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    When do we eat?

    Depiction of a seder, from the Augsburg Haggadah, 1534

    Judaism is not the only culture to combine a fraternal meal with philosophical discussion.

    Ancient Greece developed the Symposium, though the context was not so much a meal as a drinking feast. The Romans for their part coined the phrase “cum panis”, common bread, from which derives the term “company”.

    Judaism, however, elevated table talk into a religious requirement. It believed that a group who eat together and talk Torah turn the table into an altar; those who merely eat and discuss no Torah look like idolaters (Avot 3:3-4).

    The Pesach Seder is the best example of the Jewish concept of fraternal eating combined with religious discussion. But it is not a mere ritualised philosophical exercise. The discussion plunges us into the events. It reconstructs the slavery and the Exodus, it gives us the taste of the bitterness of bondage and the sweetness of release, and it enables us to reach our own conclusion that none can be fully free until everyone is free.

    There may be people who want to rush through the talk and get straight to the food. The poet would have called them people “with soul so dead”.

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