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Episcopal bishop of Missouri bans Christian celebration of Jewish seder

The Passover seder is an increasingly popular way for Christians to connect with their well-established Jewish heritage. Episcopalians in Missouri, however, did not share in the practice this year but not everyone agrees.

Last week, the Episcopal bishop of Missouri, the Rev. Deon K. Johnson, posted an open letter to his diocese saying that Christian seders are “banned” because they advance supersessionism, or the belief that Christians have superseded, or replaced, Jews as God’s chosen people. In his letter, Johnson explicitly forbade his diocese from “hosting, holding or celebrating Christian seders.”

“In our own time, the proliferation of Christian seders on Maundy Thursday has taken root in parts of Christianity,” Johnson wrote, according to the “Times of Israel.” “Christians celebrating their own Haggadah outside of Jewish practice is deeply problematic and is supersessionism in its theological view. Christian communities hosting seders is additionally problematic, because it contributes to the objectification of our Jewish neighbors.”

READ: Why Passover matters

Christian seders are linked with the popular notion that the Last Supper was itself a seder, a belief that scholars have disputed because the seder as it now is known was developed decades after Jesus’ death. “To put it bluntly, Jesus certainly celebrated Passover, but neither he nor his disciples ever attended a seder, any more than they drove a car or used a cellphone,” Rabbis Yehiel Poupko and David Sandmel wrote in “Christianity Today” in 2017.

“Jesus did not eat matzah ball soup or gefilte fish, sing Dayenu or say, ‘next year in Jerusalem,’’’ Reddall said. “For Jesus, the seder would have consisted of a lamb sacrificed in the temple and eaten in Jerusalem, not a brisket cooked in Nashville.”

Seders also are held by Messianic Jews – a movement of Jews believes in the divinity of Yeshua (Jesus). Some messianic organiations are made up of gentiles who identify as Jewish believers in Jesus and are considered non-Jewish by actual Jewish groups. Those posts have sparked backlash from Jews who describe them as an affront. In 2020, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg tweeted, “Jesus didn’t have a seder, Christianity is not Judaism, please respect us and our traditions.”

Other Jews however, see no issue with Christians celebrating Passover or borrowing from Jewish history or worship.

“I have never felt that the Jews were the victims of cultural (or theological) appropriation,” writes Jeffrey Salkin in an opinion piece on ReligionNews.com.  “I sense that my story, even ‘my’ historic homeland, contains lessons and geographical/spiritual touch points that are valid for many different people, and for many different peoples.”

Salkin, who is Jewish, says elements of the Passover Seder may also include some elements of cultural appropriation. “The sages adopted and adapted the Graeco-Roman symposium and transformed it into the Passover Seder. At the Seder, that word afikoman is probably a Greek term,” he contends.

He goes on to say that Jews must be more generous with the Passover story, laying out elements of Jewish worship and culture borrowed form others, including the Babylonians and Greeks.

“In other words, my people has rarely stayed in its own lane. Neither has any other people. Deal with it,” he says.


–Dwight Widaman |  Metro Voice

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