Is a Christian Seder an inappropriate appropriation of Jewish tradition?
March 25, 2011 7:57 PM   Subscribe

Is a Christian adoption of the Seder an inappropriate appropriation of Jewish tradition?

My fiancée grew up in a strong Catholic family that always celebrated a Christian version of the Seder during Holy Week. She loves the tradition and has always identified it as part of her Catholic upbringing. She recently did more research on the tradition and was surprised to learn how controversial a Christian adoption of the Seder is.

She certainly doesn't want to offend anyone or promote something that's damaging to inter-religious dialogue, but recognizes that Christianity has historically appropriated a variety of traditions from a variety of cultures. She wonders if celebrating a Christianized version of the Seder is more offensive than using, say, Jewish Scriptures as the Old Testament of the Bible. Someone made the comparison that it would be like another tradition using the Eucharistic celebration, but other traditions don't trace themselves back to Christianity the way Christianity traces itself back to Judaism. Any thoughts?
posted by adamp88 to Religion & Philosophy (63 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You could probably find a few Jews who would be offended by this, but I think most would agree with me when I give you my blessing to have whatever kind of dinner you want. Personally, I don't care if you substitute a ham bone for the lamb shank and leave a seat open for the Holy Spirit.
posted by contraption at 8:05 PM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

Is a Christian Seder an inappropriate appropriation of Jewish tradition?



End of discussion.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:06 PM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Is this a serious question? This Jew hereby gives you permission to have whatever kind of dinner you want.
posted by dfriedman at 8:07 PM on March 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

Just don't you dare lean to the right.
posted by contraption at 8:07 PM on March 25, 2011

Born and raised Catholic, but I am aware of Jewish traditions.

I wouldn't think anything of it had I married a Jewsih gal. I would encourage anything that could integrate my family with hers.

My Parents might think something of it, but would treat it as a novelty. A chance to learn something and have a good meal.

My Grandparents, well to be honest they have very strong Catholic traditions, but they are very accepting and would relish it most of all. They would have a heck of a time learning about Seder traditions and would love the opportunity.

It really depends on the family. 10 or 15 years ago I would never have believed any of that were possible based on my family. But I guess as I've gotten older, so have they. Or maybe I just have a different perception now. Most people are just curious by nature and would like to participate in a new or different culture.
posted by sanka at 8:07 PM on March 25, 2011

Ask several thousand Jews, get a few million opinions.
posted by contraption at 8:09 PM on March 25, 2011 [29 favorites]

Wasn't Jesus Jewish? Wasn't the last meal a Seder?

posted by gjc at 8:12 PM on March 25, 2011 [18 favorites]

Though Passover was a pre-Christian occurrence, I don't really see why it would be harmful or hurtful, so long as it was respectfully done. (Lapsed Catholic here, who would have no problem if a family of Jews, or Muslims wanted to have an Easter celebration.)
On preview, what gjc says, too.
posted by Gilbert at 8:15 PM on March 25, 2011

I went to a Lutheran preschool and Sunday school when I was little. At Passover-- in class, at lunchtime-- we had "Seder," learned about what the foods symbolized, etc. This was on paper plates. We were learning about Moses and all that. I bet you if that was okay than whatever you have planned is okay too.
posted by jschu at 8:17 PM on March 25, 2011

My personal opinion is that the only way to do this thoughtfully is to have a well-researched appreciation and understanding of the tradition your practice is appropriating. That is a concious, questioning, positive way to nurture cross-cultural understanding.

On the other hand, if someone doesn't want to put that kind of effort into it, I'm more or less OK with the "fuck it, it's dinner" approach.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:18 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

AINAJ, and all of the Seders I've been to over the years, while hosted by Jews, have been cultural or political rather than religious in feeling; the Haggadahs were often adapted in ways that religiously observant Jews would find unrecognizable or even offensive. They have been attended by Jews and Christians and Muslims and Buddhists and non-believers and Wiccans and those who refuse to be labeled.

Since your girlfriend's affinity for this tradition is cultural rather than strictly religious, I don't really see a problem with her wanting to celebrate it, as long as she's respectful of the very specific culture and history from which it springs. But I'm about as far from an authority as you can get on the subject.
posted by rtha at 8:22 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

As contraption says, no one can really answer this question. It offends some Jews, while others don't care and still others would tell you it's wonderful.

One approach might be to consider that many Jews are more than happy to share their Seder with non-Jews. The orthodox are less than keen on this for various reasons (IMHO, stupid ones) that involve when you're involved to cook and work on a holiday, but honestly, ignore that. The whole point of Passover is to pass on a story, and most hosts of Seders are thrilled to include non-Jews. Instead of trying to create a Christianized Seder, why not see if you can wrangle an invitation to a Jewish one? Or attend a community Seder in your area?
posted by zachlipton at 8:23 PM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Seder is an element of Passover. Passover specifically recalls the night the angel of death slew the first born of Egypt, but spared the Hebrews who had obeyed and painted the lintels of their doors with lamb's blood. More generally it remembers the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt.

