Review: Two Messianic Passover Haggadoth

 

Passover Seder

Passover Seder

There’s no lack of Passover Haggadoth for Messianics. The best known are perhaps The Messianic Passover Haggadah by Barry & Steffi Rubin, and the more recent Vine of David Haggadah published by FFOZ. [1] There are many more, especially in internet editions. Some show a beautiful lay-out and are richly illustrated. There seems to be enough material available for all styles and tastes.

To our taste, however, the materials offered thus far show many liturgical defects and inconveniences. Despite many serious efforts that have been made we haven’t seen a messianic Haggadah which successfully and convincingly integrates the traditional Jewish and the typical messianic features of the Seder. It is our perception that the difficulty of doing so is often underestimated, and that authors and editors are not sufficiently aware of the decisions involved in such a project, or the halachic and theological problems connected to these decisions.

First, there’s the problem of how to preserve the internal logic and dynamics of the Jewish calendar in introducing the messianic theme. This is a problem that exceeds the boundaries of the Seder celebration and already announces itself in the days of the Passover preparations. According to traditional Jewish understanding, joy increases during the months of Adar and Nisan, up to Passover, and decreases during the days of counting the Omer. But according to messianic understanding the Omer is the time of the joyful celebration of Yeshua’s resurrection, while the time leading up to Passover is the time of Yeshua’s trial, passion, death, and burial.

The association of the Passover time with Yeshua’s suffering and death, and of the Omer with the resurrection joy is thus in apparent incongruence with the moods of these seasons in Jewish tradition, an incongruence which is intensified at the day of the Seder. According to the dominant Christian tradition Yeshua died on the 14th of Nisan, on the afternoon before Seder night, and was buried just before the sundown that initiated the Yom Tov of the 15th of Nisan and the weekly Sabbath, which in that year fell on the same day. [2] Again, according to the dominant tradition Yeshua was resurrected on the day after the Yom Tov, the 16th of Nisan. In the year of Yeshua’s death this was also the Sunday after the weekly Sabbath in the Passover week, and the first day of the Omer in the ancient priestly calendar. This calendar was probably still in use at that time. The tradition of starting the Omer on the first Sunday after Nisan 14 is followed by a considerable part of the messianic world and seems to be the best interpretation of the scriptural verses relating to it.

This implies that according to the Jewish calendar, the time of the celebration of the Seder reminds us of Messiah’s death and burial, not of his resurrection. [3] His resurrection occurs on a day that is not a Yom Tov at all. [4] One can ask a lot of questions here. What does this signify for the mood of the Seder? Is it apropriate to express joy at all at such a time when we remember Yeshua’s gruesome death and his lying in the tomb? Should the expression of joy perhaps be postponed to the day of the resurrection? How should this coincidence of a Yom Tov with a dead Messiah be treated liturgically? What is the deeper meaning of the fact that a holiday is celebrated while Messiah is resting in the grave?

I won’t try to answer these questions here and now, but my point is that I think they should be answered before a genuine messianic Haggadah can be developed.

The later Christian answer to this problem has been the dismissal of the Jewish calendrical system as being inadequate for expressing the great themes of Messiah’s passion, death and resurrection. The Sunday of the resurrection was made the important feast day and the days of the so-called Holy Week — from Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday — were all connected to the successive stages leading up to that great day. For that reason the joy of Passover in the Christian calendar is almost exclusively connected to the celebration of the resurrection. The other events, the institution of the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday, the crucifixion and burial on Good Friday, and the rest in the tomb on Holy Saturday, are solemn and of immense importance, but not specifically joyous, or a mix of joy and sadness at best.

The perception that the Jewish calendar was inadequate for the liturgical expression of the messianic content of the Apostolic Scriptures might also have been a motive for the Christian abrogation of the weekly Sabbath. Sunday, the day of the resurrection, had to become the day of joy and gladness, the day of celebration, while the Sabbath was viewed as a day of mourning. In the weekly order of days Messiah died on a Friday, rested in the grave during the Sabbath, and rose from the dead after the Sabbath. “This Saturday of death was the death of the Sabbath” says Häring in the Dutch edition of his important work Das Gesetz Christi, thus explaining his opinion that from a systematic theological perspective the celebration of the Sabbath is incompatible with faith in Messiah, because such a practice would be derogatory of the miracle of the resurrection and betray a silent approval of Yeshua’s execution. [5].

