“Next Year in Jerusalem”

My extended family did a seder on Saturday because it’s more convenient for us, which should I think illustrate that we’re not the type to take religious injunctions hyper-literally. So the inclusion in our haggadah of a part where we all say “next year in Jerusalem” never really strikes me as super-noteworthy — we don’t actually incline when we eat, and we don’t intend to celebrate Passover in Jerusalem in the future.

But Jennifer Rubin brings it up in passing in the course of making a larger insipid point:

Obama, as presidents have traditionally done, released a Passover message. It is typical Obama — off-key, hyper-political, and condescending. The core of the message is this:

The enduring story of the Exodus teaches us that, wherever we live, there is oppression to be fought and freedom to be won. In retelling this story from generation to generation, we are reminded of our ongoing responsibility to fight against all forms of suffering and discrimination, and we reaffirm the ties that bind us all.

No, he didn’t have the nerve to recite the emphatic exhortation “Next year in Jerusalem.” And frankly, it sounds like Eric Holder and his civil rights lawyers drafted it. Is Passover really about discrimination?

On Rubin’s point, this is just a longstanding dispute between liberal Jews (which is like 70–80 percent of us in the United States) and the Commentary-reading minority. I’ve used three or four different haggadahs over the years and they all emphasize the quest for universal justice, as did my Hebrew school teachers and my rabbi growing up. Jon Chait’s has more on this.


But what about Jerusalem? Obviously as a historical matter this phrase enters our passover ceremonies before the creation of the State of Israel and is meant to suggest a hazy aspiration rather than a specific plan. But for the modern-day American Jew it’s a bit of a problem. After all, nothing is stopping us from taking a Passover trip to Israel or, indeed, from moving to Israel. But I would actually be pretty upset if President Obama expressed the view that in his opinion the meaning of Passover is that Jews should all leave America and go move to Israel. Which is why, obviously, he’s not going to say anything like that. But there’s clearly a tension inside present-day diaspora Zionism. Nobody in my family, including its members who are quite a bit more conventionally pro-Israel than I am, has any intention of moving to a Hebrew-speaking Middle Eastern country. And neither, I take it, does the gang at Commentary. So what’s the problem with Obama not pretending that this isn’t the case?