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    Like the bread of affliction

    Q. Why do some Haggadot say Ha Lachma Anya – “This is the Bread of Affliction” while others say K’ha Lachma Anya – “This is like the Bread of Affliction”?

    Ha Lachma from the Venice Haggadah, 1609

    A. They are indicating that the matzah we use is a replica of the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in Egypt, not the actual bread itself.

    We’re not even certain of the taste of the original matzah. Maybe it was crisp like ours; maybe it was limp like pittot (which is how some Sephardim make it).

    Professor David Daube had a theory that the distinction was a Jewish response to the Christian doctrine of transubstantiation, which says the Eucharist wafer and wine become the body and blood of Jesus through the prayer of the priest.

    The source is the Last Supper in the Synoptic Gospels and I Corinthians 11:23-25, as well as the Bread of Life sermon in John 6, as seen by Latin theologians.

    Mark 14:22-24 reads: “He took bread, broke it and gave it to them, saying: ‘Take this; this is my body.’ He took a cup and gave it to them; they all drank from it, saying, ‘This is my blood of the covenant shed for many…’” (cf. Matt. 26:26-29, Luke 22:17-19). Mark 14:12 says this was “when the Passover lambs were being slaughtered”.

    Whether the meal was a Passover Seder or a fellowship meal, Jews would have been aghast at eating human flesh or drinking blood. Jesus would have respected this rule, though he claimed to transcend it.

    We are uncertain whether there were objections to his words about the blood, since the Gospels do not record all that was said. Though the NT writers mention wine, some early Christian groups used water for the communion.

    In referring to “my body…my blood”, Jesus was asking his disciples to feel at one with him and somehow share his fate, in line with the Passover rule, “In every age a person must see himself as if he came out of Egypt”. He often used figurative language, e.g. “I am the door” (John 10:9), “I am the way” (John 14:6), and “You are salt to the world” (Matt. 5:14). He wanted his disciples to know that in a mystical/spiritual sense (believers in transubstantiation think it was literal) he would be with them.

    Transubstantiation, while important to Christians, has no place in Judaism, since Jesus’ life, death and status do not figure in Jewish belief and practice.

    But in the Middle Ages the Jews were accused of desecrating the “host” (the communion wafers) by stealing wafers from churches and “torturing” them, thus re-enacting the crucifixion. It was even said that the stolen wafers writhed in agony and blood gushed out. These accusations led to riots and attacks in which many Jews lost their lives.

    Daube thinks that the declaration, “This is the bread which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt” might be misread as a hint of transubstantiation, so some texts altered it to “This is like the bread which our ancestors ate…”

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