Is Passover the Most Libertarian Holiday?

The annual retelling of the Exodus story reminds us not to take freedom for granted.


Short of opening a libertarian theme park ("Ride the Rockin' Road to Serfdom!"), it can be difficult to make the love of liberty a "lived experience," especially for kids. What we need is something hands-on—an emotional, immersive experience that gets children and their parents totally involved.

Fortunately, this multimedia memory-maker already exists. It's called Passover.

Passover is the Jewish festival of freedom. It's an annual retelling of the Exodus story, complete with jingles, novelty foods, and cash prizes. Moses went down to Egyptland more than 3,000 years ago, yet the story miraculously manages—like last year's matzo—to stay fresh as ever.


Not for nothing do some Jews jokingly call this holiday the "festival of constipation." Matzo is the corrugated cardboard–like bread substitute we are commanded to eat all eight days of Passover. The story says that when Pharaoh finally let the Jews go, they feared he might change his mind, so they fled without even waiting for their dough to rise. To this day, we eat the same thing they did: unleavened bread. The fact that it wreaks havoc on many a digestive system is actually quite clever: Our suffering reminds us of our forebears' suffering. In fact, on Passover, we can't even say they, as in "They left Egypt." We have to say me or we, as in "This is to remember when God took me out of Egypt." Because, as the haggadah points out, if "they" hadn't been taken out, "we" would still be there. Touché!

The Haggadah

This is the Passover playbook filled with stories, songs, and stage directions such as "lift the matzo and show it to everyone." What other holiday comes with its own instruction book? And since it's all right there, this is a holiday Jews basically celebrate in the same way from Texas to Tel Aviv. We eat an apple and nut mixture that reminds us of the mortar they…er, we…used to build Pharaoh's temples. We eat bitter herbs to feel, well, bitter. We point to a lamb shank bone to remember how they (we!) painted lamb's blood on our doorframes so God would pass over us (yes, that's where the word comes from) when he got to Plague No. 10, the killing of the firstborn sons. We even spill some wine as a small sacrifice in honor of the suffering of the Egyptians themselves. Every bit of the service points back to how terrible it was to be enslaved, reminding us that our duty is to be grateful for—and to work to spread—freedom.


One particular song dominates this holiday: "Dayenu." In Hebrew, the word means "it would have been enough." As in: If God had just taken us out of Egypt, it would have been enough—but He did so much more, which the song then goes on to list. The key here is the killer chorus, in which dayenu is repeated endlessly. It's so simple that a toddler can sing it. Jews with Alzheimer's can sing it too—even after they've forgotten almost everything else. (I've witnessed this myself.) That is a great jingle.

The Four Questions

The freedom theme is front and center again when the youngest child at the Passover dinner is expected to ask the famous "four questions," beginning with: "Why is this night different from all other nights?" Why? Because this is the night we really try to feel what it was like to be a slave set free. Each of the four questions gets back to that point: Oppression bad. Liberty amazing! Assigning question duty to the youngest kid guarantees that every child will do it at some point, assuring a lot of buy-in. And since it's the kid's first big moment in the family spotlight, not to mention the great river of Jewish tradition, it's memorable for everyone at the table.

The Afikomen

At the end of the meal, kids go hunting for a little piece of—you guessed it—matzo, known as the afikomen. The winner gets a prize, often cash that he or she has to haggle for. Just like trade show organizers promising the grand prize drawing at the end, this scavenger hunt keeps people from leaving early. It also gets the kids running around, bonding (and fighting) with their cousins, assuring even more memories are made.

If the holiday just featured a special game, dayenu. If it featured a special game and a special food, dayenu. But Passover works on every level, hammering home the message: Thank God (literally!) for freedom.

NEXT: Brickbat: Soak the Rich

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  1. This holiday is especially apropos at this time. It is not just literal freedom from slavery. During this 8-day festival, some will free themselves from the shackles that enslave them in different ways: a bad childhood, addiction, grief, mending a broken relationship.

    Is the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic like a modern-day Angel of Death passing through our land? No….but looking at the daily body count, sometimes I wonder.

    This evening, I will have my Seder alone. In the quiet stillness of the evening, I will think of the wonders I have seen in everyday life. Wonders like the buds emerging in the spring, childbirth, a wonderful wife, the birds flying in the air. I have come to understand that every living thing is holy. And I will give thanks to God, who has given me the perception to see and understand it.

    Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said something to the effect that three things are required for holiness (meaning, a sense of awe, wonder, and majesty): a moment in time, a soul, and God….and all three are always present. On this Pesach holiday festival, live in the moment. Open your minds and hearts, and see the everyday miracles around you.

    Chag Semeach Pesach!

    1. You always find something positive to say. Thanks for that.

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    2. Chag Sameach XY

      Always a little humor doesn’t hurt. Someone sent me this.

      So that you are prepared, we want to let you know about some changes in the Passover 2020 celebration:

      1. To maintain social distancing, only two people will be allowed to attend at a time, and we will be metering entry. We will be sending a Google doc so that you can sign up for your preferred portion of the seder in 15 minute shifts: The Four Questions; The Four Kinds of Children, Dayenu, The 10 Plagues, Elijah and the Afikomen. We anticipate a lot of interest in the Plagues section so we will have to make some hard choices. (NOTE: if you have children under 5 who can only attend with their parents, as long as they are entirely wrapped in plastic, you can bring them; no need to sign them up).

      2. Some Seder practices and traditions will have to be modified. For example, the family style servings of haroset, matzoh, horseradish, and salt water will have to go. Each guest will receive a pre-packaged box of the essential ceremonial items plus a bowl of matzoh ball soup. You should be able to cry your own salt water tears.

      3. The ceremonial hand washing, however, will be emphasized. Everybody will wash their f***ng hands every five minutes.

      4. I inquired with the Almighty about the four glasses of wine limit and proposed raising it to eight. She said no problem at all. So there’s that.

      5. Elijah has advised that due to COVID-19 restrictions in his own organization, he will not be able to attend in person. He is learning how to use Zoom (like the rest of us) and we are hopeful that he will be up to speed by then.

      6. The 10 Plagues section will be modified to focus on the one obvious plague. The other plagues don’t seem that relevant. The kids are hard at work making custom COVID-19 plague masks. The design will be reminiscent of a dog cone. The good news is that they won’t mess up your hair! (And we are obviously not sticking our pinkies in our wine and placing drops on our plate and then drinking the wine!

      7. For the Afikomen, we have determined that having children with grubby hands engage in a hunt all over the house for a small piece of matzah split between all the guests will not work. We will conduct the Afikomen ceremony ahead of time wearing our N-95 masks and gloves and apportion it in separately wrapped pieces.

      We thank you for your understanding and cooperation. If, despite these changes, we are not able to hold the seder in person, don’t worry. We will send everyone a Zoom link and it will be like you’re actually there! If Zoom does not work, we will be participating by group text.

      Miriam will help us “navigate these unprecedented waters” when we do the water blessing, so any questions can be directed to her.

      Dayenu! ????

      1. Echospinner….ROTFLMAO. Thank you so much for the Pesach humor. Truly, this was a gem. I laughed a lot, esp 3,4. I had Elijah’s cup last night when he did not show up in person or by Zoom. 🙂

  2. Thank you Leonore and CommentorX-Y, this was an unexpected Passover treat. I really appreciated the reminder of the Freedom Aspect of Passover.

  3. Passover, from the point of view of the Angel of Death.

    Slaves Hebrews born to serve
    To the pharaoh
    Heed To his every word
    Live in fear
    Faith Of the unknown one
    The deliverer
    Wait Something must be done
    Four hundred years


    1. Come on baby, don’t fear the reaper
      Baby take my hand, don’t fear the reaper
      We’ll be able to fly, don’t fear the reaper
      Baby I’m your man

    2. My favorite Passover song. Creeping Death.

  4. Metallica’s Passover-themed Creeping Death

    1. sarcasmic beat me to it

      1. By one minute. Almost a tie.

  5. There is no real physical evidence that Passover actually occurred.

    1. There is no real physical evidence that you were ever born. So call it even.

    2. And what would “real physical evidence” even be 3500 years later? A photo of the angel of death in the act of taking a life?

      1. a hockey stick graph

    3. Well done

    4. love this.

    5. +100000000000000

  6. “Thank God (literally!) for freedom.”

    Choose reason. Every time.

    Choose reason. And education, modernity, tolerance, science, inclusiveness, progress, and liberty. Avoid ignorance, bigotry, superstition, dogma, insularity, backwardness, and pining for good old days that never existed.

    People are entitled to believe as they wish. But competent citizens neither advance nor accept superstition-based arguments in reasoned debate among adults.

    Choose reason. Be an adult. Or, at least, try.

    1. “Choose reason like 57 genders, intersectionality, vaccines cause autism, critical theory, women can have testicles and the birth-canal fairy”

      Okay lefty.

      1. You are welcome to ride old-timey superstition all the way down to political and cultural irrelevance . . . while suppressing science, rejecting reason, embracing bigotry, and celebrating ignorance. That’s what clingers do.

        May the better ideas win.

  7. Me.
    Seems like a bit of a stretch.
    Happy(?) Passover, yall

    1. Fn update.
      “Me” should be “meh”

      1. But you are.

  8. Is Passover the Most Libertarian Holiday?

    Perhaps. But Festivus, with its very high strength-to-weight ratio, is right up there.

    1. The Jews might have the finding-joy-in-suffering angle nailed down, but we’ve got everybody beat in the airing-of-grievances contest.

      1. It’s not even close.

  9. That story puts forth a vision of God (which is to say the natural world) that seems a little . . . um . . . both elitist and deterministic–hostile to free will.

    “And Moses said, Thus saith the LORD, About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts. And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there was none like it, nor shall be like it any more. But against any of the children of Israel shall not a dog move his tongue, against man or beast: that ye may know how that the LORD doth put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel. And all these thy servants shall come down unto me, and bow down themselves unto me, saying, Get thee out, and all the people that follow thee: and after that I will go out. And he went out from Pharaoh in a great anger.

    “And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you; that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt. And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: and the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land.

    —-Exodus 11:4-10

    God appears to be doing this to make himself seem magnificent and to set the record straight on whom is and isn’t among the elite.
    Meanwhile, free will seems to be getting plowed under, here. This is a deterministic universe, where the Pharaoh would want to let the Children of Israel go, but God won’t let him want that because that would deprive God of the opportunity both to make himself seem magnificent and to set the record straight on whom is and isn’t among the elite.

    Raised as a Christian, my inclination is to see the deliverance of the Children of Israel being about spreading the blood of an innocent lamb over your doorway as foreshadowing, much like we see Abraham’s sacrifice of Issac (or Ishmael if you’re a Muslim). Regardless, as a Christian, it’s hard to read that story as anything but foreshadowing and interpret it through the lens of Christianity.

    The holiday that celebrates the creator of the universe willingly sacrificing his own son that every individual would be free to make a choice for himself or herself, and, indeed, implying that every individual should be treated as if they were worthy of that sacrifice or risk denying the goodness of God, that holiday seems more libertarian to me.

    I understand that self-described Christians haven’t always abided by their own primary principles, and I understand that fanatical excess has led Christians to perpetrate indefensible crimes in defense of those principles, too. But if libertarianism is about valuing other people and the right to make choices for themselves, I’m going with Easter as the most libertarian holiday. God sacrificed his son so that we’d all have the right to make choices for ourselves, so for goodness’ sake, respect the rights of other people and stand up for your own rights, too.

    1. I may have forgotten to close a tag there, somewhere.

      I’m just sayin’.

      1. If everything is in italics, nothing is in italics.

    2. A few notes:

      No ruler of the world superpower who considered himself a god would ever want to let his free labor go.

