You can now read 5 articles in a month for free on Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.


Religious traditions don’t have to be understood as a template for violence

JAMES CARROLL’S analysis of the symbolism of sacrifice in American history inspires further reflection ( “Good Friday and the Civil War,’’ Op-ed, April 2). While literalist understandings of Scripture may appear to invoke justification of “sacrificial atonement’’ in our culture, there are other interpretations that offer an alternative vision.

Judaism came to understand the story of Abraham’s intended offering of his son Isaac as a revolutionary protest against the widespread practice of child sacrifice in the ancient world. Contemporary Jewish commentators point to the text’s warning against parents sacrificing their children to their own passions.

Continue reading below

The “God-willed deaths of Egypt’s firstborn’’ that Carroll links to the Passover story can also be understood in a very different way. The tradition of spilling wine from our cups at the Seder ceremony is a symbol that our joy at our own liberation from slavery is diminished by the suffering of any of God’s children, including our oppressors.

The tradition holds that God expressed deep sorrow over the deaths of the Egyptians pursuing the Israelites at the Red Sea, admonishing the angels: “How can you sing praises when my children are drowning?’’ Perhaps these insights can offer a corrective to the religious “undercurrents’’ that have contributed to our nation’s “quick readiness to shed blood.’’

Rabbi Howard A. Berman


Loading comments...
Want each day's news headlines delivered fresh to your
inbox every morning? Just connect with us
in one of the following ways:
Please enter a valid email will never post anything without asking.
Privacy Policy
Subscriber Log In

You have reached the limit of 5 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of
Marketing image of