Inserting Shoah at the Traditional Passover Seder: Interpreting anew the Five Cups. What Would Jesus Say?

(Paper given at the 2018 AM Denver NAPH session of SBL on "The Institution of the Lord's Supper, a Passover Seder?")

See Also: The Last Supper, Paul and Qumran: The Tail that Wagged the Dog

Eucharist and Seder: What Should the Simple Scholar Say

By Zev Garber
Professor Emeritus and Chair of Jewish Studies
Los Angeles Valley College
June 2019

In the main, the pageantry of the Passover Seder (Nisan 15) focuses on two periods of Jewish history: the biblical Exodus from Egypt and the rabbinic recalling of the account. Through ritual food, drink, and animated reading and interpretation, the participant travels with the Children of Israel as if “s/he came forth out of Egypt,” and sits at the table of the Sages as they observe Passover in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak. Alas, the forty year trek from wilderness into freedom succumbed in Jewish history into a long night’s journey into exile. “Begin with disgrace and end with glory” (m. Pesaḥim 10.4). That is to say, talk openly and informatively about exilic degradation and destruction, so that, in contrast, the experience of Jewish freedom and triumph are cherished and appreciated. Thus, it is suggested, nay expected, that the greatest tragedy of the Jewish Night, the Shoah, be recounted on the night that accentuates Jewish birth and being. But for many Jews, it is not. How come?

Four Cups

A number of questions arise for those who insert contemporary genocide in the midst of freedom. Where is the Shoah inserted, beginning, middle, or end of the Seder ceremony? Does not the message of Hell on Earth compromise the theme of redemption from Heaven? By reading the Shoah into the Haggadah, are we not turning Judeocide into a paschal sacrifice making it a biblical holocaust rather that a contemporary historical Shoah? Further, does not the Shoah have its own process of memorialization; why recall it at a time when Yom HaShoah U-Mered HaGetaot less than two weeks later (Nisan 27)? 

In answer to these non-traditional Passover questions, we recognize that Jewish history is reflected in the Haggadah and that affliction and suffering are transmitted in past, present, and future paradigms: Ten Plagues, “In every generation they stand up to destroy us,” and “Pour out Thy Wrath,” respectfully. The Shoah is not counted in the Ten Plagues because they represent a fixed Pentateuchal event, which the Torah sees as a condemnation of Pharaoh and his advisors, not the Egyptian people.[1] “Thou shall not abhor the Egyptians,”[2] is the cause of the tempered joy on Passover evening, that is, sprinkling from the Second Cup when the Ten Plagues are computed and by omitting Pss 115 and 116 from the “Egyptian Hallel (Pss 113-118) during the last six days of Passover. In contrast, the Shoah was designed by the Nazi state, but its program of Judeocide was carried out willingly by ordinary men and women. Further, to paint the victimization of the Shoah like that of Egyptian slavery in compassionate hues is absurd and obscene.

The idea of the Shoah as continuance may well explained why it is addressed in the second part (“future”) of the service. The Four Cups at the Passover table represent the verbs of God’s freedom in the biblical Exodus story (Exod 6: 6-8). The Four Cups are the matrix around which the redemptive memories are spun. Cup One, the Kiddush, festival benediction of blessing and joy; Cup Two, in honor of God, the Redeemer of Jewish history; Cup Three, an abbreviated Kiddush for the benefit of latecomers at the transition between the first and second part of the Seder service; Cup Four, the acknowledgement of the Passover of the future. The Third Cup follows the Grace after the Meal without narrative accompaniment. Then a special cup, the Cup of Elijah, is poured to overflowing and the door is opened and the “Pour Out Your Wrath” paragraph bellowed to the outside world. After the door is closed, the Fourth Cup is filled, and the “Egyptian Hallel”[3], “The Great Hallel”[4] (Ps 136), and “Benediction of Song”[5] are recited. Finally, the Fourth Cup is drunk at the close of the Passover Seder.