In some, but not all, of the gospels it is this meal that Jesus is sharing with his disciples and forms the basis for Eucharist/Holy Communion/Lord's Supper whatever you wish to name it.

For a Christian to celebrate Seder then is not to celebrate it for the same reasons, the same memorial that a Jewish family would. A Christian celebration is either recalling the night of Jesus' betrayal and arrest and the institution of Communion AND/OR the supercession (fulfillment/completion/replacement) of Judaism by Christianity. (You could be remembering the liberation of the Israelites too, I suppose.)

It is in this latter sense that a Christian Seder could be highly offensive. It implies that the covenant God made with Moses has been perfected, replaced or abrogated; that Judaism is spiritually moribund and Jews who reject Jesus/Christianity are condemned by God.

I think inviting Jewish people to a Christian Seder could be quite problematic because of this possible negative implication. I think that any time one feels entitled to appropriate the culture or tradition of another regardless of the historical or theological context it will be without a doubt deeply offensive to someone.

You sound thoughtful and it sounds like it will be basically just your family based on a long-standing private tradition. You don't seem to be condemning or proselytizing local Jews, and I think that as a private religious act it's fine.
posted by MasonDixon at 8:27 PM on March 25, 2011 [7 favorites]

The Catholic church I grew up with had a Seder every year. I don't totally remember the stated reason, but I'm pretty sure it had to do with getting the church community to come together to worship in new ways, and learning about the ways that other groups use to worship God. I don't know if that's still offensive or not. I would have remembered if like MasonDixon said it was about celebrating the rise of Christianity over Judaism, which would certainly terrible and a bad message. Like everything, I think intent and context is the important thing.
posted by amethysts at 8:36 PM on March 25, 2011

Jewish person here, 2nding MasonDixon. The Christian family I knew that celebrated Passover did so in a triumphal way, seeing their worship as a sort of perfected or "completed" Judaism, which was an unpleasant experience I was (rather unexpectedly) roped into. While that's not exactly what's happening here, it's what I think of whenever I hear about a Christian Seder.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 8:45 PM on March 25, 2011 [9 favorites]

it would be helpful to know how "christianized" the seder is. i grew up jewish and we always had friends of all religions over to seder, so it's not this secret observance that gentiles can't participate in. but i have to say that if i attended a seder where the new testament was read or christ was part of it, that would be uncomfortable for me.

that said, if she enjoys a seder as part of her understanding of her faith, then that's a good thing. i think people should do what they want/need to do, but if she's worried about committing a cultural faux pas, maybe you guys could instead make it a tradition to attend a seder hosted by jewish friends.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:46 PM on March 25, 2011

We celebrated a Seder during my confirmation classes. It was presented as a way to learn about the Jewish roots of the religion, and it was given the same level of respect as any Catholic tradition.
posted by TungstenChef at 8:48 PM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wasn't Jesus Jewish? Wasn't the last meal a Seder? Jeez.

Well, I'm no expert, but I think the Christian idea is that he wasn't just any old Jew, and that he had some really important improvements to make to Judaism. So if the Seder is being "Christianized" in that sense -- you know, dusted of the cobwebby ancient religion and made more awesome through Jesus! -- then it carries the old, obnoxious implication that Judaism is just Monotheism 1.0.
posted by palliser at 8:55 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

The whole notion of Christ as the "lamb of God" is based on the slaughter of lambs for Passover.

Which is to say that, in Christian tradition, the Crucifixion replaces the slaughter of the lambs, and the Holy Communion replaces the eating of the lambs. In theory, a Christian eating lamb at a Seder could be construed as blasphemous to Christians. (In practice, however, it's highly unlikely any Christian would give a crap.)
posted by Sys Rq at 9:00 PM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Cultural traditions aren't intellectual property belonging to anyone. I know Christians who are offended when Mormons claim themselves as to be Christians and adapt what are, in their minds, perversions of Christian traditions. That's tough, but one of the fun things about religion is that each generation gets to change it up a bit as it fits their needs.
posted by skewed at 9:05 PM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Is a Christian Seder an inappropriate appropriation of Jewish tradition?

Yes. It's one of the most central Jewish observances. You can do what you want, but don't be surprised when people for whom it is a major religious and cultural event think that a "pretend" version is ridiculous and offense. How would your girlfriend feel if I invited friends over to sing songs and eat graham crackers and called it mass?
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:31 PM on March 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

Another thought: there exist, even now, remnants of crypto-Jewish heritage in some families descended from Spanish Jews who were forced to convert by the Inquisition. There was a guy in my hometown whose mother used to light candles privately by herself in the kitchen on Fridays (not out of any known Jewish identification, but just because that was something the women in her family had been doing for as long as anyone remembered) and whose family had a festive meal on Yom Kippur for which they went down into the basement. How long has your girlfriend's family been doing this "seder"?
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:50 PM on March 25, 2011 [14 favorites]

How would your girlfriend feel if I invited friends over to sing songs and eat graham crackers and called it mass?

