Passover is understood in America as being a festival of freedom. But it’s also a celebration of law and order that speaks to our modern times.
Most Americans think of the Jewish Passover holiday as a “Feast of Freedom.” But a deeper understanding of the festival, which concludes its eight days of celebration Saturday night, acknowledges a simultaneous emphasis on law and order.
Watching the frenetic, exhausting preparation that characterizes religious Jewish households in the days before the holiday, it’s reasonable to question how the meticulous rules relate to themes of personal liberty. The biblical requirement to avoid every crumb of leavened baked goods for eight days of the festival means not only scrubbing refrigerators and stoves, but also moving any inappropriate foodstuffs out of sight. Most families also switch over to a special set of Passover dishes, reserved for the joyous spring festival and no other time.
Yet all the scouring and scrambling can sometimes seem more burden than joy, leading up to the elaborate dinner on the first night of Passover. That initial feast – with its four cups of wine, four questions with elaborate answers, retelling of the Exodus story and multicourse meal usually served late at night – suggests obligation as much as liberation.