Monday, May 19, 2008

Passover at the Finkelsteins

"I am a great believer in a total separation between tradition and research. I myself have a warm spot in my heart for the Bible and its splendid stories. During our Pesach seder, my two girls, who are 11 and 7, didn't hear a word about the fact that there was no exodus from Egypt. When they are 25, we will tell them a different story. Belief, tradition and research are three parallel lines that can exist simultaneously. I don't see that as a gross contradiction."

-Israel Finkelstein


How about that. The arch-skeptic Biblical minimalist has a traditional Pesach seder. Interesting how there are so many others who refuse to do so based significantly on his work.

23 comments:

FedUp said...

Interesting...

It may seem a bit rough to say this but I don't think it's nice to portray fairy tales as reality to children. However I don't think it's all that bad when they are too young to know the difference.

On the other hand I don't see the problem of celebrating a mythological history, as long as you are looking for the lessons applicable for your life and realize that it's probably not how it really went down.

The "traditional" seder is a bit problematic for me. I was cringing this past pesach.

Anonymous said...

"my two girls, who are 11 and 7, didn't hear a word about the fact that there was no exodus from Egypt. When they are 25, we will tell them a different story."

If I was his daughter, I'd be seriously pissed at age 25. Fucking liar.

Rabban Gamliel said...

"Interesting...

It may seem a bit rough to say this but I don't think it's nice to portray fairy tales as reality to children."

It's not fairy tales. Fairy tales are believed by no one.

Orthoprax said...

Fed,

"The "traditional" seder is a bit problematic for me. I was cringing this past pesach."

I always get the particular sense that the rabbis of the Hagaddah deliberately go over the top with their multiplying makkot and such. And there are several passages in Magid which clearly set the stage for freedom from bondage to be taken grandly and metaphorically. That, for example, we would still be slaves in Egypt today if God did not free us and that each of us ought to regard ourselves as coming out of Egypt.

The implicit message in the Seder is that true freedom - freedom from our own baser instincts perhaps - is accessible only through the transcendent. True freedom is found in being a servant of God (or in Taoist terms, freedom is in aligning yourself with the Tao, aka divine will). Oh, and I'm rather fond of the term HaMakom to refer to God.

In any case, my point to you is that the Seder is really not intended as a history lesson. There's more to it than that and you shouldn't let your unease about the technical details ruin the experience.



Anon,

"If I was his daughter, I'd be seriously pissed at age 25. Fucking liar."

Wow, ok then. I think that if you were his daughter then you would have been taught the value of tradition.

Anonymous said...

Tradition is valuable but it is NEVER a reason to teach your kids as fact something you know isn't true. Tradition is a great reason to dress or eat a certain way, but lying is fucking lying.

Baal Habos said...

I'm sure his kids know the score, well before 25. He enjoys a nice seder. Plain and simple.

FedUp said...

OP,

You know how to talk nice to your customers.

I definetly hear you about the lesson of freedom through the transcendent. That may be one way but I'm not sure I'd agree that it's THE way. Do you have any particular reason why it is THE way as opposed to free inquiry, or just plain old freedom from actual physical bondage, the latter is kind of out of date in the strictest sense of the word but the former...

I'm not that good at not being offended from traditional tradition. I'd like to see if there is a reform or reconstructionist haggadah or just make up my own.

In regards to Anon,
25 does seem a bit old to me. Was this written or said casually? He could have simply pulled an age out of thin air and actually meant when his kids reach the age of reason which could be much younger.

Rabban Gamliel said...

"Baal Habos said...
I'm sure his kids know the score, well before 25. He enjoys a nice seder. Plain and simple."

You are assuming that Finkelstein's denial of the Exodus would not be turned into trash by the time the kids are 25. What faith you have.

Miri said...

anonymous-
"Tradition is a great reason to dress or eat a certain way, but lying is fucking lying."

He clearly doesn't think of himself as lying. What's the point in having a tradition to eat or dress a certain way if you don't know where it came from or why it is a tradition at all?

It doesn't seem contradictory to me; I think Finkelstein's right that these things can exist alongside each other without real conflict.

Anonymous said...

"He clearly doesn't think of himself as lying."

Then he's lying to himself too.

avrum68 said...

my two girls, who are 11 and 7, didn't hear a word about the fact that there was no exodus from Egypt. When they are 25, we will tell them a different story.

