Monday, March 3, 2008

Kosher for Passover?

While shopping for groceries on March 1 at a local, large supermarket chain, I came across the selection pictured here (click on it to enlarge). While I thought it was a bit early to showcase fresh foods for a celebration that is more than a month and a half away, some further examination of the product revealed the real underlying misconception. As can be seen, the products contain an expiration date of March 19, a full month before Passover begins.

On would think that here in the greater New York City area, where Jewish people represent larger percentage than in other parts of the US, retailers would be more sensitive to their religious practices. However, this is now the second incident that I am aware of, in which stores have placed Jewish observance into anachronistic categories. Religion writer Gary Stern first reported on this during the December "holiday season," when he highlighted one seller's attempt to push some lovely ham that was allegedly, "delicions for Hannukah.".

The underlying problem here appears to be that the majority of Americans consider Easter and Passover to be coinciding celebrations. While appropriateness of this has been debated for centuries, the Christian scriptures place the death and resurrection of Jesus at the time of Passover. One might assume then, that the two festivals are always close to each other.

In 325 CE, Christians meeting at the First Council of Nicea decidee on a common date for Easter or what is more correctly called "Pascha" or the "Christian Passover." Gary blogged on this theme last week, and offered a link to a site which discusses the way the date is determined. With the advent of the use of the Gregorian calendar and by ignoring the stipulation of Nicea I that the celebration of the resurrection always fall after the Passover of the Jews, Western Christians can find themselves with odd situations that would otherwise not happen, such as this year, with Easter a month earlier than Passover and St. Patrick's Day falling on the Monday of Holy Week.
Early church leaders wanted all Christians to celebrate the Resurrection on the same day, after the Jewish Passover. To that end, a council of bishops in the fourth century decreed that Easter would fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon, after the spring equinox... - Kim Lawton, managing editor, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly -
Why do I take the time to point out these long-reviewed details? It is so that hopefully, Americans may become more readily aware that Easter as they know it in these times is not necessarily celebrated by all Christians simultaneously. Furthermore, the calculation of Easter which the American civil calendar now observes, has nothing to do with "the Passover of the Jews" or Jewish customs associated with Passover.

Fr. Ron Roberson from the office of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops offers the following reflection:
Especially in the East, the date of the celebration of Easter, over the years, has become identified with a kind of a Christian stance over and against the hostile forces of the world. So to adhere to those old traditions, the things they had been doing for so many centuries, was a way of really affirming their Christian identity, and the centrality of their Christian faith.
For grocery chain marketers, be careful of what you advertise and be sensitive to the religious practices of your customers. And . . . don't forget that according to Jewish regulations, a difference exists between what is "kosher" and what is "kosher for Passover," so, if you want to provide good customer service, learn the difference.

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