Celebrating the Feast of Weeks

Just letting you know that the next column in the series was published.

It can be found here:

Just letting you know!

Rabbi Joe

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May Column – Looking beyond Passover

The next column from the News Virginian for May 2014.

Read the article HERE.

Rabbi Joe

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Anti-Semitism Interview 4/21/2014

The following link takes you to a short interview on WHSV about Anti-Semitism in light of recent events.

Interview Appears Here

Mo’adim Le’simchah,

Rabbi Joe


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Hebrews wouldn’t recognize our Passover

Column as published in The News Virginian
The News Virginian

The following is an article I wrote for a monthly column appearing in The News Virginian. This appeared on April 4th, 2014.

Hebrews wouldn’t recognize our Passover

Posted: Friday, April 4, 2014 6:45 am

Rabbi Joe Blair

Editor’s note: Rabbi Joe Blair from Temple House of Israel in Staunton will run a column with us on the first Friday of each month, one of several local religious leaders that have been asked to contribute. In this article, the letter ‘o’ has been intentionally left out of the word G-d. Some members of Reform Judaism refer to Deuteronomy 12:3-4 and feel that people, when possible, should avoid writing the name of God.

April this year is a good time to start something new from a Jewish viewpoint. The evening of April 14 at sundown is the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover (Pesach in Hebrew, the source of the word ‘pascal’ in the phrase ‘pascal lamb’). It is a time for new things, because it is recognition of the impending arrival of spring and the renewal of the cycle of life that represents. It is also known as a new year on the Jewish calendar, because it is the first holiday with which the calendar cycle is described in the Bible. So it is appropriate that here we start something new – this column!

Passover is the Jewish celebration of two major things.

First, it is a celebration of liberation, based on the events told in the book of Exodus about the Hebrews (the children of Jacob) being freed from slavery. This is certainly a big deal, and worth remembering forever, but even this pales in comparison to what happened next!

The second aspect of the celebration is that this is a remembrance of G-d’s redemption of the Hebrews from the bonds of slavery, under the yoke of a cruel master. This is a miraculous salvation, taking them out from the midst of a powerful people who would have easily held them in captivity, but for the might and power of G-d. Only by means of the miracles that G-d wrought through his agents Moses and Aaron were the Hebrews able to flee.  No one, not even the mighty Pharaoh, himself a god among the pantheon of gods, could deflect or stand before the power of G-d. This was most abundantly clear in the final plague, the death of the first born sons. The children of the Hebrews were spared when they did as instructed and sacrificed an animal, placing a portion of the blood on the doorposts of their homes to indicate that this was the home of a G-d-fearer and should be bypassed when the plague was visited on those who did not hold G-d in awe. These are the (short form) reasons for this festival.

At first Passover was a form of re-enactment of the events of the Redemption for the purpose of remembrance. The details of the celebration began very modestly. The commandment in the Torah (5 books of Moses) was to continue those same actions as a form of remembrance. While the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness, and then later in Israel, and when the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the celebration was to offer the best ram of a certain age one had for a sacrifice to G-d, with all of the blood removed, the animal roasted, and then consumed by the family, along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs – the three major symbols of this holiday (offering, matzah, and bitter herbs).

Only much later, after the destruction of the second Temple in the year 70 C.E. by the Romans did the ceremony of the ritual change. Without a Temple at which to offer a sacrifice, all Jewish sacrifices stopped. Instead, the Hebrews, who were now called the Israelites (after their ancestor Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel) and who were by this time again living in the land of Israel, replaced these animal sacrifices with the sacrifice of the heart – prayers. That is the way we have done it ever since.

Of course, without an animal sacrifice the form of the remembrance of the Redemption had to also adapt. Instead of a lamb barbecue, we had prayers, and we moved the ritual from the Temple to the home. That was the beginning of the Passover Seder.

Seder is a word that means order, and refers to the ‘order’ of the ritual, which includes the meal in the midst of the order as a part of the ‘offering’. The meal is itself structured to be a part of the retelling of the story of the Exodus by incorporating symbolic items and actions as part of it. That is where we include the use of the matzah – the unleavened bread, the bitter herbs, the salt water, the roasted egg, the lamb shankbone representing the sacrifice, and the greens. The entire seder is an elaborate teaching tool – it focuses on the events of Exodus, tries to stimulate questions, and teaches that we should each envision our self as if we were there and part of the story. In this way, we recall the story, tell it, enact it, and consume it, all at one time, and thus embody it literally (you are what you eat and do). Other symbols were added over time (I named a few above), and more came, including the use of the four cups of wine, the cup of Elijah, the cup of Miriam, the orange on the seder plate, and many more. The seder we have today would be unrecognizable to one of the Hebrews, but it is how we remember and retell the story of the Exodus. Oops! I am out of space. More next month!  – Rabbi Joe


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