Congregation Etz Hayim at Hollis Hills Bayside

The consolidated communities of Hollis Hills Bayside Jewish Center and Marathon Jewish Community Center

Shabbat Bo 5775

Some of our family’s most interesting seder memories involve non-Jewish guests at our table–the local Presbyterian minister, a Catholic community organizer, a home care aid. Amazingly, I still sometimes field this question: “Are we permitted to have Gentiles at the seder table?” The roots of this question can be found in this week’s Torah portion, Bo: “The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: This is the law of the Passover offering: No foreigner shall eat of it” (Exodus 12:43).

This passage is part of a brief section of the Torah instructively titled by Humash Etz Hayim as “Exclusionary Regulations.” The Torah emphasizes the importance of circumcision. Again, quoting Humash Etz Hayim: “As the physical token of God’s covenant and a symbol of commitment to a life lived in the full awareness of that covenant, it is the indispensable prerequisite for males who wish to participate in the paschal offering” (p. 389). But on the same page, in the halakah lema’aseh (practical law) section of the commentary, we see the limitations of exclusion: “This rule applied only to the sacrifice of the paschal lamb in biblical times. It does not apply to non-Jewish guests at a Seder meal in our time.”

How has the Jewish tradition mediated relationships with non-Jews throughout history, and how should we interact with Gentiles in our day? These questions are addressed in the chapter in The Observant Life that we are studying at our lunch and learn this Shabbat following services. As you read the chapter Interfaith Relations by Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky (pp. 727-750), note the author’s attempts to balance traditional halakhic norms with modern sensibilities. Is he able to find precedent from earlier centuries that can be applied to our contemporary realities?

Pay special attention to his use of the ruling of Rabbi Menachem HaMeiri that redefined idolatry in ethical, not ritual, terms. You can find it on pages 736ff. We’ll delve into this and other classical arguments at our lunch and learn. I hope to see you there!

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Wise