The story of the Exodus of the Israelite from Egypt is the story of Moses, the greatest leader of all times of the Jewish people. Yet, he is not mentioned at all in the Passover Haggadah, the booklet which is read by every Jewish person sitting at the table during the Passover dinner. The holiday is celebrated as Moses never existed. The reason for it has more to do with the battle between Judaism and Christianity than the way Jews feel about Moses.
Until the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE), the Jewish temple was at the center of the Jewish religion. After the destruction Judaism was faced with the task of rehabilitation and the development of a new form of religious life to mold a unified Jewish identity. If this wasn’t enough of a challenge for a nation who just lost its center of gravity, identity, and structure, Judaism was also challenged by a new religion; Christianity.
The early Christians came from the Jewish people. Many of them saw the destruction of the temple as a sign that the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people was no longer in effect. The religious Jewish leaders of that period feared that Judaism will disappear if the majority of the people join the new religion. Rabbi Akiva emphasized repeatedly that the Jewish people were the chosen people, partly to elevate the spirit of the Jewish nation after the disastrous outcome of the revolt against the Romans, and partly to shield against the influence of the the early Christians (Judeo-Christians).
After the destruction of the temple (see The Jewish Revolts Against the Roman Empire), the Sanhedrin (the authoritative religious council of rabbis, under the leadership of Rabban Gamliel II), defined how major Jewish holidays will be celebrated for generation to come. Passover was one of those holidays that had to be redefined since the temple no longer existed and animal sacrifices at the temple were no longer possible. Because of the pressure on the Jewish religion by Christianity, it was important for the Jewish religious leadership to emphasize the direct connection between the Jewish People and G-D. Reassuring the Jewish nation that the covenant between G-d and the Jewish nation was as strong as ever. Having Moses as G-D’s messenger strengthened the claim by early Christians that Jesus was also G-D’s messenger. For that reason, the Passover Haggadah specifically says that it was G-D and G-D alone who was responsible for the miracle of the Exodus. As the Haggadah says, “‘God took us out’, not by the hands of an angel, not by the hands of a messenger, but the Holy One in God’s full glory.”
Moses, the greatest Jewish leader was demoted to a level so low that he wasn’t mentioned at all for his great efforts to save the Jewish people. All in effort to preserve the religion that he himself introduced to the Jewish people in Mount Sinai.
Fast forward two thousand years: Christianity has grown to the major religion that it is today. Judaism has survived despite repeated attacks on its legitimacy. A new religion, Islam, was born.
- Christianity is by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third (31 percent) of all 6.9 billion people on Earth (in 2010)
- Over 1.6 billion or about 23.4% of the world population are Muslims.
- The world’s Jewish population in early 2014 was estimated at 14.2 million people (around 0.2% of the world population).
For Christians, Moses—mentioned more often in the New Testament than any other Old Testament figure—is often a symbol of God’s law, as reinforced and expounded on in the teachings of Jesus. New Testament writers often compared Jesus’ words and deeds with Moses’ to explain Jesus’ mission. In Acts 7:39–43, 51–53, for example, the rejection of Moses by the Jews who worshiped the golden calf is likened to the rejection of Jesus by the Jews that continued in traditional Judaism. [Wikipedia]
For Muslims, Moses is considered to be a prophetic predecessor to Muhammad. The exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is considered similar to the migration (hijra) made by the followers of Muhammad. Moses is also believed by Muslims to have foretold the coming of Muhammad, who would be the last prophet. [Wikipedia]
To Jews, Moses is called Moshe Rabbenu, Our Leader Moshe, Servant of God, Father of all the Prophets. In the orthodox view, Moses received not only the Torah, but also the revealed (written and oral) and the hidden (the `hokhmat nistar teachings, which gave Judaism the Zohar of the Rashbi, the Torah of the Ari haQadosh and all that is discussed in the Heavenly Yeshiva between the Ramhal and his masters). He is also considered the greatest prophet. [Wikipedia]
When considering the size of each religion and the fact that Moses maintained his status as a major religious figure, one may conclude that the Sanhedrin’s attempt to preserve Judaism by minimizing Moses role was a failure. However, when considering that Judaism still exists today despite repeated attacks on the religion by Islam and Christianity (see the The Roots of Antisemitism) , one may also conclude that the Sanhedrin’s attempt to preserve Judaism by minimizing Moses role was successful.
If Moses could speak to us today, what would he have said to us? Would he have considered the enormous impact of his message on the world’s civilization as his greatest achievement? (See The Ten Commandments and their influence on American leaders). Would he have considered the difficulties of the Jewish nation to survive and prosper throughout history as an unfinished exodus?