Open Door and the Cup of Elijah

At many sedarim, at the point of the Open Door and the Cup of Elijah, when the malediction against idolatry and antisemitism is pronounced, a requiem for the Six Million and others who perished in the Shoah is added. Its designation here is noteworthy. The Shoah is grounded in the antisemitic history of the State and in the suppersessionist teaching of the Church. The Shoah is sui generis and must be taken as emblematic. If the Shoah is seen as the unbearable past that bears inexplicably on the living then it must be made explicable how the enslavement of the powerless came about, how this functioned into the murder of the innocents, so that all can learn the universal message of the Shoah, that is, what all people are capable of doing and what all people are capable of suffering. Then we can speak of the end of malevolent history and the dawning of the messianic epoch.  

This message cannot be overstated. The world must not forget the murdered Jewish People and that active participants and bystanders alike contributed to the Final Solution. Though killing fields may never cease in the land, we must never again tolerate genocidal activity towards any group in any place at any time. The Third Cup is history and the Fourth Cup illuminates a revolutionary age of crumbling differences and indifference and of identifying the interdependence of mankind based on the belief in the oneness of G-d and acting morally as one humanity.


The addendum of the Shoah produces no formidable content change neither in the Seder nor in the traditional Haggadah. No additional food, drink, or halakhic reading. Maybe a short reading or song in association with the medieval “Pour Out Thy Wrath,” but the Open Door[6] refers to the “Night of Watching”[7] and the Cup of Elijah signifies the ingathering of the exiles. We suggest that the reasons for the lacuna are paradoxical and pragmatic.

  • The message of Passover is Liberation and the medium for conveying that message is the Written and Oral Torah from Sinai; the message of Shoah is Annihilation carried away in the fumes of cyanide.
  • Passover represents providential design in history but Shoah evolved from history. In Jewish Halakha, the latter, however meaningful, may not trample on the former. To challenge, yes; but to obliterate, no.
  • G-d as deliverer of the Passover is overpowering and messengers, such as, Moses and Elijah, are implied and anticipated but never made full-blown. In contrast, G-d’s presence during the Shoah is disturbingly silent but may this not suggest that surviving di milhomeh yohrn requires more than G-d and Tradition; the Jews themselves have to want it. If they do not permit the memory of the Judeocide to destroy their morals or their own sense of identity, then they like Elijah the Prophet, can traverse past and future, temporal and eternal, and bring Heaven down to Earth.

Behold I am sending My messenger (malakhi) to clear the way before Me, and the Lord whom you seek shall come to His Temple suddenly. As for the angel of the covenant[8] that you desire, he is already coming … Be mindful of the Teaching of my servant Moses, whom I charged at Ḥoreb (Sinai) with laws and rules for all Israel. Lo I will send the Prophet Elijah to you before the coming of the awesome, fearful day of the Lord. He shall reconcile fathers with sons and sons with fathers. (Mal 3:1, 22-24a).


The failure not to act and take responsibility for their own actions and ultimate redemption – i.e., “lest I come and smite the land with utter destruction” (Mal 3:24b) – is unthinkable.

  • According to tradition of Rabbi Judah ben Bezalel, the Maharal of Prague (c. 1525-1609),one reads the “Great Hallel” with the Fifth Cup in hand, and in testimony to the passage, “Who remembered us in our low estate and has delivered us from our adversaries” (Ps 136: 23-24). So in our day, drinking from the Cup of Elijah testifies “to the land (He gave) for a heritage unto Israel” (Ps 136: 21-22). By filling the Cup of Elijah and then opening the door for the curse against the destroyers of Jews, are Jews not linking Auschwitz and Jerusalem? Not in terms of cause and effect but in the proposition that rebuilding Zion sustains Jews in their anguished loss of a vanished Jewry. It also sends forth a clear message of “Never Again” to a recurrence of the European Churban.

As a religious institution, Passover crosses generational, gender, cultural lines and invites all to participate in its narrative of freedom and its act of liberation. Its table drama, the Seder, has evolved into a forum on right and wrong, enslavement and empowerment, equality and inequality. Passover is thus both a feast of redemption and a memorial; its intrinsic value system provides an excellent pedagogical tool in teaching basic values and recording the sacrifice made and the vigilance necessary in the triumph of moral victory.

