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1969 Freedom Seder Exerpt on violence in the struggle for freedom

The tradition says that we spill wine from our cups in recounting the plagues because it is incumbent on us to reduce our pleasure as we remember the sufferings of the Egyptians. And the tradition also tells us that when the angels rejoiced in the drowning of the Egyptians, the Lord our God, blessed be he, rebuked them saying, “Are these not my people also, and the work of my hands?” Let us therefore grieve for the sufferings of our brothers the Egyptians.

But let us also remember the lesson of the plagues: the winning of freedom has not always been bloodless in the past. Through the generations, our prophets, our rabbis, and our shoftim [judges] -- men like Micah who spoke the word of God directly to the kings and the people, men like Hillel who worked out the law of justice in daily life, and revolutionary leaders or “judges” like Gideon -- have faced the issue of violence in the struggle for freedom…

It was not bloodless when the people of America announced, “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it,” and when the shofet Jefferson, that revolutionary judge and leader, added, “Can history produce an instance of rebellion so honorably conducted? God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”…

It was not bloodless…when the judge Lincoln said, “If every drop of blood drawn by the lash must be paid by one drawn by the sword, still must it be said. The judgments of our Lord are true and righteous altogether.”…

It was not bloodless in the dark months of 1942 when Emmanuel Ringelblum wrote from the Warsaw ghetto: “Most of the populace is set on resistance. It seems to me that people will no longer go to the slaughter like lambs. They want the enemy to pay dearly for their lives. They’ll fling themselves at them with knives, staves, coal gas. They’ll permit no more blockades. They’ll not allow themselves to be seized in the street, for they know that work camp means death these days. And they want to die at home, not in a strange place…

“Whomever you talk to, you hear the same cry: The resettlement should never have been permitted. We should have run out into the street, have set fire to everything in sight, have torn down the walls, and escaped to the Other Side. The Germans would have taken their revenge.

“It would have cost tens of thousands of lives, but not 300,000. Now we are ashamed of ourselves, disgraced in our own eyes, and in the eyes of the world, where our docility earned us nothing. This must not be repeated now. We must put up a resistance, defend ourselves against the enemy, man and child.”…

No, the moments of resistance have not been bloodless. The blood of tyrants and the blood of freemen has watered history. But we may not rest easy in that knowledge. The freedom we seek is a freedom from blood as well as a freedom from tyrants. It is incumbent upon us not only to remember in tears the blood of the tyrants and the blood of the prophets and martyrs, but to end the letting of blood. To end it, to end it!


Arthur Waskow, “The Original 1969 Freedom Seder,” http://www.theshalomcenter.org/node/899, accessed 1/4/2010. Copyright (c) 1969, 1970, by Arthur Waskow. See this and the entire Freedom Seder and related materials by linking to http://www.theshalomcenter.org/treasury/105.


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This excerpt comes from texts used at the 1969 Seder where Jews and African Americans came together to commemorate the first anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination. In the excerpt Arthur Waskow describes the violence that had been used in previous struggles for freedom, including Exodus, the American Revolution and the Civil War.

Date / time: 
1969
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Waskow, Arthur

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "1969 Freedom Seder Exerpt on violence in the struggle for freedom." (Viewed on April 20, 2014) <http://jwa.org/media/1969-freedom-seder-exerpt-on-violence-in-struggle-for-freedom>.