Passover Across Jewish Time and Space

Passover is the most celebrated holiday for American Jews. Yet, few appreciate the historical evolution and diversity of its key themes and messages.

Passover From The Haggadah (London: Beaconsfield Press, 1940). Reproduced with the cooperation of The Arthur Szyk Society, www.szyk.org.

Curated by Deborah Dash Moore and Noam Pianko

Exile and Homecoming: The Enduring Impact of the Exodus Narrative

The Exodus narrative following the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom and exile to homecoming has shaped Western culture, politics, and religion. Starting with the biblical source itself, these examples illustrate how the biblical themes serve for Jews and non-Jews alike as a primary lens for interpreting everything from personal journeys to national liberation movements.

The Spinx of Tanis
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Oppression and Exodus

From movies to civil-rights movements, the Exodus stands at the center of Western thought and culture. You will still be surprised by what is, and what isn’t, in the account.
Heine portrait
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A Seder Night

A medieval rabbi barely escapes from a blood libel accusation at his own Seder table in this prescient nineteenth-century story by the famous German Romantic poet Heinrich Heine.
Exodus from Egypt
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Exodus and Revolution

The Exodus story serves as more than a religious or moral narrative. Its influence has shaped the fundamental paradigms of Western political thought to this day.
Israel Ezra and Hamama Sasson
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Out of Egypt

Egyptian Jewish American author André Aciman describes celebrating his last Seder in Egypt with his bags packed to leave his homeland for good.

One Little Goat

A beloved song at the end of the Passover Seder ritual has inspired many artistic illustrations that comment on the relationship between themes of Passover and contemporary events.  These powerful twentieth-century depictions reveal the enduring relevance, and changing interpretations, of the Passover story.

Illustration of man in a bloody apron holding a bloody knife as he begins to slaughter a large animal.
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The Shohet

The violence of the Passover song “Had Gadya” (“Who Knows One”) clearly spoke to this illustrator’s sense of horror following World War I.
Image of four panels with man in each panel: one in moustache and riding outfit; one wearing sidelocks, kippah, and suit; one muscled in boots; and one with short sidelocks, hat, and wide stance, all surrounded by decorated border and labeled in Yiddish.
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The Four Sons

This 1934 illustration of the Passover story of the four sons features a caricature of the “wicked” son dressed as Hitler.

Grappling with Passover’s Message during the Civil War

Today, the popular Passover story of Jewish freedom from slavery underscores a fundamental belief among many American Jews that there is a Jewish moral commitment to fight for justice and equity. Yet, the connection between overcoming the oppression of the ancient Israelites and fighting for the rights of other enslaved people was a central topic of debate during the American Civil War. We see the very different ways Jews have read and interpreted the moral lessons from the Passover story in these texts.

A Union Soldier’s Passover

Passover preparations for a Civil War–era Union soldier included importing seven barrels of matzot and collecting weeds to substitute for the symbolic bitterness of horseradish.

Passover, Feminism, and Religious Innovation

The Exodus story and Passover rituals have provided many opportunities for challenging traditionally gendered narratives and ritual practices of the Jewish past. Passover’s central place in the Jewish calendar and collective memory makes it an important site for innovations that reflect changing norms about gender and sexuality. These examples extend back to the early nineteenth century and illuminate efforts to raise the visibility of women and women’s experiences in Judaism.

Timbrel
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Miriam HaNeviah

Miriam, one of the few women in the Bible to be called a prophet, provides an important opportunity for contemporary liturgists to expand the male-dominated framework of traditional Jewish prayer.

Miriam’s Song

What if Miriam were remembered just as a person rescuing her brother Moses rather than as the heroine responsible for saving the man who would redeem the Jewish people from bondage?

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