Reform rabbi: Jews should think of Palestine during Seder

The head of BBC's religion and ethics asked whether Jews think of Palestinian suffering at Pesach during a demonstration Seder last week.

Aaqil Ahmed was among a select group of journalists who attended the event organised by the Reform movement.

According to The Tablet, the Catholic magazine, guests were discussing "plagues of the modern world" when Mr Ahmed asked: "Not speaking personally, but journalistically, I would ask, do people remember the plight of those people today who suffer oppression at the hands of the Israelis?"

Reform movement head Rabbi Tony Bayfield was quoted as replying: "Many people don't do enough to adapt the Seder meal to remember the Palestinians. Israel has got itself into an ethnically unjustifiable situation. But the implication that it's all Israel's fault is not something that I share."

Rabbi Bayfield told the JC that he had been "glad" that Mr Ahmed felt secure enough to ask the question. "It didn't raise any hackles," he said.

"No one could possibly deny the reality of the conditions in which many Palestinians are living and the need for it to end. Of course, there is a fundamental difference in that whereas the Egyptians were responsible [for the slavery of the Israelites], who is to blame [in the Middle East] is far less one-sided and clear."

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith, of London's North-Western Reform Synagogue, who was one of the participating rabbis, said that Mr Ahmed's question was "totally valid. We had been talking about Jewish organisations who send out information sheets to add to the Seder, such as JCore [the Jewish Council for Raciqal Equality] and as the Soviet Jewry campaign used to.

"It was a stimulating question about whether we bring Israel issues to the Seder."

Rabbi Goldsmith said it was "wonderful" that the journalists had devoted three hours to try to understand a Seder. "Most knew about it but had never been to one before," he said.

A BBC spokesman said: "Aaqil's remark was made at a mock Seder meal for journalists hosted by Rabbi Tony Bayfield and was in the context of a general discussion comparing themes from the Seder story with modern-day issues. No offence was intended or taken by those involved in the discussion, in fact Aaqil and Rabbi Tony Bayfield have since exchanged letters of thanks."

    Last updated: 9:26am, March 29 2010