Though Gale Boyd often heard about her German-Jewish and Russian-Jewish heritage growing up, it was rare that she and her parents ever discussed religion, Jewish or otherwise, she said.
“We didn’t have faith in our home — science was our religion and permeated everything in our household,” Boyd said. “When I was 15, I really just developed this big hole in the center of my being that couldn’t be filled with anything. I felt like it was probably religion that I was missing. I really didn’t have a Jewish identity; I had been told about my ancestry, but I didn’t know anything and I didn’t feel a connection.”
When she joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 15, it only increased her desire to delve into her Jewish roots.
Since then, Boyd has dedicated much of her life to the study of Judaism. After eight years in Israel with her husband and six children, Boyd decided to compile her knowledge into a book, “Days of Awe,” which is available to download for free on lds.net.
While in Israel, the family members immersed themselves culturally, participating in Passover feasts and Hebrew school. A local paper even wrote a story about them.
This year’s Passover, which falls a full month after Easter and starts April 22 at sundown, offers Latter-day Saints a similar opportunity to better understand a different tradition filled with rich history, culture and symbolism.
“Any time Latter-day Saints reach out and learn something about another people, another religious community, another culture, it enriches us by helping us to appreciate what it means to be children of God in all places and in all situations,” said Jeffrey R. Chadwick, professor of Near Eastern studies and Jewish studies at Brigham Young University. “In this case, the Latter-day Saint relationship with the Jewish people is one that goes way back and can always be enhanced.”
History of Passover
Passover, according to Chadwick, is an annual festival that celebrates the origins of the children of Israel.
“It’s something like the Thanksgiving of the American people,” he said. “It’s the story of how Israel and the Jewish people began as a nation.”
The name “Passover” is derived from the 10th plague that Moses brought to Egypt while the Israelites were in bondage, said Eric D. Huntsman, professor of ancient scripture at BYU. The 10th plague was the angel of death that killed the firstborn of each family. The Israelites were instructed to slaughter a perfect male lamb and paint its blood on their door frames, which caused the plague to pass over them.
“It symbolized initially the passing of death over the children of Israel, and their ability to have new life,” Huntsman said.
Over time, Passover became associated and combined with the Festival of Unleavened Bread. Today, traditional Passover lasts seven to eight days.
“When the children of Israel arrived to the promised land, it became one of the three big pilgrimage festivals," Huntsman said. "Together with two other festivals, Pentecost later in the spring and Tabernacles in the autumn, it was associated with the agricultural rhythms of the Holy Land. They were associated with the different harvests — you had the barley harvest for Passover, the wheat harvest and first fruits of Pentecost, and the autumn harvest. So in addition to its original meaning, Passover took on added elements in the Holy Land.”
The Passover continued to evolve in the Second Temple period, or the time from the return of the Jews from exile in 530 B.C. to the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. But a lot of the developments, Huntsman said, were shaped post-biblically in Jewish texts, the Mishnah and Talmud.
"This is something that many Latter-day Saints and some other Christians don’t always understand when they appropriate the Passover to focus on how it symbolizes Christ. It’s certainly true that Jesus himself used that imagery in the Last Supper," Huntsman said. "As Latter-day Saints and Christians read the Hebrew Bible, we can see the anticipations of Christ and his sacrifice, but when we get too detailed and mix all of these correspondences with every step of the rabbinic Jewish Seder with what Jesus did, well, a lot of those steps may not even have existed at Jesus’ time."
The distinction is appropriate, especially when observing or taking part in Passover feasts today. Latter-day Saints do not observe Passover because it falls under the Law of Moses, according to Chadwick.
“However, it’s true that the bread and wine of the sacrament were elements of the Passover supper that Jesus instituted in the Last Supper,” Chadwick said. “We do continue on with an element of the ancient Passover.”
Symbols of Passover
The Passover Seder, or ceremonial meal, is steeped with symbolism that points to Christ, said Marlena Tanya Muchnick-Baker, president of B’nai Shalom, Children of Peace, an organization for Mormons with Jewish lineage.
“I celebrate Passover in different ways,” said Muchnick-Baker, a Latter-day Saint with Jewish lineage. “Sometimes I do it according to ancient scripture, with a Seder. More properly, I celebrate it knowing that it’s a set of symbols that refer to Jesus Christ, and that’s how I prefer to celebrate it.”
Many of the symbols are found in the food, traditionally presented each year at the Seder, which means “order.”
