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Kill the Child, Spare the Lamb
Posted on Mar 25, 2013
Sorry to be such a nudge, but as I write this before heading off to yet another in a long lifetime of Passover Seders, I still can’t get my head wrapped around this business of the plagues. Particularly that 10th plague, the one that gave the Passover holiday its name when: “On that night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD.”
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I know this is a sensitive subject, but since even the youngest among us are supposed to raise questions at the Seder, doesn’t that vengeance from on high seem excessive? After all, the non-Israelites didn’t get to vote for the Pharaoh or otherwise offer their consent for his choice of false gods to worship, so why are innocent children being treated as collateral damage to make a fanatical religious point? Of course this is not an awkward issue for Jews alone, because the passages in Exodus extolling the slaughter of noncombatant Egyptians represents sacred scripture to Christians and Muslims as well. Maybe we should drop the subject and just eat.
I wouldn’t be bringing it up—I know that any hint of barbarism in the Judeo-Christian heritage is considered heresy in even the most enlightened circles—but it was the article in The New York Times on the vegan Seder that got me going. That and another one in The Wall Street Journal about spicing up the Passover feast “by throwing toy frogs at one another and having bugs, lice and other fake creatures on the Seder table.” One enthusiast for the ritual intends to use a live frog. Innocent enough, I suppose, except for the report that, “In one household, a son falls to the ground to mark the Death of the Firstborn.”
One would think that this marking of the death of the firstborn would pose a particular problem to participants in the vegan Seder, since humans are presumably part of the animal family and therefore unfit candidates for ritualistic sacrifice. The Times treated this issue of vegan abhorrence to animal sacrifice as a culinary rather than a moral challenge to the observance of Passover. “Holidays are often a challenge for vegans, who eschew all animal foods,” the Times observed, “but the holidays present more obstacles to vegan eaters. In addition, some animal foods, like eggs and lamb, take center stage, forcing vegan Jews to choose between powerful religious traditions and their own values about the food they consume.”
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The marking of the homes part is clear enough, for how else would an omniscient god know where the Israelites live? But if one is an observant vegan, isn’t it troubling that a firstborn animal, say the offspring of a pet cat, let alone a human child, is to be sacrificed while the life of the lamb is saved?
Hopefully some youngest child, at a Seder somewhere tonight, will have the chutzpah to ask such a question.
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