JVP Haggadah (2015) & Freedom Seder (1969)


Hermetically sealed, the JVP Haggadah is a didactic counter-narrative transforming the traditional text into a statement for Palestinian national rights and liberation. As a political document, readers of contemporary haggadot will instantly recognize it as part of a continuum. Of much interest is the attempt to make the intersection between radical Jewish values and Palestinian lives. Indeed, it would be useful to compare it to the original Freedom Seder from 1969 put together by Arthur Waskow in the wake of the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King. You can read the Freedom Seder here. In both haggadot, the Passover story is meant to throw a critical and moral perspective on contemporary politics, highlighting universal norms of peace and justice.

But note the difference too. In the Freedom Seder, the traditional Jewish argot has been preserved. With the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement very much in mind, the Jewish narrative takes on a more universal political dimension. In fact, the story of slavery in Egypt has been highlighted in order to draw the story closer in to the African American experience. In contrast, that narrative barely appears in the JVP Haggadah. With a bare trace here and there, the story of the Egyptian bondage and the Israelite exodus has been lifted out of the document and left behind. There is a strong apologetic core linking the Palestinian nakba to the death of the Egyptian firstborn and to the drowning of the Egyptians at the Sea.

However you might understand it, “the Jewish perspective” has been eclipsed by the narrative of Palestine, the critical perspective unrelentingly turned in against the State of Israel. You can read the 2015 online edition here; and the 2016 edition here. The latter includes a new preface, invoking intersectionality, Black Lives Matter, and an expression of “fierce righteous rage.” For some perspective, Shaul Magid reminds me about the savage critique of the Freedom Seder penned by Robert Alter in Commentary, back in 1971. I’m trying to find a link, but for now here are readers responding to that issue in Commentary on “Revolutionism and the Jews,” where the same tensions between tradition and politics, universalism and particularism, rightwing Jews and leftwing Jews are brought to the fore. What critics of the Freedom Seder missed is how much traditional content was maintained in the text.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
This entry was posted in uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to JVP Haggadah (2015) & Freedom Seder (1969)

  1. milx says:

    Depressing but firm evidence if any was needed that anti-Zionism has in its Jewish adherents replaced any other kind of Jewish ritual, narrative or tradition. Just as some critics have lambasted contemporary Jewry for over-focusing on the Holocaust and/or Israel, these same critics have jettisoned literally thousands of years of Jewish thought and practice virtually all of which predates the occupation.

Leave a Reply