Rabbi Howard Cooper

Rabbi Howard Cooper

Two Voices: This week’s progressive Judaism debate tackles…freedom

Q: On Pesach we recall being freed. But are we truly free in today’s modern world?

  • Rabbi Howard Cooper says…

As we sit down to our seder remembering our ancestors’ oppression in Egypt, we acknowledge the unprecedented freedoms we now enjoy.

There is the freedom to celebrate without persecution, to speak our minds and express our Jewish selves however we choose. But we have to ask ourselves how can we celebrate these freedoms with integrity when we live in an as-yet-unredeemed world.

It is a world of homelessness and food banks on our doorsteps; a world where women are sold into sexual slavery, and wage slavery in Asia underpins the technology we use, the clothes we wear, the food we eat. It is a world which encompasses polio in Syrian refugee camps, groups of genocidal militias in Africa, and where settlers uproot Palestinian olive groves.

It is a world where the richest 85 people control as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population put together. Dayyeinu, we sing, in thankfulness of all we have.

But the bitter herbs remind us of all we have not done, all that remains to be done, as long as bitterness remains the daily life of others created, like us, in the image of the Divine One, our Redeemer, who waits for us to continue the work of redemption, with our own “strong hands and outstretched arms”.

• Howard Cooper is rabbi at Finchley Reform Synagogue

  • Abi Magrill

    Abi Magrill

    Abi Magrill says…

By accident of birth, I am free to pursue my hopes and aspirations, and to spend sunny afternoons pondering my freedom over a cup of tea. My relative freedom is a remarkable feat of history and geography.

On Monday evening, Jews all around the world gathered round their seder tables to tell a story of liberation. It is the story of a journey from slavery to freedom – but are we really free to choose or bound by causes beyond our control?

There are many ways in which we might be thought of still as “bound”, even all these millennia after the exodus from Egypt. Thinkers and philosophers have attributed that part of us that feels “free” to a variety of factors, from the society in which we live to our genetic makeup.

But I think that the Hagaddah has something important to teach us about the applicability of freedom. While we could argue on a metaphysical level about the extent of our freedom, its comparison with the slavery of our ancestors offers a stark reminder of what we can, and should, be thankful for.

The celebration of Pesach is not one of absolute freedom – it is one of relative freedom against all odds.

• Abi studies medicine at Clare College, Cambridge and is a member of Cambridge Egalitarian Minyan