A well-known theory about the Exodus posits that a slave revolt lay behind the biblical account. See the discussion in W.H. Propp, Exodus 1–18 (AB; New York: Doubleday, 1999), pp. 741-744. Basing itself on historical sources, the hypothesis proposes a connection between large population movements in the eastern Mediterranean during the 2nd millenium BCE and the Israelite departure from Egypt. Can we find any support in the Bible for the idea of a popular rebellion?
Everyone knows that the first of the ten plagues sent to afflict the Egyptians was the plague of blood. The story in Exodus 7:4—24 expresses this clearly, as do the references to the plague in Psalms 78:44 and 105:29. And yet, there is some subtle but convincing evidence that suggests that in the earliest form of the story, the water of the Nile did not turn to blood. This is a secondary motif that was added to the story at a relatively early period in the development of the biblical text. We may refer to this plague, in its original form, as The Plague of Fish (מכת הדג) rather than The Plague of Blood (מכת הדם). Indeed, blood has little in common with the subsequent plagues of frogs and lice, while fish fit in with the next plagues quite naturally.
Most Jews in the Diaspora use horseradish for maror at the seder, while most Israeli Jews use Romaine lettuce. Which custom is more correct?
It is customary to read the Song of Songs on Pesach. Some read it at night after completing the Haggadah; some read it in synagogue on Shabbat of Hol Hamoed. The springtime atmosphere of bloom and blossoming described in the Song of Songs provides a natural link to the holiday of Spring, but a look at the Rabbinic sources teaches us that the association between the Song of Songs and the Exodus goes much deeper.
Ruth Duek, a political activist and a member of Besod Siach (an “Organization for the Promotion of Dialogue Between Conflict Groups in Israeli Society”), describes a street clash between political right and left that took place at the scene of a demonstration. A battle quickly ensued for control of the intersections. Demonstrators tore down placards and replaced them with their own, mixed into the ranks of the demonstrators to heckle them, and even attacked opponents who were pulling down signs. Duek writes, “It would have been more respectable to enable [passersby] to see two opposing points of view and to decide, each according to his or her own predilections, which of us was right. There was no need to shut anyone up.” [note]Ruth Duek, “Is Dialogue Possible on the Street?” Analiza Irgunit 12 (2007), 85-89 [Hebrew].[/note]
Many people have the impression that the Jewish tradition discourages drinking. There is little evidence of this in the sources. Jews are commanded to celebrate each and every festive occasion – Sabbath and festival, circumcision and wedding – with a glass of wine.
In the Haggadah, Rabbi Judah gives the ten plagues a siman, a mnemonic: Dzakh Adash B’ahav. Why did he need to give a siman for ten words which could easily be learned by heart? Furthermore, anyone could do this, so what is Rabbi Judah’s hiddush (innovation)?
Separating the study of the seder into two separate fields – one that examines the history of the seder, and one that examines the meaning of the seder and how we observe it today – is an unnecessary and fruitless separation. By understanding how our ancestors celebrated this night, and allowing this understanding to inform our modern customs, we emerge with a richer perspective on our history and observance of the evening’s rituals.