See, this is one of the things I love about Judaism (or at least the type of Reform Judaism I was raised in) as compared to other major American religious communities. I'd certainly expect such a "Mass party" to be offensive to Catholics, and I do think it's a good parallel in terms of the significance of the rituals involved, but I still feel that most Jews I know would have a hard time being the least bit bothered by the idea of a bunch of goys borrowing the trappings of Jewish observance for their own private enjoyment. We're a pretty laid back bunch, considering.

When it's used as a tool for proselytizing (e.g. "Jews for Jesus,") of course, that's another thing entirely.
posted by contraption at 10:02 PM on March 25, 2011

My boyfriend's Catholic church has an annual potluck Seder. A few years ago his family went--his dad brought garlic bread and the priest discussed the religious significance of "Mazda balls" and the Seder was actually the week after Passover due to some scheduling conflict. The idea of having a Christian Seder sort of makes me want to roll my eyes a little (or laugh, as in the case of my bf's church) but I don't think it's offensive.

The only thing that would be kind of annoying to me is if you pretended that a Christianized Seder was actually some way of having an authentic Jewish experience rather than being a Christian ceremony based somewhat on a Jewish observance.

I do agree with other posters that it would probably be astoundingly uncomfortable for any Jews you might be inviting, but there's nothing in the question that suggests you'd be doing that.
posted by phoenixy at 10:15 PM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Brought up Catholic, raised in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Was attending Easter and Passover by 12, dropped Easter by 16 but kept up with Seder for years. Sometimes I had more than one to attend per evening. I'm now married to a Muslim...

Wait. What was the question?

Oh yeah. My Jewish friends and their families always welcomed me at their table. My non-jewishness never came up in 20+ years. I can't see how this tradition might be a problem for most Jews I know.

(Except maybe my ex-mother-in-law:))
posted by jbenben at 10:31 PM on March 25, 2011

You ask if it's inappropriate; that I don't know. But if you asked me, as someone raised Jewish-ish, I would say go ahead, and I'm curious as to how they go about doing it. [I would also offer you my brisket recipe.]

At the fourth cup of wine do they say the traditional "Pour out Your wrath upon those who do not know You and upon the governments which do not call upon Your Name."? Because that's offensive, even when we Jews say it.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:33 PM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

The downtown Los Angeles Catholic Worker house holds a Seder every year, apparently. Catholic Worker coworker was reminiscing about it over lunch once and conservative Jewish boss just sort of eyed him warily and said "Dude, you're a Jew, just admit it already."
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:44 PM on March 25, 2011

gjc: "Wasn't Jesus Jewish? Wasn't the last meal a Seder?"

My thoughts exactly. I'm Jewish and this wouldn't offend me. I have a few Christian friends who do this at their churches. And my family has hosted non-Jews at our seders.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:09 PM on March 25, 2011

My partner is Jewish. I'm a Christian (albeit a slightly eccentric, non-orthodox sort). I do at least one night of Passover every year as well as most of the other major, family-oriented holidays. My increased understanding of Jewish tradition and spirituality has lead me to a deeper appreciation of the culture and praxis from which my faith sprung. I think this has significantly increased my understanding of both the early "Jesus movement" as well as the theological development of Christianity. I believe my faith is both deeper and wider, if you will, for the experience.

That said, I think any "adaption" should be done carefully and respectfully rather than triumphantly and crassly. Want to make sure you got it right? Try this test. Would you feel comfortable inviting your good friends who are Jewish to your Seder?

As for those who are Jewish and feel uncomfortable with this idea, I would simply observe that surely it is good for all the nations to remember that G-d lead His people out of Egypt.
posted by driley at 11:22 PM on March 25, 2011

I am Jewish. As a private, family tradition I think this is fine and it doesn't offend me. I personally would not enjoy attending, though.
posted by katrielalex at 11:37 PM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, mark me down as another Jew who thinks it's totally fine for whoever to practice whatever sort of private religious or cultural traditions in their own homes, but I wouldn't want to be invited. Catholicism is not my religion and it's not my place to get up in someone else's business about their own personal rituals as long as they aren't inflicting said rituals upon anybody who may find them unwelcome.
posted by Mizu at 12:42 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I grew up Catholic. One of the priests from the church I attended was really good friends with the female rabbi from the Conservative synagogue in town. They were such good friends that she trusted him to make a kosher wine purchase for one of the seder meals she was hosting for the members of her synagogue when she had no time to run that last errand. She always extended an invitation to our entire church to attend any one of the several she hosted.