I'll be seeing them in therapy one day ;)

Mr. Prof should be careful... a secular prof (who will remain nameless) at a well know university, dedicated his life to researching and teaching about frum life. His kids, believing their dad's approach was anything but inspiring, went total BT. And with a vengeance. Needless to say, the prof continues to ponder what he did wrong.

Morale: Your kids know. Best to fess up your belief system when they're teens, because it's too late when they young adults. By then, they've already given you the big middle finger for, I believe the saying was... "fucking lying to them".

"Those who can't do teach, and those who can't teach, teach gym."
- Annie Hall

Holy Hyrax said...

>I'd like to see if there is a reform or reconstructionist haggadah or just make up my own.

Herman Wouk in has an interesting little comment in "This is My God". That usual attempts to changing the haggadahs have failed and never last and that people are usually drawn in this case toward the traditional and archaic.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

Yeah, 'hinukh' is always a big issue. How could you raise someone to be religious if you know it's not true? But how can you raise a child irreligious if he might grow up to believe it (religion) is true?

As an aside; I want to mention about the seder that according to Amnon Yitzchak (I know, a weird person to be quoting), it's difficult to imagine all the commemorations we have for the exodus from Egypt being instituted later in history...

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

"I will set down a tale as it was told to me by one who had it of his father, which latter had it of his father, this last having in like manner had it of his father- and so on, back and still back, three hundred years and more, the fathers transmitting it to the sons and so preserving it. It may be history, it may be only legend, a tradition. It may have happened, it may not have happened: but it could have happened. It may be that the wise and the learned believed it in the old days; it may be that only the unlearned and the simple loved it and credited it." - Mark Twain, "The Prince and the Pauper"

In other words: chill.


Fed,

"I definetly hear you about the lesson of freedom through the transcendent. That may be one way but I'm not sure I'd agree that it's THE way. Do you have any particular reason why it is THE way as opposed to..."

Well you can understand the holiday in whichever way is most meaningful to you, but I believe my understanding retains the ancient message within a measure of philosophical sophistication.

"25 does seem a bit old to me. Was this written or said casually?"

He was being interviewed on a Haaretz article. I'm sure he didn't mean anything particular about age 25.


Hashbar,

"As an aside; I want to mention about the seder that according to Amnon Yitzchak (I know, a weird person to be quoting), it's difficult to imagine all the commemorations we have for the exodus from Egypt being instituted later in history..."

Like the Christians commemorate the deeds of Jesus? Amnon Yitzchak is a weird guy in general.

But it's true, we do know at least that the belief in an Exodus is very old.

alex said...

Great Mark Twain quote. Had that waiting in the wings for some time, haven't you? :-)

Baal Habos said...

>it may be only legend, a tradition. It may have happened, it may not have happened: but it could have happened.


Aye, there's the rub. Could it really?

Anonymous said...

That Mark Twain quote is not even remotely applicable. If Prof. Finkelstein had said that then a) I wouldn't call him a liar and b) his kids wouldn't fall for it for a second. But what he actually said in the interview is:
"During our Pesach seder, my two girls, who are 11 and 7, didn't hear a word about the fact that there was no exodus from Egypt. When they are 25, we will tell them a different story."

That's nothing like what Twain wrote. So yeah, he's a fucking liar.

avrum68 said...

That Mark Twain quote is not even remotely applicable.

I agree with anon. Eh, in the end this'll bite him in the ass. I've seen it over and over again.

Miri said...

Orthoprax-
"it may be only legend, a tradition. It may have happened, it may not have happened: but it could have happened. "

In other words,
"Well, it's certainly true that it was a story." -Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men.

Anon-
I know it's a little difficult for some people to understand the idea that truth is more than simply what did or did not happen. In fact, one might say that truth is complicated enough when it only IS what did or did not happen. But narrow minds can only comprehend so much. If you're actually going to be honest with yourself about what truth really is and the totality of all that is included in it, you're going to have to expand your definition a little bit. Try it sometime. Mind games are fun. :)

Orthoprax said...

People seem to really like that Twain quote. I'm gonna have to make it a whole post of its own.

fink said...

http://www.theyeshivaworld.com/article.php?p=18744

Orthoprax said...

Fink,

Different Finkelstein.

mOOm said...

Sounds like Christians teaching their children about Santa Claus - i.e. something they don't believe in - which I always thought was the weirdest thing.