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We attended Jen’s Passover Seder last night. This was our third or fourth year, so the rituals are becoming familiar by now, though I’m sure we’ll never master the songs. (Foreign words I can handle, but they don’t rhyme, they don’t scan, and often they repeat without prior indication.)

One of the rituals is openly questioning the tenets of Judaism. Sometimes very basic tenets, like whether the Jews were even slaves in Egypt at all before taking their 40-year desert vacation. (I’ve seen convincing evidence that native Egyptians were, at least technically, slaves, while outside tribes were hired and paid to bolster insufficient corvee labor; another guest reported that slave labor, cheap but slow, wouldn’t keep up the one-pyramid-a-generation pace for succeeding pharaohs.) Not only do we have moral quandaries like whether God was responsible for Pharaoh’s intransigence (“but the Lord hardened his heart”) as well as punishing that intransigence by killing innocent first-born children nation-wide; there’s plenty of reason to doubt whether any of the culture’s foundation myth is true, beyond “we left Egypt, then seized lands from the people living in the Levant.” We’ve also had Jews at the table claiming with a straight face that atheists can be Jewish—not merely of Jewish ancestry, mind you, but active practitioners of Judaism—despite denying its first, primary, most fundamental teaching: “I am the Lord thy God Jehova…”

So a pretty heterodox crowd. Which is good. Heterodoxy is healthy, especially when it comes to obeying a quite probably imaginary magical man.

But I gotta ask: If you’re going to treat all and every doctrinal element of a religion, even the simple and obviously literal ones—as our hostess does—as strictly optional, why bother claiming to practice that religion at all? It’s like claiming to be the kind of vegetarian who eats pork chops, y’know? If a definition excludes nothing and no one, it becomes meaningless. And if it’s meaningless, there’s no reason to celebrate it.

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