One of the great aspects of Pesach is the seder meal has power to connect people to their Judaism, even when they have stopped observing pretty much everything else. This family observance in the home, or communally in the synagogue, works to bring Jews together to remember and appreciate our liberation and also our connection to our people’s past. It has amazing staying power.
It was not always so. According to the account of King Josiah’s reign in the Books of Kings (2:23:21) and Chronicles (2:35:1-18), the Jews did not observe Passover for a good 400 years, from the time of the Prophet Samuel (around 1050 BCE) to Josiah’s own time (around 620 BCE).
Josiah got Passover celebrated again after a Sefer Torah was found in the Temple in Jerusalem, which by his reign was a centre for idol worship as much as for Judaism. Biblical scholars say this episode tells us about the origins of the Book of Deuteronomy, which insists that Passover should be celebrated in just one place. Josiah brought Passover back into Jewish life.
Passover subsequently became so popular that the Roman Jewish historian Josephus (Wars of the Jews 6:9:3 422-427) reports around the year 60 CE that more than half a million Jews would come to Jerusalem each year to eat their Passover lamb, having had it prepared at the Temple, sitting in the family groups that are the origin of our seder tables, and the roasted bone on our seder plates.
Jewish history shows us that Judaism has remarkable resilience. We should never write off any Jew’s participation in our people. Passover tells us to always have the door open to draw in anyone who wants to be with us and share our values.
- Formerly rabbi at Alyth Synagogue, Mark Goldsmith has been appointed Senior Rabbi of Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue from this summer