She would also host a seder at our church's hall for anyone who was interested as well, and the priest was heavily involved in planning and assisting with it. It was definitely highly Christianized.

One year we had a seder during our CCD class conducted by the priest because the rabbi couldn't attend at the last minute.

So, yes, it can be done. And respectfully. But I also think since these seders were open to the public, there was a lot of thought going into how conduct them to avoid giving undue offense.
posted by zizzle at 3:40 AM on March 26, 2011

Another Jew here who couldn't possibly care less. But might make fun if it's really ignorant/ridiculous.
posted by miss tea at 3:55 AM on March 26, 2011

I guess I'm in the minority (ha) but I think it's slightly offensive. Without even considering the theological aspects of it, culturally it seems a bit "we can do your holiday better than you/without you." I mean, if a Christian enjoys Seders and finds them meaningful (or just likes the food) and wants to attend a real one, that's great. Most Jews would be happy to have them. But it does seem silly to have your own pretend one. I could throw paint around and call it my own Jewish version of Holi, but I wouldn't; it's not my tradition. Of course, though, as many others have said, everyone has the right to celebrate whatever they want in their own home, no matter what anyone else thinks.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:28 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am Jewish. A friend invited me to her church's Seder and I felt that I couldn't refuse the invitation. It was mostly clumsy positive stuff with a few moments of being extremely uncomfortable. Being exhibited as the only Jew in attendance was not great. I felt like I was on display. I told family members about it later and there were some who found it offensive and some who found it okay. Like Christianity, Judaism has a spectrum of beliefs and levels of adherence to the bible. There are definitely people who would find this completely unacceptable - some would indeed be on the more orthodox end of the scale, but some like, some of my family members would be on the conservative-reform end of the scale.

Religious holidays aren't fun games for some people - the idea of making them into a cultural tourism event can rub a lot of people the wrong way. I've personally thought that a Seder is a good way to share in a tradition, but the idea of a church doing one is a bit weird, despite the huge amount of Christian symbolism taken from the Hagaddah.

Also, the Pesach, Easter time of year is traditionally an uncomfortable time for Jewish-Christian relations. The old rumors of the blood of Christian babies in the matzoh, the blaming of the Jews for killing Christ, that sort of stuff.

(NB: those of us answering this question today are answering it on Shabbos. You are not getting responses from observant Jews.)
posted by sciencegeek at 4:33 AM on March 26, 2011 [9 favorites]

Many Catholic churches here have Seder for Passover. I never really thought about whether Jews would find it offensive, as it seemed to be part of the Catholic tradition as well. Of course, I never attended one, so I don't know. I suppose if it's done properly, and with respect, I'd shrug my shoulders and figure they were using it to understand and connect with Judaism and the throughline to Christianity, but if it were full of errors, or somehow changed to make it about Christianity rather than about Judaism, I can definitely imagine that practicing Jews would find that incredibly offensive.

I was raised culturally Jewish, and our Seder was pretty much a reading of the Haggadah interspersed with loud discussions of how much we hated Ronald Reagan and whether or not the final scene of last week's episode of Hill Street Blues was shocking or predictable.
posted by tzikeh at 5:24 AM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know people who do this. In Christian thought our faith is simply an outgrowth of original Judaism and much of the OT symbolism is relevant to us because of what it represents to us.

I would guess any controversy might be based in the fact that we see Jesus as the true Passover lamb, and that the dinner would be celebrated with that in mind.

(I myself am not all that big on Christians appropriating Jewish holidays and rituals. I guess there is nothing wrong with it, but whatever.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:56 AM on March 26, 2011

My Jewish friends and their families always welcomed me at their table. My non-jewishness never came up in 20+ years. I can't see how this tradition might be a problem for most Jews I know.

Just to be clear: the OP is not talking about attending a Jewish Seder. He's talking about Christians holding their version of a Seder. I'd wager that pretty much every Jewish person has had non-Jews at their Seders; heck, I've been to a Seder hosted by a Chassidic Jewish family where an evangelical minister attended. That's completely different. The potential offense here, depending on intent and context, is if the Christian Seder is being presented as triumphing over and supplanting the Jewish one.
posted by palliser at 6:56 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


You'd be hard pressed to find a church in my neck of the woods that didn't have at least one or two Jewish members. We have Seder meals thanks in large part to our Jewish members' influence. So, no, it's not inappropriate in our church at least.
posted by tel3path at 8:13 AM on March 26, 2011

p.s. I'm citing as my authority the obviously small subset of Jews who are keen to join Christian churches, specifically, my church. I accept that their views may not represent those of the majority.
posted by tel3path at 8:20 AM on March 26, 2011

Comments from a rabbi that explain his discomfort with Christian seders. His analysis of the differences of the portrayal of the Passover meal in they synoptic gospels versus the gospel of John is spot on, as is his background on the development of the Seder liturgy.

