We spent grueling weeks to arrive at this point, and you are playing here! The boy replied, “My friends, I was born here!”

The point of the story is twofold. It is true that some are born into higher levels of scholarship and piety. However, those who climb the mountain to get to where the others were born are much higher in the eyes of God. They achieved it through their own efforts and toil.

It is possible that one mitzvah performed by a Jew brought up in a secular home is worth a hundred mitzvot performed by a Jew who was born into observance.

The Talmud says that one Jew cannot kill another, even to save his own life. This applies even if you are the most pious of Jews and the other Jew is a thief, a drug addict or even a murderer. The reason, says the Talmud, is that we can never know “whose blood is redder.” There is no way for mortal man to judge another and to know who is considered more dear or valuable in the eyes of God.

The true Torah philosophy of life is to respect every Jew for whom he is, and to leave judgment to the Almighty.

Condescending attitudes are certainly not unique to any particular sect of Jews. You can find the same attitudes, at times, with Republicans to Democrats, or sports fans. It comes from a human need to “be right.”

Our job is to view every Jew as a family member, and every human being as created in the “image of God.” We should learn what we can from everyone. The Jewish Sages expressed it thusly: “There is no man who does not have his place and time.”