Tuesday, 3 April 2012

And I thought Finger Puppet Plagues were Bad . . .



I asked a while ago how to present plagues to children at seders, and suggested that using puppets might be in bad taste. Mr. CL just forwarded this link from Aish Ha Torah called "Family Fun with the Ten Plagues", and it kinda takes it to a new level. Though, to their credit, they don't glorify the death of the first born. 
Here are the creative activities they suggest to bring the plagues to life with your children at the family Seder. My comments in red. 
1) BLOOD -- Prepare a large, clear pitcher -- empty except for some red food coloring inconspicuously at the bottom. At the appropriate moment, pour in some water -- and watch the water magically turn to "blood!" (One technical point: Don't do the opposite and pour the food coloring into the water, as that would be a problem of "coloring" which is forbidden on Jewish holidays. (Take home message for the kids: Making light of suffering: okay. Coloring on Yom Tov: not okay.) And if you're really brave, drink a little of the water, to re-enact the Midrash which says that even during the plague of blood, the Jews could still drink and have it taste like "water!" Ignoring for a minute the colossal lapse in judgement of whoever wrote that last sentence (think for a minute what is one of the WORST antisemitic lies told about Jews, and how Aish just supported it.) Isn't blood treif? Oh . . not fake blood! . . . It's just like fakon!
2) FROGS -- Have everyone get out of their chairs and hop around the room, croaking like frogs. It's a good opportunity to stretch before the next part of the Seder.
3) LICE -- Go to your local toy store and buy a bunch of plastic bugs. At the appropriate moment, toss them onto the lap of the person next to you. Oriental Trading Company is a good source for plastic insects, and for other animal-based plagues!
4) WILD ANIMALS -- My personal favorite. Toy stores are filled with all kinds of plastic lions, snakes, elephants and bears. Plus you can put on a tiger mask or even a full gorilla costume to really get everyone in the spirit.
5) PESTILENCE -- This is the plague where all the animals died of disease. If you can impersonate a dead animal, go right ahead... Just what I want my kids to be doing. 
6) BOILS -- The Egyptians were covered with open sores which caused them unbearable itching! Have everyone at your Seder table break out into an uncontrollable fit of itching. Ha, ha! Oh what fun!
7) HAIL -- - Marshmallows (kosher for Passover!) work best for this. Foam balls and cotton balls work, too. If you're more adventurous, use ping-pong balls.
8) LOCUSTS -- What do grasshoppers do? They hop. It's good exercise before the festive meal.
9) DARKNESS -- Since the laws of Yom Tov forbid the use of electricity, don't turn off your lights. I know somebody once who tried to be very clever and put his lights on a "timer," set to go off during the plague of darkness. He misjudged, and they wound up eating most of the meal in the dark. A better alternative is to have everyone put on a blindfold and try walking around the room for two minutes!
Another idea: The Midrash says that during the plague of darkness in Egypt, the Jews searched the Egyptians' homes for valuables, which they were later given as “payment” for the many years of hard labor. So try hiding costume jewelry around the room, and turn it into a treasure hunt. While we're glorifying suffering, let's promote looting and stealing, why don't we? They had it coming, anyway!
10) FIRST BORN -- We don't recommend you try this at home. We certainly would have preferred that the Egyptians would have acknowledged God's sovereignty, and been spared this terrible punishment.
The above could be rationalized by arguing that Aish sees the Exodus story the way we might see fiction - as an allegory. Nevertheless, Aish's blurb following the tenth plague suggests that they interpret the plagues literally. Thus, Aish is - possibly inadvertently -   celebrating real suffering - human and animal.  


I know I may come off as the same type of morality police that I pretty harshly criticized here.I do understand that seders can be long and tedious, and it may be difficult to engage children,  I'm not trying to rain on the parade - if you are into making blood with your kids at the seder - go for it! My reactions - as everything in this blog - are a culmination of my personal experience.My family's superstition/taboos around death made Aish's suggestions - particularly the first - seem unnecessary gory to me.  I have only ever been to seders with Mr. CL's family, and they have always consciously treated the plagues in a somewhat solemn ritualistic manner by dropping wine symbolizing that we do not celebrate the suffering of others. Maybe it's common for other seders to make a party of the plagues? I don't know. What does your family do?

34 comments:

  1. An aside: The ridiculousness of the blood libel has more to do with the aversion we have to murder than to a prohibition against the consumption of blood.

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  2. > (One technical point: Don't do the opposite and pour the food coloring into the water, as that would be a problem of "coloring" which is forbidden on Jewish holidays.

    CRAP!!!!