While Christianity can be broadly stated to have its roots in Judaism, what is not often recognized by many Christians are the centuries of self-differentiation in both communities in antiquity as each defined itself over and against the other.

That self-differentiation can be seen in the Christian service of Holy Communion (or Eucharist or Lord's Supper) and also in the Jewish Seder for Passover.
posted by apartment dweller at 8:21 AM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

Here is a portion of a Christian seder designed as an educational exercise for children, found on the web though I won't provide the link, similar in tone to what I remember when I attended an evangelical Christian seder many years ago. It has to do with the search for the afikomen (set-aside piece of matzoh) after the Passover meal:

The middle Matzoh is broken from the three sitting in the middle of the table. The large portion is put aside for Afikoman. The three matzos suggest the Holy Trinity -- Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The middle matzo would be ?.

The body is broken (crucified), wrapped in white linen, and hidden (buried). You must now find (resurrect) the body of Christ.

Have children search for hidden matzoh.

posted by apartment dweller at 8:26 AM on March 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think at least for me part of the offensiveness is that the Jewish Passover Seder is so full of exactly the kinds of things that Catholicism not only rejected but (sometimes hatefully) criticized about Judaism - ritual observance of laws, close attention to time and order of religious actions, dietary restrictions, the particularism of celebrating a certain tribe's freedom from slavery and the affirmation of a shared history and identity, etc. 

So my response would be - why are doing this and why are you calling it a Seder??? 

Now that's a knee-jerk reaction and I haven't actually been to any 'Christian seders' and I absolutely support freedom of religious expression. But still, my feeling is that if Christians are going to take something from another religion, they should really take it and make it theirs, own it, and not name it in a way that seems to attempt to keep the imprimatur of the group it comes from. To me this is a big part of the reason why 'Jews for Jesus' or 'Messianic Judaism' is offensive while 'Christianity' isn't. 

My feeling is that she should take this all the way in one direction or the other. Either call it and cast it and relate to it as a reenactment of the last supper - or whatever actually Christian function it has in the system of Christian beliefs and practices - or honor it as a family practice to participate in a Seder and go participate, as a guest, in an actual Jewish Seder. 

That said, I know that I, and I think most Jews who have been fortunate enough to grow up in a majority non-Jewish (Christian mainstream) environment that is actually generally tolerant and  respectful of Judaism, would be be open (and even seek) to understand your wife's practice according to her intentions, and would be hope to respond to it with more nuance than pain/outrage.  
posted by Salamandrous at 8:27 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

tel3path - I'm so confused! Are you talking about Jews who are married to Christians and thus seeking to be part of the church community? Or people of Jewish descent that have essentially become Christian/adopted Christian beliefs and practices, but who continue to maintain an ethnic/cultural identification with Judaism? Or 'Jews for Jesus' who believe that their practice of Christianity is actually an authentic expression of Judaism?
posted by Salamandrous at 8:32 AM on March 26, 2011

Good question. I hope I haven't bitten off more than I can chew/explain.

Our most influential members are/were a half-Jewish person who is now fully Christian, and a mixed family with a Jewish father who nonetheless attended church with a stubborn regularity that the rest of us couldn't hope to match. He was baptized on his deathbead, with the understanding that he was still Jewish. He is not here to ask, but I am guessing he would have disagreed with all of the categorizations you offered above. His wife was/is of Christian descent but did not become religious until after their marriage. Their children I guess would fall into the category of "people of Jewish descent that have essentially become Christian/adopted Christian beliefs and practices, but who continue to maintain an ethnic/cultural identification with Judaism".
posted by tel3path at 8:47 AM on March 26, 2011

tel3path, you got me thinking about this whole being Jewish thing. My initial response to your discussion of the Jewish/half-Jewish/Christian etc was to get a bit cranky. But I shrugged that off and started wondering what makes someone a Jew. And lo and behold, the wikipedia has some answers.

I realize that this could be construed as a derail, but I felt that it was an interesting topic which relates to the discussion, albeit tangentially. There's some interesting stuff about religion/ethnicity/cultural identity here that probably warrants more attention. Maybe, after checking if this has been done before, I'll try to do a FPP. Then again, these discussions can end poorly...
posted by sciencegeek at 11:31 AM on March 26, 2011

Jeez, do whatever you like. As long as you're not mocking or vilifying anybody, what right could they possibly have to care? Might as well ask whether gay sex is an "inappropriate" appropriation of straight sex: sure, it was probably invented later and it resembles the original, but your listening to the remixed cover version in your home doesn't mean I can no longer enjoy version 1.0 in mine.
posted by foursentences at 11:57 AM on March 26, 2011

Raised Catholic, now atheist, several Jewish friends invite me to seders every year. A Passover seder is a Jewish tradition. Jesus was a Jew, and celebrating a seder in the Jewish tradition seems appropriate. When you think about Christian-izing one of the most important Jewish holidays, consider how you'd feel about an Islamic Easter service. There are so many wonderful holidays in every faith that is seems unnecessary to coopt holidays.
posted by theora55 at 12:18 PM on March 26, 2011

