Israel Education Teaching Tip

Bringing Israel into your Passover Seder

One of the names for Passover is Zman Cheiruteinu, The Time of Our Freedom, and at the core of the seder is the story of how a group of slaves left Egypt and emerged as a nation. It is precisely because of this, that we feel the seder is also the perfect moment to reflect on the modern exodus of Jews to Israel. If the Biblical Exodus is the source document of the Jewish people, than the Zionist narrative is its modern realization.

One suggestion is to make a challenge to see if your seder participants can find “Israel” on each page of the Haggadah as you go. Discuss and keep track of the context (or keep score to see who finds it the most times)—does it refer to the people? Land? Something else?

From Slavery to Freedom

The central theme of Passover is the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in ancient Egypt and their journey and settlement as a free people in the Land of Israel.  In recent years, there has been debate in Israel over the extension of personal freedoms and the observance of Jewish ritual.  Discuss how this tension plays out in Israeli society in politics in areas of what can and cannot be open on Shabbat, the deferment of ultra-Orthodox from military conscription, and the status of women. 

The Four Cups of Wine

Another suggestion is to use the four cups of wine as well as Elijah’s cup to learn more about the evolution of some of the different approaches to Zionism. There are a number of explanations for why we drink four cups of wine at the seder, but the most accepted ties the four cups to the four promises of redemption that are in Exodus 6:6-7: “Say therefore to the Israelite people: I am the Lord. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements. And I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God.”

A debate among the rabbis in the Talmud led to the inclusion of a fifth cup.  While not to be drank by the participants it serves as an expression of the future redemption of the Jewish people.  This became Elijah’s cup and was set aside for the prophet who would herald the coming of the Messiah.

As the Zionist movement began to evolve in the early 20th century, divisions began to appear in both approach to achieving a state as well as in ideology. For each of the Four Cups of Wine (and a fifth for Elijah’s cup), we will present a different stream of Zionism that emerged—with a key quote for each.

After you have read all of them (and drank all four cups of wine)—you may want to discuss at your seder table:

  • What did each type of Zionism contribute to Israel’s growth and development and how were they able to blend together?
  • Can you identify which current political parties evolved out of each stream of Zionism

Note: you may want to print out copies of these “four cups” and Elijah’s cup for use at your own seder or for use in the classroom prior to Passover.

The First Cup: The Cup of Freedom: Political Zionism:

Political Zionism’s focus was aimed at securing the Jewish national home through traditional political channels, including seeking recognition from a great power, as well as engaging in diplomacy in order to secure  recognition as a legitimate national political movement.

“The aim of Zionism is to create for the Jewish people a home in Palestine secured by public law. The Congress contemplates the following means to the attainment of this end…Preparatory steps towards obtaining government consent, where necessary, to the attainment of the aim of Zionism.”(First Zionist Congress, Basle Switzerland, 1897)

The Second Cup: The Cup of Deliverance: Revisionist Zionism:Revisionist Zionism was established in 1925 in opposition to the World Zionist Organization by Vladimir “Ze’ev” Jabotinsky.  He felt the WZO was working too slowly for the attainment of a Jewish State. Jabotinsky was particularly impatient with the British, who were becoming increasingly anti-Zionist in their policies. The focus of the Revisionists was a revision of political Zionist policy and a rapid acceleration of achieving the goal of a Jewish State in the historical homeland (both sides of the Jordan River) of the Jewish people. He advocated  increased immigration and more aggressive political and military tactics.