In a messianic concept of the Haggadah and the Seder these traditional Christian objections against the Jewish calendar and its celebrations should be convincingly refuted and overcome.

Second, there is the problem of how to introduce the messianic theme in the Haggadah text and liturgy. When we go more in detail, we discover a number of inconveniences and frictions.

The Messianic Passover Haggadah

The Messianic Passover Haggadah

In The Messianic Passover Haggadah, which doesn’t accurately follow the fifteen traditional rubrics of the Seder, the person of Messiah is introduced at the handwashing (Urkhatz) ceremony (p. 8) by means of a reference to the footwashing mentioned in John ch. XIII. Why and how these two washings, which from a traditional halachic viewpoint are unrelated, are theologically connected here remains entirely unclear. In the section where the four questions are answered, Messiah appears by a number of loose biblical quotations and a risible trinitarian speculation on the three matzot of the Seder. Another annoying pseudo-symbolism is made by comparing the pierced matzah with the pierced Yeshua on the Cross. As if unleavened bread were necessarily pierced! Hand made matzot are not pierced at all.  

The connection between the custom of reclining and the messianic theme is made by quoting Matthew 11:28: “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”.

Generally it can be said that the Exodus from Egypt and the Exodus of Messiah are only superficially interrelated in this Haggadah.

Vine of David Haggadah

Vine of David Haggadah

When we consult FFOZ’s Vine of David Haggadah, the first thing we see is that it accurately follows the traditional fifteen rubrics of the traditional Jewish Seder liturgy. In this Haggadah the person of Messiah is introduced right at the beginning. Right before Kaddesh it opens with the words of the Last Supper scene according to the Gospel of Luke (22:14-16): “And when the hour had come, he reclined,… &c”. Like the Rubin’s, FFOZ’s Haggadah assumes that the Last Supper of Yeshua was a Passover Seder and it links the scene of the exit of Judas to the rubric of Karpas.

The Maggid of the FFOZ Haggadah doesn’t have any reference to Messiah at all, until the Pesach Matzah Maror section, where it is said that it would be appropriate at this time to discuss the messianic significance of the Passover offering, the Matzah, and the Maror, and how these items may serve as a remembrance of the Master” (pp. 39-41). Nothing is done, however, to really intertwine or synthesize the traditional Maggid text and the messianic theme.

The FFOZ Haggadah returns to the messianic theme at the moment of HaMotzi, and connects the HaMotzi blessing with Yeshua’s words at the Last Supper: “This is my body, which is given on your behalf. Do this for my remembrance” (Lk. 22:19). At the Shulchan Orech the passage about the footwashing of John 13:3-5; 12-17 is included. But it is not clear whether a real foot washing ceremony should be conducted here. The passage is given without any ceremonial directions.

Although the Vine of David Haggadah shows a better liturgical awareness than The Messianic Passover Haggadah, yet it can be said that both show a typical lack of real synthesis between the traditional Jewish and the specific messianic themes. The approach of both Haggadoth is not in line with the idea of progressive revelation so prevalent in messianic circles, and which implies a harmonious integration of the historically later into the historically earlier, and a new perspective on the earlier stages of revelation history from the end-goal reached in Messiah.

Both Haggadoth tend to connect the traditional and the messianic themes in a rather outward and superficial manner. This not only creates an impression of artificiality, since the messianic content just drops in at some typical moments, it also creates sudden breaks into the flow of the Seder liturgy. Take for example the summary of HaShem’s benefits to Israel as it occurs in and immediately after the Dayenu song. In the Rubin Haggadah a rather unsuccessful attempt is made to integrate Messiah’s redemption, by letting the Dayenu culminate in it; in the FFOZ Haggadah the traditional Dayenu is left intact, and consequently no place is found for Messiah in this summary.