Convert from Baptism to Judaism here. I think you should do whatever you think is best for both your family harmony and your own religous observances. If your fiancé has previously enjoyed Christianized Seders perhaps she would enjoy researching and/or participating in an actual Jewish Seder. That would probably offer the best baseline in determining personal comfort levels and interest in regards to whether or not to continue celebrating a Christian Seder. In terms of offending anyone, I think that worry probably only applies to whomever you invite.
posted by tinatiga at 12:49 PM on March 26, 2011

When you think about Christian-izing one of the most important Jewish holidays, consider how you'd feel about an Islamic Easter service. There are so many wonderful holidays in every faith that is seems unnecessary to coopt holidays.

Except that Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism, and as such can't really co-opt something that is part of their history as well.

Whereas an Islamic Easter would just be silly, as they don't believe in Jesus' resurrection.

But I do take the point of the cultural tourism thing above. If that is all it is, then the people doing it suck.
posted by gjc at 1:51 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I feel like we need to make a distinction between the "Maundy Thursday" service, which takes place in the (Christian) church, and a "Seder" which, although I can't tell from the OPs description, would likely be taking place in someone's home, probably by lay folk without a church authority.

The Maundy Thursday service is supposed to commemorate the Last Supper, and in most Christian churches there is a reading of the Gospels, and the Eucharist (communion), where Jesus said to eat the (unleaven) bread and drink the wine. In some churches, there may be an actual re-enactment (where people gather around tables and break bread together to take Communion). I suspect the term Seder may or may not come up depending on the particular translation of the Bible the church is using. (This is my impression from growing up in a Liberal Protestant church, I'm not sure how the Catholics do it but I suspect there is a lot of ritual here as well.)

From the OPs description, it sounds like the "Seder" the fiancee is having would take place in the home. It's not clear whether the church instructs on how to perform this ritual or not. So I wonder if one problem Jewish people would have is whether the Seder is being co-opted by the Catholic church authority or its lay people. I can completely understand the feeling that Christians may be co-opting the Seder rituals in order to say "Look how great Jesus is" and that's offensive.

From my own perspective, breaking bread with people is one of the original spiritual connective acts and crosses the boundaries of most religions. Can the OP's fiancee come at it from that perspective, and maybe speak to her family about ways to make it more their own tradition rather than "co-opting" the Seder rituals?
posted by sarahnade at 1:54 PM on March 26, 2011

apartment dweller: "Here is a portion of a Christian seder designed as an educational exercise for children"

Wow. That interpretation/presentation is astoundingly offensive. I officially change my opinion.

foursentences: "Jeez, do whatever you like. As long as you're not mocking or vilifying anybody...."

Apparently, they are, and then some.
posted by tzikeh at 2:41 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

They're neither mocking Jews ("those silly Jews take seriously the following wacky ritual") nor vilifying them ("those lousy Jews killed Christ over the following stupid beliefs"): rather, they're simply holding a ritual that accords with (and indoctrinates) their own religious beliefs, just like Jewish seders are rituals that accord with (and indoctrinate) Jewish religious beliefs. You or I may not be especially fond of those beliefs (which appear in some cases to include that old "replacement theology" eye-roller), but I don't see why that should matter.

No group gets to copyright its cultural observances (which, after all, would require some kind of Official Designation of who does and who doesn't get to call himself a Group Member); rather, the whole point of culture is to provide a menu of practices from which every individual can copy the bits he likes and modify the bits he dislikes. I'm extremely surprised to learn that this is still a live conversation in the globalized, post-tribal era.
posted by foursentences at 3:20 PM on March 26, 2011

Thanks for all the answers so far. If there is one thing that I think should be clarified, it's the notion of whether or not this Christian Seder is presented as a "newer, better" Seder. Though I've only experienced her Seder meal twice, my distinct impression from both times was that it didn't seek to supplant the Jewish tradition, but rather lift it up and highlight the importance it held for the Jewish people.
posted by adamp88 at 4:12 PM on March 26, 2011

Adamp - so do they basically follow a Jewish hagaddah and Jewish dietary customs? Or is it more like a regular dinner where they study and talk about Jewish practices?

I don't think there's anything wrong with a sort of immersion learning experience in a different tradition except that it's weird (and less educational!) to do it without the participation/guidance of actual members of that tradition. It sort of does sound like if I wanted to set up a mock Eucharist ceremony to teach about Catholic practices?
posted by Salamandrous at 4:31 PM on March 26, 2011

Rabbi here.

The blog post linked by apartment dweller does a great job of pointing out why this (increasingly popular) trend is problematic, at least from the perspective of the Jewish religious institutional world.