    I had this thing worked out that I would have a small hose under a container full of water and I would insert some red food coloring from under the table. ARRGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!

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    1. CL just ruined my passover. I might as well eat bread now.

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    2. wait, wait. I just asked a rabbi. And I understand that if it's for food, it might be ok.

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  3. >Just what I want my kids to be doing. A nice way for early desensitization of animal suffering.

    Of course. Now they are imitating a dead animal, next thing you know they are skinning cats.

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    1. You know the first suggestion was so gross for me that I was compelled to read the rest. I think if the blood suggestion wouldn't have been so out there, I probably would not have commented or posted this at all.

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  4. >Take home message for the kids: Making light of suffering: okay. Coloring on Yom Tov: not okay.

    There is something off with this conclusion. I just don't know how to really put it into words

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  5. Why are finger puppets in bad taste?

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    1. I find the dead baby ones creepy in that they turn corpses into toys. It is especially creepy if the kids are told this is history, and not fiction . . .

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    2. Cali Girl, do you have an email?

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    3. HH, you've already asked, and Cali Girl already indicated she wasn't interested in sharing that information with you. Let me jog your memory:

      Holy HyraxFeb 3, 2012 10:02 AM
      Cali Girl, what is your email?

      Cali GirlFeb 3, 2012 02:20 PM
      Ummmm, can't reveal that b/c it's my name and we both live in L.A. ;)

      Cali Girl - hope you don't mind that I answered for you.

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    4. Oh. right.

      Good memory.

      She should probably create a new email for the sake of blogging.

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  6. Dead baby ones? I've never seen that. That's sick.

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    1. You must have missed this post: http://coinlaundryblog.blogspot.ca/2012/03/question-any-tips-for-presenting-pesach.html

      They sell the finger puppet sets at our local grocery chain.

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    2. Dov Bear also just wrote a post where there are dead baby stickers. What are people thinking!!!!

      http://dovbear.blogspot.ca/2012/04/lets-traumatize-our-children-part-1.html

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  7. Fun post. I am glad they didnt do anything for the death of the first born. however, when they write "we with the Egyptians had acknowledged God's...) that has nothing to do with the story. No one asked the Egyptians. The Pharaoh decided. Even more to the point, "god" repeatedly "hardened Pharaoh's heart" therefore bringing suffering on an entire nation for no good reason what so ever.

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    1. Great point Ami! I've added that to my notes in the main post - thank you!

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    2. To be techinical, I believed his hard was only heartened after the 5th plague

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    3. Technically, I think he only hardened his heart after the 5th plague

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    4. Practicing the four cups of wine are we?

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    5. In the NIV version of Exodus Pharaoh had his heart hardened three times by the LORD (just after the threat of killing the first born, after the locusts and immediately after the 9th).

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  8. > I have only ever been to seders with Mr. CL's family, and they have always consciously treated the plagues in a somewhat solemn ritualistic manner by dropping wine symbolizing that we do not celebrate the suffering of others.

    Everyone does that. but it’s just a ritual – something done without thinking too much about it.

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    1. > Everyone does that. but it’s just a ritual – something done without thinking too much about it

      There's a semiotician - sorry I forget who it was - who theorized that repetition reduces meaning . . i.e. the more you repeat something, the more meaningless it becomes. I wonder if the repetitive/automaton nature of rituals does that for some people.

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  9. My concern here has less to do with kids than it does the adults.

    Kids look at the plagues like they do any story of good vs. evil. Understandably they're happy when the good guys win, and even enjoy reenacting the battle. This is how kids play. Do the bad guys suffer in the process? Of course they do, but that's not what kids take away. They see the villain "losing" the fight, like Superman hurling a robber into a brick wall, which suffice it to say would hurt! (Granted, if Superman were to then go ahead and steal the robber's watch as "payment" I agree this might raise an eyebrow or two.)

    For kids, this is comic book action. However, with respect to the adults, you're absolutely right.

    Fostering a sensitivity to the pain of others is one of our most primary and sacred tasks as Jews. So we do need to think seriously about the texts, teachings and traditions we too often take for granted, and either remove, reframe, or repudiate those things which go against our better sense of right and wrong.

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    1. > Fostering a sensitivity to the pain of others is one of our most primary and sacred tasks as Jews.

      A very beautifully expressed sentiment, AJ. Thank you for commenting. The reason that for me the concern re: kids remains is (to paraphrase you):

      Fostering a sensitivity to the pain of others is one of our most primary . . .responsibilities as parents. It's a responsibility I take pretty seriously.

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    2. It's a responsibility I take pretty seriously.

