Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Hebrew Language and the Passover Connection

Passover is mere steps from our doorsteps, and its expecting no crumbs of bread or other wheat-filled goodies to greet it. Are you ready?

I've been busy doing research for looming papers (following in the steps of Pesach, of course), and the most interesting at this point is a paper on the Impact of Hebrew Language Education on Jewish Identity. I've got more sources than I know what to do with, but few actually appear to have talked to students or individuals on what kind of impact such education has or hasn't had on how they identify. One of the interesting things that I read in one of the many books I've got sitting around is about Passover and the role of language in the redemption of the Israelites from the hands of the Egyptians.

According to Rav Huna, in the name of Bar Kapara, in the Midrash on Shemot (Exodus), four things kept the Jews together and thus merited their redemption from Egypt, and one of those was that they didn't change their language. Hebrew held a utilitarian function: it helped (and helps) to maintain Jewish identity and identification.

For me, at this time of Passover, this bit of knowledge speaks volumes to me. It makes me wonder, as is my tendency, why we don't do more to encourage the learning and fluency of Hebrew in the Diaspora. If, at one time, the Israelites were united through a common tongue, why do we pay so little importance to it outside of Israel?

According to David Schers, "There are ways of belonging to a people without knowing it's main-historical-cultural-language(s), but in such circumstances, the implementation and maintenance of cultural, and social, dimensions face more difficulties." The great Chaim (Hayyim) Nahman Bialik once referred to language as a "repository of a culture's most cherished attitudes and values."

Ultimately, language is symbolic communication. It is symbolic of values and culture. It saved us once -- can it save us again?

An unrelated random thought:

The numerical value of chometz (חמץ) is 138. This is the same as the numerical value for pegimah (פגימה), the word for blemish. Whoever eats chometz on Pesach thus blemishes his neshama. ~ Rabbi Yaakov Culi

Some random Passover blog posts:

Last year, I wrote Passover haikus, highlighted some stomach-ache-filled cooking, and wrote Pesach Cometh, Have You Shaken Your Books?

In 2009, I did a poll about favorite matzah toppings, and I did two parts of a Passover roundup on my experiences in Florida with Tuvia's family. I also lamented the fact that I think we should all throw our chametz away or donate it to charity, not sell it (I don't get the selling bit ... ). As it turns out, I blogged A LOT in 2009 about Passover. There's like 10-12 posts on Pesach there, in case you want to peruse the Q&A and commentary (by moi).

And then, of course, there is the bizarre Chabad-inspired Pesach dream I had in 2008. Not to mention the interesting encounter I had during Passover 2008 in Chicago that I deemed the "Passover Paradox." My most favorite Passover memory, of course, is my first true Passover Seder in Chicago that really drew me further than ever into my desire to be Orthodox, as well as my failure at Shabbos and abiding by the Passover rules (sort of).

In 2007, I wrote about the miserable experience I had at a gigantic seder in Chicago. Talk about bad news bears.

Overall I'm blown away by how many blog posts I have on Passover. It seems 2008 and 2009 were big years for me as I learned how to observe and cook for Passover on my own. Since then, the chagim seem to come and go without notice or fanfare. Maybe I should do another poll this year -- the question is, what to ask?