For the tl;dr crowd, a couple of important points (from the blog itself and from my own anecdotal experience) that deserve singling out:

1. The Passover seder, as it has been understood for its entire life, is built upon rules codified in the Mishnah, which was produced at the end of the second century C.E. In other words, if Jesus did exist, and if he was an observant Jew, there is no chance that his Passover meal resembled the seders being produced in today's Christian churches (because he likely far predates the Mishnah). Modern Christian "seders" - out of a well-meaning desire to be "authentic, let it be said - do their best to use Jewish sources (like liturgy, wine, traditional foods, kosher matzah, etc.). But the result of this "borrowing" means that the modern Jewish symbols are necessarily taken out of any ancient historical context that would have made sense to a first-century Jesus.

2. As a result of point #1, many (not all, to be fair) modern Christian churches that hold seders find themselves inspired to "reinterpret" our Jewish symbols and traditions in order to better suit Christian theology. Thus, the paschal lamb is reengineered into a Christian symbol, the three matzot on the table become the Trinity, and the perforations and burn marks on machine-made matzah are explained as representing the marks on Jesus' body when he was whipped and pierced (I wish I could say I was making this up). This is the most offensive bit: co-opting cherished traditions, texts, and objects which are inherently Jewish (remember, none of this stuff ever existed in a Christian setting before) and then recasting them in Christian theology. This can be pretty hurtful to some Jews who, frankly, just want to be able to have our holidays and customs left alone so we can celebrate them.

3. Just in case this needed to be made explicit, I don't think any Jew would suggest that a Christian can't hold a seder, or oughtn't attend one. Zei gezunt. The problems arise when we feel that we have to fight for our the Jewish identity of our own practices, and need to overcome someone else's religious imagination in order to insist upon our own ownership over them.

Hope this makes sense. Sorry I went on for so long! I'd be happy to answer any further questions here - or by MeMail - if you like.
posted by AngerBoy at 8:32 PM on March 26, 2011 [25 favorites]

Orthodox Jew here (posting a Judaism-related question on the Sabbath makes it harder to get answers from the Jews who actually care about Judaism as a faith and not a 'culture', fwiw).

AngerBoy is dead-on. I think it would be hard to find Jews - even religious Jews - who would say "Don't do this." Jews are used to Christians doing whatever they do religiously and having our very-much-minority opinions ignored - let's face it, what the Christian Bible itself teaches about Judaism is generally wrong and often insulting to practicing Jews. As your girlfriend pointed out, appropriating the Tanach into your own tradition by calling it the "Old Testament" with the newer, better version saved for last, is highly problematic for Jews - but it's not like there are any Jews saying the Christians shouldn't call their Bible the Old and New Testaments. We just don't use those terms, and if asked will explain why we don't.

The practice of Christians who use a seder to get closer to Judaism as a way to enrich their Christianity is inherently offensive to religious Jews. Many branches of Christianity teach that the paschal sacrifice is actually Jesus. That the purpose of the sacrifice was to cleanse Jews of sin and that Jesus came along to take away that obligation. The thing is, the passover sacrifice had nothing to do with sin. According to Jewish tradition, when the Messiah actually comes sacrifices will resume - the Messiah is a leader, and a human one, and has nothing to do with sacrifices other than his role in rebuilding the Temple where they take place. So any Christian seder that incorporates the notion of Jesus's sacrifice isn't honoring Jewish tradition in any way - rather it is twisting Jewish belief and practice to once again say Jews were wrong and we were right about the nature of G-d. I think you can see where offense might lie there.

In addition, over the centuries the Jewish seder has grown from a simple remembrance of the ancient Hebrews' delivery from slavery to an incorporation of the many ways that the Jewish people was threatened with annihilation but was inevitably delivered into freedom. No offense meant, but the vast majority of those instances were at the hands of practicing Christians. To have the same matzah that was once held up by the Church as evidence of blood libel (baking Christian babies into the recipe) to promote mass slaughter, now held up by Church leaders as a tangible symbol of Christianity, is adding insult to injury.

But the thing is, Judaism doesn't teach what Christians (or any non-Jews) should or shouldn't do. We believe the Torah laws were written for Jews to follow, and Jews alone. What non-Jews do is their own business, and is between them and G-d. Theologically, we disagree. But that doesn't mean you don't have the right to do whatever you want to do in your own home as part of your own religious practice.

I think it's fantastic that your girlfriend is becoming aware of the underlying issues. But too much thought that way lies madness - when you look at the essential teachings of both faiths, they are completely incompatible. Either one is true or the other is. That's what's so frustrating for Jews who do object to this sort of thing - because in the Jewish tradition, there is room for doubt and difference of opinions, even about many fundamentals. In Christianity there is official dogma, which is unequivocal. So when Christianity teaches that Judaism means X, and we know it does not, there is no room at the table (so to speak) for us to even raise a counter-argument.
posted by Mchelly at 7:28 AM on March 27, 2011 [6 favorites]

Mchelly: Either one is true or the other is. That's what's so frustrating for Jews who do object to this sort of thing - because in the Jewish tradition, there is room for doubt and difference of opinions, even about many fundamentals. In Christianity there is official dogma, which is unequivocal. So when Christianity teaches that Judaism means X, and we know it does not, there is no room at the table (so to speak) for us to even raise a counter-argument.