Shoah on Passover? Because the legacy of Remembrance is the underbelly of Freedom.

The Jesus Declaration

I question the accuracy of equating the insti­tution of the   Last Supper to be a Passover Seder meal. Luke 22:15 reads that “I (Jesus) have earnestly desire to eat this Passover (offering, meal) with you (disciples) before I suffer” and follows with the benediction of the wine (Kid­dush) and blessing of the bread (Motsi) (vs., 17–19). However, Mark 14:22–23 and Matthew 26:26–27 reverse the order of bread and wine before the meal. Further, I Corinthians 11:23–25 speak of breaking bread at the start of the meal and drinking the cup of wine after the meal. In sum, Luke follows the order of a Seder ritual; Mark and Matthew do not; and the older Pauline ver­sion in 1 Corinthians speaks of a Chavura fellowship and not the ritualistic Passover meal.

Nonetheless, Christian ecclesiastical tradition maintains that the Synoptic Last Supper was a Passover Seder.[9] Festival sleep not dreadful wakefulness overcame the disciples. On this “Night of Watching,” Jesus’ question to Peter, “Could you not watch with me one hour?” (Matt 26:40; Mark 14:37), a poignant concern which is also suggested in verses 43 and 45 (Mark, vss. 40-41) graphically describes his state of abandonment. However, it is the seemingly silence of G-d (Matt 26:39,42,44; Mark 14: 36,40,41)  that affects Jesus so deeply that he feels emotional pain: “And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground” (Luke 22:44). The strong language of sorrow is explained in Christian tradition as the recognition that physical death awaited Jesus and his bearing of human sins as well. Substitute “Six Million” for “Jesus” and you have a core Christian and Jewish apology for the Shoah: “theology of suffering” on the one hand and “birth pains of the Messiah” on the other explain why the crucifixion of the Jews for the saving of humanity.

On the night of the Last Supper, we read that Jesus in Gethsemane (Matt 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:40-46), abandoned by his disciples, experienced Godforsakeness, and this is echoed in the words at the cross: Eli, Eli lamah sabachtani,” meaning, “My G-d, my G-d why hast Thou forsaken me? ” (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34). The parallel to his suffering and forsakenness is the hopeful refrain recited by the Jew in expectation of the promise of deliverance throughout their  generations (Exod 12:42). In like manner Psalm 115, recited immediately after the Grace and part of the “Egyptian Hallel” (Pss 113-118 which mirror future deliverance), is a call for national trust in G-d against the heathen who did not believe in the wonders which G-d performed in Egypt and Sinai. The medieval counterpart to the heathen who knew not G-d and discredited His holy site and people are the civilizations which believe in Creation and in the Exodus and in the moral teachings of Sinai, and still “devour Jacob and lay waste his habitation.” Under the stress of persecution by Christians and Muslims during the period of the Crusades, the powerless wandering Jew denied the rival monotheistic claims that he is cursed by G-d and man, and invoked the Deliverer to:

Pour out Thy wrath upon the nations (Christianity and Islam) that know Thee not. And upon the kingdoms that call not upon Thy Name. For they have devoured Jacob (people), And laid waste his habitation (Jerusalem). Ps 79:6-7 


Pour out Thine indignation upon them, And let the fierceness of Thine anger overtake them. Ps 69:25


Thou will pursue them in anger and destroy them from under the heavens of the Lord. (Lam 3:66)


These readings are not to be understood as an expression of vindictiveness toward the non-Jew – the Halakha instructs the Jew to pray continually for the welfare and success of the kingdoms and ministers, and for all states and places in which he resides[10] – but should be interpreted as invoking the Judge-of-all-the-Earth to deal justly with the Nations of the World as He continuously does with Israel (classical Jewish apologia for why Jewish suffering), so that the complete messianic fulfillment of the future, a universal siblinghood inspired by the Torah way, can be realized swiftly in our day. This is not poor theology, as some have argued, but an authentic Jewish understanding of Heilsgeschichte, as seen, for example, in Gen 17, Deut 32, Isa 2 and Micah 4.

