Easter and Passover

Both celebrate spring and hope, though there are major differences between them also.

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Correspondingly, for Catholics and many Protestants the weekly sacrament of communion, reenacting the last supper, turns God's saving grace into a lived reality.

Communal vs. Individual Focus

Still for all their commonalities, Passover and Easter diverge fundamentally. While both festivals are about delivery from a state of despair, be it slavery or sin, Passover heralds the birth of the Jewish people as a force for good in the comity of nations. In contrast, Easter assures the individual Christian life eternal. Passover summons Jews collectively into the world to repair it; Easter proffers a way out of a world beyond repair.

Passover reflects a worldview that devalues life after death and privileges the community over the individual. Easter bespeaks a religion that reverses both sets of priorities, enabling it to comfort those who had lost faith in the gods of Rome.

Passover & Rosh Hashanah

It is well known that Passover is not the only Jewish new year, that in fact it came to share that role with Rosh Hashanah. Whereas our months are numbered from Nissan, the years are counted from Tishrei [the month in which Rosh Hashanah falls]. The reason for that anomaly is the development of Rosh Hashanah, after the canonization of the Hebrew Bible, perhaps concomitantly with the emergence of Christianity, into a festival that addressed itself solely to the fate of the individual.

The Mishnah stresses that on Rosh Hashanah alone God has "all inhabitants of the world pass before Him, like flocks of sheep" (Rosh Hashanah 1:2). On the other three pilgrimage festivals, including Passover, the world is judged by God collectively. The expansion of the nameless first day of the seventh month, when loud blasts were to be sounded (Leviticus 23:24 and Numbers 29:1), into a solemn day of judgment for every single member of humanity suggests a Jewish response to a society with a heightened sense for the importance of the individual.

The result, however, is not a transformation of Judaism. Its deep structure remains intact. Rosh Hashanah joins Passover; it does not replace it. While the valence of the individual is definitely elevated, the priority of the group is not devalued. Judaism continues to be animated by a spirit of communitarianism.

Likewise, the dominant orientation stays this-worldly. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are not about getting into heaven. Our profusion of prayers carries aloft a modest request of God: to give us but one more year to try again, to live our life in such a manner as to make a difference. Our task is to mend the world, not flee it. The retention of two new years, one in the spring, the other in the fall, bespeaks the remarkable effort to keep polarities in balance.

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Rabbi Ismar Schorsch

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch served as chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary.