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Judaism both as a religion and culture has
been sculpted and defined by historical events.
From the sense of resilience and passion for free-
dom embedded in Jewish festivals and music, to
the more solemn gravity found in the philosophies
and humour that stem from centuries of exile and
A predominant part of Jewish history lies in
its affiliation to the land of Israel, which was under
Jewish sovereignty for over half the biblical period
until its occupation by the Romans. This sparked
twenty centuries worth of revolts and exile, to
this day the Jewish people remain on a pilgrimage
to reclaim their promise land. The Jewish festival
of Passover emerged from the Jew’s experience
of slavery in Egypt, a key example of when they
were forced to leave their native land and be made
a denomination. The Pesah meal is of particular
historical significance as the sedar plate offers
a multi sensory account of the Jew’s struggle to
escape Egypt and return to their promise land as
free citizens. Perhaps the most emotively symbolic
aspect of this tradition is the Karpas (a raw vegeta-
ble usually celery), which is dipped in salt water to
represent the tears of the Jews who were enslaved.
The festival not only draws on the historical events
of Jewish slavery, but more extensively stress’s the
importance of freedom for Jewish people. This high
regard for freedom is not only of a personal nature,
but universal, as it is at the time of Passover that
Jews are encouraged to consider and help those
whose freedom is restrained.
The eating of Matzah is arguably not only
symbolic of the urgency when the Jews escaped
Egypt, but perhaps has a greater metaphorical
significance of the unsettled lives of Jewish people
as a result of historical events. The award winning
film ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ displays this more austere
side to Jewish life through the use of dark humour,
the film offers a microcosm of the situation for Jews
in 1905 Imperial Russia during the Pale of settle-
ment. Despite the overall cheerful nature of the
musical it highlights a greater underlying truth of
the Jew’s struggle to maintain Jewish religious and
cultural traditions during the anti-Jewish pogroms.
The repeated exile of Jews is cleverly referenced by
How have historical
Jewish culture
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