      I completely agree. I guess like most, I've always seen it as simply a colorful children's story, and things like the "box of plagues" complete with sunglasses (darkness) and plastic animals, etc. are just fun "props" for the kids, and not really sending any particular message, good or bad.

      But now that I think of it, I suppose if any other culture had a "Seder" where it celebrated the destruction of another nation (even a brutal dictatorship) with similar "cute" props (e.g., plush smiling bullets and happy hand grenades), I'd be hard-pressed to call it anything other than highly disturbing!

      Actually, I find that to be a handy litmus test for many ideas/traditions of Judaism: How would it sound if we replaced "Jews" with say, "Tibetans", or Hashem with "Allah", or "Thor" for that matter. If it stands on its own as something I would admire in someone else's religion/culture, then it gets the thumb's up. If not, well, that should tell us something.

      Thanks for the blog, and best wishes for a Happy Passover to you!

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    3. Great comment. I have never in my life, even my recent "skeptic+" years, thought of the seder as offensive, but this comment puts a different light on it.

      I still don't know if it's really offensive. Can we look at the destruction of the Egyptians like the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as an arguably necessary event to end further suffering? (I know that historical perspectives differ on that too).

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  10. Thanks again AJ for commenting! I kinda regretted my last sentence as soon as I had pushed "submit" because I worried it sounded preachy - which was not at all my intention! I'm glad you didn't read it that way - or at least you graciously responded in a way that indicates you didn't :)!

    >I've always seen it as simply a colorful children's story,

    Since I only started participating in seders as an adult, I sometimes forget the nostaligia built in with the holiday for most people who have had more observant upbringings than I did (i.e. just about everyone!)I'm sure you are right that most people see the holiday the way you described. My late introduction also meant that in some ways I entered the tradition with the litmus test you referred to.

    tesyaa - Just to clarify - I definitely do NOT think of the seder as offensive. It's a wonderful tradition, and there are so many aspects of the seder - thematically/culturally - to zero in on. The seder is about so much more than the plagues. In terms of the plagues - it is what it is - a beautiful sample of ancient literature, and I don't think we should censor it. It's just personally important for me to be careful about how I frame it for our kids. The story as is is morally problematic for me, but that's often a good jumping board for interesting conversation . . .

    >Can we look at the destruction of the Egyptians like the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as an arguably necessary event to end further suffering?

    My impression is that's how the plagues are often justified. HH was suggesting something similar in a previous post when he said: "I think the broader question is about collective punishment".

    >Thanks for the blog, and best wishes for a Happy Passover to you!

    So kind! Thank YOU for reading/commenting! Happy Passover to you as well!!

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  11. Hmmm... I wonder if we were still in more barabaric times whether or not the culture would enjoy celebrating the Inquisition with finger puppets and party games under the guise of moral teaching.

    I'm guessing many people would.

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    1. Andy, I'm not sure I quite follow what you're saying.

      Which culture would enjoy celebrating the Inquisition? Jewish culture? Jewish culture in general does NOT celebrate the suffering of others . . and like most cultures would not party about an event where we were victimized - as in the inquisition. Though there are questionable parts of the Haggahdah - as you would expect from any ancient text - the by and large prevailing theme of Passover is the release from slavery. Many Jews take the actual story of Passover with a grain of salt and see it as mythology, and in the context of the seder, the plagues take about ten minutes of a dinner that can go up to four hours (or more!). What the author writing this is trying to do is make a night that can be boring for the children more engaging. While I don't agree with his methodology, I'm quite sure that is the intent. Also, as Atheodox Jew points out below, the plagues can - and in my experience have been - discussed with sensitivity to suffering in the context of a seder.

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    2. Well, you can still take the story with a grain of salt, like the Flood story, but it is still a story of genocide. What kind of moral does it teach children?

      The idea that one is making a party game out of innocent (yes innocent) Egyptians having boils on their flesh, getting pelted with hail or having their major water supply destroyed is obscene however long the game may last.

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    3. And on this, I agree with you 100%. Wouldn't happen under my watch.

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  12. Hi - Just a quick post-Seder followup... It turns out, pretty ironically, that the mention of the plagues was one of the high "moral" points of the night. How so?

    Because the Seder itself has it's own "props" as it were for the plagues - that is, the custom to take a drop of wine out of one's cup for each plague mentioned, to make the point that the suffering of the Egyptians detracts from our celebration. It's a physical action which is one of the more memorable parts of the telling of the Exodus, which makes it an obvious discussion point to go over with the kids - and indeed we did!

    There were other passages in the Haggadah which I found myself bothered by, but funny enough not what we'd been discussing!

    Hope you had a good Seder...

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