Happy Easter, Everyone?

peeps sederNot an uncommon story: I was raised Christian, and woke up one day in my teens to discover myself an atheist. Since then, I’ve been indifferent to Easter, happy or otherwise.

In my Brooklyn neighborhood, largely Muslim and Jewish, I feel as though I ought to hear ‘Happy Easter!’ with something more than indifference. Dutifully, I turned to my google desktop search (search keys: Easter + Jews) and turned up my notes on Solomon Grayzel’s Church and the Jews in the XIIIth Century. Here I found material on the 1284 Synodus Nemausensis (Synod of Nîmes), which the Wikipedia, using the century-old 11th ed. of the Encyclopedia Britannica, declares to be “of little historical importance”, and which the Jewish Virtual Library characterizes as decreeing “severe measures against the Jews.” Such significant priorities!

Key, ‘historically unimportant’ text:

Only bishops may ordain penances for forbidden acts of sexual intercourse, including that with nuns, virgins, Jewesses, Muslim women, or brute animals. Furthermore, Jews must wear a rose on their breasts. They may not appear in public during the Easter season, nor are they to consume meat in public during Lent. Christians must refrain from eating unleavened bread at Passover, living in Jewish homes, frequenting public baths in Jewish company, or receiving medicines from Jewish physicians” (254-55).

A depressing record of antisemitism, certainly, but with (at least) two possibilities of something more hopeful:

  • First, that per the Jewish Virtual Library, “the bishop of Nîmes, who had authority over the Jews of the town, was nevertheless able to protect them [for a time], even from King Philip IV the Fair who had ordered the imprisonment of several Jews.” Which bishop that was, I haven’t bothered yet to learn: but his protection, even here in one of the nodes of promulgation for doctrinal antisemitism, should be admired and praised, even as we righteously recall Christianity’s own ongoing lachrymose history of intolerance.
  • Second, the Synod’s decree may be understood as unnecessary: were Christians and Jews really that close? Is the law just an attempt to make known, formally, a separation already in place? Is the law just a self-satisfied repetition of Christian practices already followed? Maybe, yet it may well be a record that Christians and Jews were in fact living in each other’s houses; that Christians were joining with Jews to celebrate Passover; that they did this without, however, either Christians or Jews ceasing to be Christians and Jews, and that this therefore might have been a heterotopia. Please reread the last paragraph of Jeffrey’s post with this possibility in mind.

Imagining such meals, I am more than happy to acknowledge an offered ‘Happy Easter,’ or, for that matter, a ‘Happy Passover.’ Do enjoy your holidays, whatever, wherever, and whenever they are.

(photo from here, itself reprinted from the 3rd of the Washington Post’s ongoing peeps contest)