Both of these options are rather unlucky. On the one hand: How can a summary of HaShem’s benefits to his people be truthful if it doesn’t culminate in the incomparable gift of Messiah Yeshua? On the other hand: How can one expect that the messianic theme can be successfully assimilated in a song like Dayenu, which in each stanza emphasizes the sufficiency of the earlier benefits in comparison to the later? Bringing in Messiah unthoughtfully here would cause this song to culminate in the blasphemy that if HaShem had built the Temple but had not given Messiah Yeshua, it would have been enough! [6]

From this example it is clear that Messiah cannot be treated as simply an additional benefit of HaShem to Israel. The promised Messiah is the deeper reason of all the other benefits — those preceeding as well as those following him historically — and he is the centre and focus of the whole divine purpose in revelation and redemption. That’s why a Passover Haggadah cannot be made ‘messianic’ by adding a messianic point of attention here and there. It can only be truly messianic if Messiah is its golden thread from beginning to end and if this golden thread can be detected and followed throughout the entire celebration of the Seder.

The Messianic Passover Haggadah and the Vine of David Haggadah don’t succeed in brining the traditionally Jewish and messianic themes to a synthesis in a convincing Seder liturgy. Although both booklets should be considered as important pioneering efforts in introducing the Seder customs to Christians, we still have to wait for an Haggadah which is both truly Jewish and messianic.

______________

[1] Barry & Steffi Rubin, The Messianic Passover Haggadah, Messianic Jewish Publishers (Lederer) — Baltimore, MD 1989, 1994, 1996, 1998; Vine of David Haggadah, First Fruits of Zion — 2010 Marshfield, Missouri.

[2] John 19:31 informs us that “that Sabbath day was an High day”.

[3] There is an exception to this. In a year when the 15th of Nisan occurs on a Sunday, the Omer begins on this day. In such a year the obligations of the 14th of Nisan are preponed to the 13th because of the Sabbath.

[4] There are two exceptions to this. The first is the mentioned in the footnote no. 2. When the 15th of Nisan is a Sunday, the resurrection is celebrated on this same day. The other would be when the seventh day of Passover, which is a Yom Tov, falls on a Sunday. This exception is only theoretical nowadays, because the calculated calendar we use is so constructed that Nisan 14 can never happen on a Sunday. It should perhaps be avoided in a non-calculated calendar as well, for liturgical reasons.

[5] “Da­ags na Goede Vrijdag heeft de volmaakte rust van Christus in het graf een einde gemaakt aan de oude voorafbeel­ding. Deze zaterdag van de dood was de dood van de sabbat” In: De Wet van Christus, II.259,3. (Translation: “On the day after Good Friday, Christ’s perfect rest in the grave ended the old foreshadowing. This Saturday of death was the death of the Sabbath”.)

[6] Traditionally, the final stanza goes like this: “If He had let us enter the land of Israel, but had not built for us the House of his choosing, it would have been enough”.

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5 Responses to “Review: Two Messianic Passover Haggadoth”


  1. 1 Joel April 2, 2014 at 9:54 pm

    It is so clear that Passover points us to Yeshua. The entire Tanach points to Him. From Genesis through Malachi the theme is the Promised Messiah of the seed of David, seed of Abraham that will redeem not only Israel, but the chosen of God from every nation. Shalom

  2. 2 William April 20, 2016 at 10:29 am

    I agree with you– we do need a better haggadah than what we have. You wrote this article in 2014, and it is now 2016. Have any new haggadoth been attempted that would be more suitable? Wouldn’t Geert ter Horst attempt such a one since he is concerned about it and is aware of the relevant issues?

    • 3 Messianic613 April 20, 2016 at 7:18 pm

      We are working on a complete messianic revision of the Siddur and the traditional liturgy. The revision of the Passover Haggadah is just part of this, and the original plan was to postpone publication until everything was completed. This would provide the right context for every part. On second thoughts, however, it is perhaps a good idea to publish the current version of the Haggadah and the Passover night liturgy, although there may still come up some future changes. You can download it from a link in a new post on this site, which is to be found here: Messianic613’s Passover Haggadah. There’s an additional link to a Passover Kabbalat Service.


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