Writing as a former Orthodox Jew, your response is offensive because you seem to think that not only do we know better about what Judaism means, we also know better about what Christianity means. ("In Christianity there is official dogma, which is unequivocal.")

Within Orthodox Judaism, too, there is much dogma. You believe that God has body? To hell you go. Ditto if you don't believe Moses wrote all but the last several verses of the Bible. As an Orthodox Jew, you would reject what Reform Judaism (to the extent one can even consider such a broad movement to be unequivocal) teaches about Judaism. They might reject the omnipotence of God or the literal return of a Messiah. You would in turn reject them as improperly representing what "authentic" Judaism means.

In saying that "either one is true or the other is", you seem to be comparing only fundamentalist versions of each religion, something like residents of Kiryas Joel vs. opponents of Vatican II. The vast majority of Jews and Christians would reject your divisive Only One Truth point of view.

In that same vein, it's kind of strange to talk about "Christianity" as a monolith with unequivocal, official dogma. Are you talking about Catholicism or Protestantism? Baptism, Unitarianism, Pentecostalism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, or Methodism? Even Mormon? Clearly, in Christianity there is also "room for doubt and difference of opinions, even about many fundamentals." (Is man saved by faith alone or are good works necessary? In what sense is the Trinity "one"?)

And who says Judaism or Christianity can ever even mean only X or Y? How about letting Jews decide what Judaism means to them, Christians decide what Christianity means to them, and *gasp* letting each decide about the other on their own?
posted by -->NMN.80.418 at 5:45 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

IOW, Seder away!
posted by -->NMN.80.418 at 5:49 PM on March 27, 2011

NMN.80.418, I'm sorry my comments offended you. Especially since you spent so much time and effort putting words into my mouth which I never said (or even implied), along with the assumption that because I'm Jewish I therefore know nothing about Christian theology. Your "to hell with you" taunt in particular is foreign to what most rabbis consider Judaism - that you were clearly taught differently is interesting, but rather proves my point that Judaism has many fundamental differences of opinion when it comes to base-level dogma than otherwise.

All I was trying to say in the paragraph you found so objectionable is this: Christianity (and yes, by this I mean ALL Christianity, with the possible exception of Unitarianism) teaches that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and that his death was to cleanse humanity of sin. Judaism teaches that the Messiah has not come yet and that sin cannot be cleansed by human sacrifice. Looking at both religious statements as possible "truths," no one can help but notice that they are incompatible. I did not say that one was right and the other wrong. I said that they can't coexist in a meaningful way. Either Jesus was, or he wasn't (or, obviously, neither is correct; but I'm trying to stick to the point of comparison between the two). Everything else is just commentary. Of course it is up to members of each faith group to decide for themselves what that means: I said so myself in my answer.

Feel free to MeMail me if you're having issues with this... as a former Orthodox Jew you are clearly already assuming a lot about me and my belief system that's demonstrably incorrect, and I would hate for this misunderstanding to further derail a thread that I think raises a worthwhile question.
posted by Mchelly at 6:26 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing AngerBoy here - I think it's fairly clear that the Seder of the 21st century is not either the ancient Jewish Passover of the 1st CE or the Christian Mass.

Totally agree that trying to "shoe-horn" Christian ideas into the modern Seder is a waste of time.

Here's a long article about the archaeological background (lots of good stuff like that on Wiki).

As a Catholic I'd have more interest in attending an actual current Jewish Seder. I think (big surprise!) the Pope's new book is a good way to see the commonalities and differences between the 2 concepts of ritual and memory. He goes into a lot of detail about the question of what Jesus actually celebrated (Passover? Eucharist? Something else?) and what ritual means for Christians now.

As Mchelly says, modern Christianity and modern Judaism (I'm thinking mainly of the orthodox varieties of both, sorry!) are 2 different things - but we should try to understand each other as we actually are.
posted by KMH at 6:41 AM on March 30, 2011

tel3path, none of the people you are describing fit any meaningful definition of "Jews". They are self identified Christians, some of Jewish descent, and their participation in Christian church services really shouldn't suggest to you that that's just how some Jews roll.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:51 AM on April 2, 2011

I know it's late but I just ran across this full issue of Sh'ma magazine (from 1999 no less) on the question: Celebrating Passover, a holiday which asks us to welcome the stranger into our midst, is fast becoming a religious event for Christians. How should the Jewish community respond?

and thought it could be useful to have it here for future reference.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:42 AM on May 27, 2011

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