The significance of the “Pour out Your wrath” Seder message, retributive not vindictive justice ushers in the Great Redemption, should not be misconstrued by the post-Shoah Christian. It is a necessary wake-up call to the slumbering (related to “sleeping” above) Christian to rediscover the Jewish roots of his/her faith, which are deep and far-reaching, and to live with the imitation Christi without antisemitism. It is an invitation to Christian preaching and catechism to understand Jewish belief and practice without polemics, politics and paternalism. It is a calling to see the Jew not as a fossil or ashes but as G-d’s first love in His salvific plan.[11] And by encouraging lessons learned from Darkness to Rebirth, Shoah and the State of Israel, it is hoped that the Church can correct an ambivalent triumphalist teaching about the Jews:


For he (Christ) himself is our peace, who has made the two (Jew and Gentile) one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations (italics added). His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to G-d through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.[12] Eph 2:14-16


Then, and only then, can the Church assent to Jesus’ conditional query (add, about the state of Christian belief) and proclaim: My Father, it is possible that the cup passeth, as I will and as you will.”[13] This is Christian redemption after Shoah, any alternative is Christian suicide.




[1] Exod 3:22a, 12:36b: “You shall save the Egyptians,” meaning, individual acts of Egyptian kindness and reparations clear the Egyptian name and vindicate its humanity.  

[2] Deut 23:8

[3] Hymns of praise consisting of Pss 113-118, which sing of the greatness of G-d, His deliverance, and the ultimate hope that all nations will be united in the pure worship of G-d. The name “Egyptian Hallel” is associate with Ps 114, which speaks of the marvels of the Exodus. Pss 113 and 114 are recited before the meal and Pss 115-118 are chanted after the Fourth Cup is poured.

[4] The talmudic term for Ps 136 (Ber 4b; Pesaḥ 118a; Ta`anit 3:9). This Psalm is called “The Great Hallel” because its opening line, “O’ give thanks to the Lord,” is implied before most of the stanzas and “For his mercy endureth forever,” concludes all the strophes.

[5] m. Pesaḥ 10:7 states: “the Fourth Cup is poured --- (he) finishes the Hallel and says over it the Birkat ha-Shir (”The Blessing of the Song”). The Passover Haggadah preserves several version of the Birkat Ha-Shir :R. Yehuda’s choice, “Praise Thee, O’ Lord our G-d, Shall All Thy Works,” which is recited at the conclusion of the “Egyptian Hallel”; and the selection of R. Yohanan (Pesaḥ 118a), “The Breath of Every Living Thing Shall Bless Thy Name, O’ Lord Our G-d,” which immediately follows the chanting of “The Great Hallel.” This prayer also concludes the Sabbath and festival, Pesukei de-Zimra (Psalms and adorations before the “Shema` and its Blessings” section of the  Shaḥarit [morning] service).

[6] A number of suggestions are offered to explain  the “Open Door” following the Grace after Meals and before the recitation of the Hallel: invitation to hospitality (however, extended at the start of the Seder); discredit blood libel disinformation (if so then investigate before not after the meal); connecting Jewish households by the world-wide travels of Elijah (however, Elijah’s name, cup, and voyage is referenced at the Seder table), and so forth. “Open Door” policy? Probably not for mundane reasons of generosity, antisemitism, nor unity but rather for the mystical exercise of experiencing G-d’s presence and salvific role on this “Night of Watching.”

[7] “It was the Night of Watching unto the Lord for bringing them out from the land of Egypt; this same Night of Watching for all the Children of Israel throughout their generations” (Exod 12:42). This verse sums up the basic leitmotif of Passover: G-d alone redeemed Israel. Moreover, this night of vigil unto the Lord for all generations is understood in rabbinic lore to mean that the final redemption of the future will take place on this anniversary night. The old-new tradition of leaving the door unlocked on Passover night – a courageous action during the long night of exile in the lands of Cross and Crescent – underscores surely that divine protection is strongly felt on this “Night of Watching.”