      Exodus speaking this way of “God hardening pharaoh’s heart” is simply re-affirming what we understand about humans, that by nature, their hearts are hard, and that only through God’s work can they be softened. Calvin would have called this “total depravity”. *No, I’m not a Calvinist.*

      As for determinism and free will, the best I can do is point to certain verses, such as:
      “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
      This is free will and determinism in one. The best I’ve heard it explained is that you have free will, and yet are still predestined. Both are true at the same time in a way that I don’t understand, and in a way that I don’t think we are capable of understanding (see literally every movie, book, TV show about time travel). Apparently, this is just something that exists for a being that sees all time and space at once…

      That all being said, I’d like to point out that while Easter is about freedom, freedom from sin, and the freedom to worship God as one should, Passover is about physical freedom (as well as freedom of worship). Passover is the more libertarian holiday in that physical freedom is something even the unbelievers can understand. That Easter is more complete, in that people were freed from sin, takes nothing away from that part of Passover. Passover is the first lesson in freedom, Easter is the second lesson.

  10. Yes, using religion to achieve political goals; truly an American tradition.

    1. Are you referring to the First Amendment being a point of Protestant theology?

      There are times when using religion to achieve political goals has worked out well, but I’d generally advise against it.

      Using religion to achieve political goals is the real bad one. Thank goodness for Martin Luther’s two kingdoms doctrine, the wisdom of the Peace of Westphalia in incorporating those principles into practice, and Madison for understanding both of those and incorporating that wisdom into the First Amendment.

      Don’t know what we’d do without it.

  11. “the Lord God smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon…” – KJB

    But He passed over the Chosen Ones.

    Yeah, really libertarian.

    1. If Scripture is true (and you are assuming so), then we all deserve to die. It’s only by mercy that any of us are alive, even at this very moment.

      It was only by “the blood of the Lamb” that God’s people were saved. Which was pointing towards…

      So, yes, in that God was just to some, and merciful to others, in order to free his people from their 400 year slavery, that IS really libertarian.

      After all, God is the first libertarian. And just like libertarians now, the majority of people are really quite upset with our ideas of free will and with us allowing other people to do stuff the majority doesn’t like.

      1. “…and you are assuming so…”

        No it is not all true. And there is nothing in ‘scripture’ about individual rights. ‘Scripture’ is work of historic kings and government authorities to make people obey their lords – and dukes, and earls, etc.

        1. “No it is not all true.”

          You are picking and choosing. If you ignore the 1st chapter, the 5th might be hard to understand.

          “And there is nothing in ‘scripture’ about individual rights.”

          Don’t steal (property rights). Don’t murder (right to life). Don’t give false testimony (right to a fair trial). Matthew 20:15.

          You are very confident in your ignorance. Perhaps you should have done something as simple as done a Bible search for the word “rights”!

          “‘Scripture’ is work of historic kings and government authorities to make people obey their lords”

          Only someone who never read it would say something that foolish! I’m trying to think of a (main) ruler or King that God didn’t speak out against, maybe 2 or 3 in the entire 1500 year history. No one reading Scripture would ever come up with that claptrap! He puts down noted “good” rulers such as Moses and David on more than one ocassion!

  12. gut yom tov.

    1. Chag Semeach Pesach!

  13. I thought it also taught us to act quickly and utilize the resources you have now, because if you wait…

  14. Egyptian records talk about the expulsion of foreigners who were carrying a plague and conspiring with the Hyksos.
    Many historians hold the Israelites were likely not slaves, but rather hired foreign labor. Some believe they contributed recruits for the Egyptian army.
    Wouldn’t be the first time they blamed the goyim!
    BTW sending in my CTC educated 1040 tax return, asking for full refund of all withheld earnings, including payroll taxes!

    1. >>Egyptian records

      the Dead playing Giza in 1978 is a great show. Jerry plays the Close Encounters theme during Space

    2. Yeah, world superpowers really don’t like admitting that they lost to a bunch of unarmed slaves.

      It’s similar to the Assyrian King during the siege of Jerusalem, who later claimed to have “made [Hezekiah] a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage” like he won or something. What he didn’t say is the LORD slaughtered all of his men during the siege. At least the Assyrian King technically told the truth…

  15. I’m a Gentile and a non-believer, but I’ve always liked this holiday for its pro-freedom theme. It’s a pity that Jews, like other groups (women, homosexuals, Blacks, people in the arts) who have known first-hand the evils of statism, almost always vote lockstep for the more statist candidate in any election. Maybe it’s sort of a group Stockholm Syndrome thing.