“Zionism’s aim is the creation of a sanctuary for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel; this is Zionism, and nothing else. In the face of the abyss of blood and fire, we shall submit a maximum program. … If we erect a giant building, many from among our People will be attracted and support us. But if we aspire to build but a humble hut, they will not come… we are compelled to accomplish it in a much shorter time.” (Vladimir Jabotinsky 1880-1940; Source: Joseph Schechtman, Rebel and Statesman: The Vladimir Jabotinsky Story, 1956, p. 305)

The Third Cup: The Cup of Redemption: Labor Zionism—AD Gordon, David Ben-Gurion

Originating inyouth groups in Europe, Labor Zionists believed that only in their own territory could Jews improve the economic hardships they suffered in Europe. . The movement gained popularity during the Second Aliyah (1904-1914) as a large number of young people came to Israel to escape violence in Russia. Labor Zionism built its ideology on three “conquests,” defense, labor and agriculture. These were not conquests of force, but a strategy to ensure that Jews were embedded in all aspects of life in the land of Israel as a means for creating a state.

“In Palestine we must do with our own hands all the things that make up the sum total of life. We must ourselves do all the work, from the least strenuous, cleanest, and most sophisticated, to the dirtiest and most difficult.… only then shall we have a culture of our own, for then we shall see we shall have a life of our own.” (AD Gordon 1856-1922; Source: Aharon David Gordon, “People and Labor” in Arthur Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea, 1997, p. 374)

The Fourth Cup: The Cup of Peoplehood: Cultural Zionism—Ahad Ha’am, Eliezer Ben Yehuda

, Cultural Zionists believed that Zionism needed to focus its energies on making the land of Israel the cultural center for all of world Jewry. This included a revitalization of Hebrew language, secular Jewish education, and development of academic and cultural institutions. The leader of the movement was Ahad Ha’am (Asher Ginsberg). Ginsberg said,

““When our national culture in Palestine has attained that level…, at a favorable moment, to establish a state there—one which will not merely be a State of Jews but really a Jewish State.” (Ahad Ha’am; Source, Ahad Ha’am, “The Jewish State and the Jewish Problem,” in Arthur Hertzberg, The Zionist Idea, 1997, p. 267)

Elijah’s Cup: Religious Zionism—Rav Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook

In the early years of the Zionist movement, opposition arose within Orthodox Jewish circles.  This opposition  protested the human initiative to return to Israel (as opposed to waiting for the Messiah) and the secular nature of the Zionist movement. . In 1902, as a response to the decisions of the Fifth Zionist Congress to include cultural activity as part of Zionist education, Mizrahi, the Religious Zionist movement was founded with the motto, “The land of Israel for the people of Israel according to the Torah of Israel.”

“In the lands of the Diaspora the soul of our people—our Holy Torah—can no longer be preserved in its full strength, nor can the commandments…be kept in their original purity, because the times are besieging us with difficult demands…The people has found one remedy for this affliction—to direct their hearts to that one place which has always been the focus of our prayers, the place wherein the oppressed of our people will find their longed for respite: Zion and Jerusalem”sanctity (Mizrahi Manifesto, 1902; Source: Paul Mendes-Flohr,Yehuda Reinharz, The Jew in the Modern World, 1995, p. 546

L’Shana Haba B’Yerushalyim—Next Year in Jerusalem

The concluding line of the seder is a testament to the thousands of years of longing that the Jews had to return their lands. For centuries this desire was expressed mostly through liturgy, especially after the devastation of the Jewish revolts in the first and second centuries.

The failure of those revolts, and the large scale deaths that occurred among the Jews, especially during the Bar Kochva revolt of 132-136 CE when 580,000 Jews were killed in battle according to Roman sources, led to a shift in Jewish ideology and practice towards the land of Israel with a new emphasis placed on the spiritual connection to the land and return through utopian measures (a return to Zion became dependent on following mitzvot) and the de-emphasis of the human initiative to return to the land that would not change un l the beginnings of the Zionist movement. The addition of this line to the Passover seder was a part of that shift.

To think About and Discuss:

  • Did the Zionists who created the State of Israel make this line obsolete by shaping the des ny of the Jewish people in modern mes?
  • Now that Israel is once again a Jewish state, what does this line mean to you as a Jew living in the Diaspora?
  • Does the United States plan to move its embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem add more nuance to this phrase?