[8] Or, “Messenger of the Covenant.” A response to the previous sentence, ”You have wearied the Lord with your words … ‘Where is the G-d of Justice?’” (Mal 2:17). The generation of the Shoah can identify with the Malakhian query when they see Evil seemingly prosper and aided by divine non-intervention.

[9] Council of Nicaea (325 C.E.) established the date of Easter to fall on the first Sunday following the first full moon of the Spring season ;  that is, Nisan 15, the first night of Passover (the traditional  Last Supper). “We should (not) follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled the hands with enormous sins (the killing of Christ), and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul.”

[10] Jewish loyalty to ruler and country has its roots in Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles: “Seek he welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to the Lord in its behalf; for in its prosperity you shall prosper” (Jer 29:70). Fear of Lord and king is expressed in Prov 24:21 and Ezra 6:10. Mishna Abot 3:2 reports in the name of R. Hanina, the Vice-High Priest, “Pray for the peace of the ruling power (Rome), since but for fear of it men would have swallowed each other alive.” The fourth century amora, Mar Samuel of Nehardea, laid down the biding principle, Dina deMalkuta Dina; in civil matters, the law of the land is as binding on Jews as commandments of the Torah. “Prayers for the Government” are featured in the Musaf  (“additional”) liturgy for Sabbath and festivals.

[11] “As far as election is concerned, they (Jews) are loved on account of the patriarchs. For G-d’s gift and His call are irreversible.” Rom  11:28b, 29

[12] Other noteworthy examples of supersessionist eschatology are John 4:21-26 and Gal 3:26-29.

[13] A post-Shoah re-reading of Matt 26:43b.

Article Comments

Submitted by John Hough on Sun, 08/11/2019 - 19:16


I was surprised by your final sentence. I realized my misunderstanding had begun much earlier. May I ask of you time and patience to help me “connect the dots.”
Thank you

Thanks for reading my article. Respondent Charles Carpenter Response
captures the essence of my inserted Jesus midrash to the traditional Passover Seder and adds a Christian ending. No problem if the goal accomplishes my thesis: post-Shoah New Testament based supersessionism divides not unites Christian-Jewish fellowship.

Charles Carpenter, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:
Garber’s presentation accentuates the difference between the Gospel and epistolary texts [Luke, Matthew, Mark and Paul (I Corinthians)]. He does not illustrate this difference as a kind of redaction or failure of the authors to follow the traditions of a Seder meal, but an accentuation of the “triumph of moral victory”—a way to teach the intrinsic value of the other. Thus, the order of the cup and the meal does not determine the meaning, but how one takes the meal. The meaning and value of the celebration and commemoration go beyond the meal and into the unity for which the meal stands. The meal with its form and substance directs the observer to the intrinsic value of the event, not the extrinsic value of the forms and substances.

Paying close attention to the rabbinic sources, Garber furthers Hanson’s idea—that the Lukan cup signifies a further fulfillment of the messianic age, an age where “a universal sibling…can be realized…in our day.” He connects the Halakha and Paul epistle to the church at Ephesus where Jews and Gentiles united peacefully and the “Judge-of-all-the-Earth (is) to deal justly with the Nations of the World. Garber understands the Seder discussion to be helpful if a Christian harkens back to the rabbinic sources for observations that lead to the profundity of meaning within the event. Thus, the question concerning the connection between the Seder and Christian communion demands the Christian to reach back to his/her Jewish roots to find how to unify with the other, bearing the weight of the other, even to the point of communing with the other. This communion and confession needs to include even coming to the aid of the suffering ones, the six million Jews who suffered under the weight of intolerance and anti-Semitism.
Each presenter agreed on three points: the communion meal is a meal accentuating unity and that the Seder and communion meals are different. But the most important issue that all can agree upon is, as Garber suggests, that any communion that fails to seek a universal peace also fails to recognize Christ’s purpose in making peace for all mankind.

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