    1. Orthodox Jews tend to be conservative.
      Conservative Jews are a mixed bag, but overall lean left.
      Reform Jews are Communists.

      1. “Orthodox Jews tend to be conservative.”

        Do you have evidence to support the assertion that Orthodox Jews tend to be insular, stale-thinking, misogynistic, superstitious, poorly educated, and the like?

        1. Remember when you posted this earlier today?

          “You are welcome to ride old-timey superstition all the way down to political and cultural irrelevance . . . while suppressing science, rejecting reason, embracing bigotry, and celebrating ignorance. That’s what clingers do.”

          If you hate “clingers”, you’re going to absolutely loathe Orthodox Jews. If you ever actually meet one, which I’m going to guess you haven’t.

          1. His handlers only permit him to associate with the “right” people. Progessivism is a cult.

    2. Jews who emigrated from Communist countries tend to be overwhelmingly conservative on most issues except perhaps abortion. Many of the leading minds of libertarianism and conservatism are Jewish. It’s true that most Jews vote Democratic, but that doesn’t mean it will always be that way.

      1. What planet are you on? A small minority of Russian Jews who came to America are conservative…look at the voting patterns, looks at the almost obsession of cultural marxism in academia and the media with proponents which are over representative being secular Jews. Sorry but conservative Jews really conservative not the neocon killers are a minority in the Jewish population. Hell American Jews voted for Stevenson over Ike who led the fight against Hitler…

  16. Every election the voters pass over the Libertarian party.

    1. And remain slaves to the pharaohs in D.C.

  17. One reasonable view of Passover is that it celebrates an act of monstrous terrorism, the mass killing of innocents solely based on two things people cannot control: the nationality of their parents and their place in the birth order. And this killing was performed by god, who just as easily could have killed only the guilty, or simply directly freed the people with a few more tricks like the magic staff and parting the waters of the red sea.

    1. “The fact that it wreaks havock on many a digestive system is really quite clever:”

      Yup. When running from the Pharaoh, ain’t nobody got time to take a shit.

  18. The tale of the Exodus is false. See Shlomo Sand’s “The Invention of the Jewish People.”

  19. First there is zero evidence Jews were enslaved by the Egyptian empires. But the same can be said of much of the basics of Christianity although no independent historical record of Christ is less problematic than no recored of a mass enslavement.

    What I find really ironic is the claim of the similarity to libertarianism..maybe but apparently this was forgotten by the majority of Eastern European and Russian Jews who immigrated to the US and were so often characterized by socialism, secularism, and zionism. Hell American Jews voted for Stevenson over Ike…I never understood that…

    Will Reason be having an article on Easter?

  20. No. It’s close, but Easter is even more Libertarian.

    First, Easter is about JUSTICE. God’s laws were broken. Penalty was exacted. Jesus suffered every type of punishment then known, from lashing to torture to ostracism (even by His Father) to, finally, execution. Every law was satisfied through its own, appropriate punishment.

    Second, Easter is about MERCY. Jesus did these things as self-sacrifice on our behalf — completely voluntarily — whether we deserve it or not. They did satisfy the law because God accepted Him as proxy for the rest of us (though such approval was not required by the laws).

    Third, Easter is about INDIVIDUAL FREEDOM. Each of us has the agency to accept or reject Jesus as savior or even as having existed at all. We can choose between numerous different doctrinal systems, including atheism. And each of us is responsible for our own actions.

    Fourth, Easter has a strong example of the NAP. While Jesus told His followers to buy swords, when one was used against a Roman soldier — by a follower who was attempting to protect Jesus — Jesus immediately healed the wound.

    Fifth, after His resurrection, Jesus met with His closest followers, giving them the chance to see that He was alive, and charging them with spreading the news. Over 20 centuries later, that news still helps us make informed decisions, BUT we are expected to use judgment, too.

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