Unleavened bread, or matzah, is essential to the celebration of Passover. In order for the matzah to remain unrisen, it must be striped and pierced, which is a symbol of Christ, Boyd said.
“To my mind immediately comes the tradition of hiding the afikoman, or the matzah. It should be hidden by the firstborn son, and you can see the symbolism there. Jesus is the first begotten of Heavenly Father,” Muchnick-Baker said. “That afikoman is redeemed, and the children can receive a gift for finding it. The gift, of course, refers to our gift of eternal life. It also represents resurrection, coming forth from the tomb.”
The afikoman starts out in a three-chambered envelope as the middle matzah. According to Boyd, this position is significant: In the middle, it represents Jesus Christ as part of the Godhead. It also represents the Aaronic Priesthood and sacrifice.
Overarching themes of freedom from oppression are also apparent during Passover.
“I love the horseradish because it’s the noisiest part of the evening — people have to make noise when they’re eating that. It represents the bitterness of slavery,” Boyd said.
Bitter herbs, such as celery or parsley, are dipped in salt water, representative of the tears of affliction. Families also prepare a sweet mash called charoset, which symbolizes the sweetness of hope, according to Boyd.
"This whole idea of slavery and being freed from bondage — a lot of the time, some Jews go through their service, they’ll talk about issues of social justice, civil rights," Huntsman said. "Those are things that you don’t usually get with LDS or Christian appropriation of Passover."
While the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke imply that the Last Supper was a Passover feast, Huntsman noted that the Gospel of John instead indicates that Passover was the day after Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. In that case, he said, Christ indeed was the unblemished firstborn lamb being nailed to the cross at the same time as the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the temple.
The Passover lamb was to be unblemished, “examined carefully for purity” and consumed without a broken bone as a similitude of Christ, according to Boyd’s book “Days of Awe.”
For the Boyd family, Passover is a way to remember Christ’s ministry, Last Supper and crucifixion in addition to the Easter celebrations of the resurrection.
“It’s the whole picture that Heavenly Father set up for us,” Boyd said.
Applications of Passover
There are many themes reflected in Passover that apply to God’s children elsewhere, Huntsman said. For instance, he said, God always delivers his people — just as he delivered the children of Israel from bondage, he delivered all of his children from death and sin through Jesus Christ.
“From every aspect of (Passover), the Jewish people believe in tradition and they believe in the past,” Muchnick-Baker said. “As we study the ancient scriptures, the things that we most importantly need to recognize about Passover is that we make covenants, and God never breaks a covenant. If we understand the beauty of these wonderful celebrations — the feast of eternal life and of service and of love — we’ll become much better Saints.”
Boyd has prepared a Passover-themed family home evening in her book to help families understand the symbolism and the importance of remembering spiritual experiences.
“The most important thing is to realize that Heavenly Father has this all planned out from before the creation of the Earth,” Boyd said. “We’re really all contemporaries in that way. We can participate in that and feel like we’re one big peer group by understanding what the Lord has been doing with all of us.”
For those seeking to better understand current Jewish application of Passover, Chadwick suggests Internet research. But for those interested in connecting Passover with the Last Supper and Christianity, Huntsman advises adherence to the Old and New Testament texts.
"Some of the symbolism and a lot of the details of the ceremony are post-biblical. These details may not have been things that Jesus himself would have done at the Last Supper," Huntsman said.
He noted that it's important to be sensitive to another culture's heritage and tradition.
"This year, where Easter and Passover fall several weeks apart, this is a particularly good time to separate Christian and Jewish practice," he said. "I think it’s appropriate to say, ‘Since the time of Jesus, what have our Jewish friends done with this festival? What does it mean to them? How can we appreciate their traditions without mixing it too much with our own beliefs and understanding?'"
As Muchnick-Baker celebrates Passover, she equates the plagues, battles and persistence of the children of Israel to everyday life.
“It’s just a time to completely focus on God and the deliverance of his people and our dependence upon him,” Huntsman said.
6 tart apples (Granny Smith)
¾ cup raisins
4 ounces walnuts or almonds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
A little grape juice
Sugar to taste
Pare the apples, then grate on coarsest setting or chop very fine. Plump the raisins by letting them sit for about 10 minutes in hot water. Drain. Mash the raisins slightly. Grind or finely chop the nuts. Mix all the ingredients together, binding them with a little juice. (Charoset represents the mortar used to make and set the bricks the Israelites were forced to produce in Egypt. It also represents the sweetness of hope.)
— provided by Gale Boyd