ISSN 2330-717X

Which Of The Four Sons Are You? – OpEd


Leonard Baskin’s Four Sons


First, let’s get out of the way the little problem of there being Four Sons in the Passover haggadah instead of Four Children or–God forbid–Four Daughters.  Let’s just say I’m going to make an editorial decision and use “sons” as interchangeable with “children,” and including “daughters,” in this post.

The Four Sons of the Pesach seder are archetypal figures representing various levels of Jewish identity.  In the haggadah, they are meant to represent differing degrees of affiliation with the Jewish community.  But I think it’s instructive to alter the perspective a bit and use the sons as paradigms for varying Jewish approaches to the Israeli-Arab conflict.

I wrote here last week about the scurrilous attack on Judge Richard Goldstone by a South African Orthodox rabbi who essentially labeled him the Wicked Son.  He did this because the chair of the UN human rights panel on Operation Cast Lead allegedly deserted his people by accusing the IDF of possible war crimes.  But Rabbi Perez got mixed up.  Judge Goldstone isn’t the Wicked Son.  He’s the Good Son.  Why?  Because the good son is the one who wants to understand the Israeli-Arab conflict not on a superficial level, but seeks to plumb its depths through its root causes.  This Son is one who asks probing questions.  In fact, Pesach is meant to be a night of questions (witness, the Four Questions).  A good son asks good questions and isn’t afraid of the answers.  Nor is he (or she) afraid to criticize his (or her) own people when it does wrong; and s/he isn’t satisfied with pat answers.

And since we’re talking about the Wicked Son, who is he or she?  The Wicked Son is David Wilder and every settler who differentiates between good and bad Jews, between Jews who are allies and Jews who are the enemy.  The Son who seeks to impose his narrow-minded racist notions upon not just the State of Israel, but the entire Jewish people.  The Wicked Son is a know-it-all.  He never doubts.  He is always right.  And his enemies, including fellow Jews, are not just wrong, but they are evil.  An evil that must be eradicated from Israel’s midst.  This son is wicked not just because of his bigoted views, but because his certainty, his smugness, his hate endanger his own people and the State of Israel.

David Moss haggadah, Four Sons


Just as the haggadah says the Wicked Son would not have been redeemed had he been a Jewish slave in Egypt, so today’s wicked son, the one who believes he knows the path to Jewish redemption lies through conquest of land; this Son is dooming himself and his people to oblivion.  A State of Israel that becomes a settler state or makes such alliances with the settlers that it becomes little more than an extension of them, is one that will fail, that will be washed from the pages of Jewish history as a failed experiment.

The haggadah notes two other types of Sons: one who is simple and one who “doesn’t even know how to ask.”  These also correspond to Jewish types regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict.  There are those who simply don’t understand it, who see it as an unending Hatfield-McCoy range war.  The question of the simple son is: “why should I care?”  I have to confess I’m not as good at dealing with these people as I am with people who have a pronounced point of view regarding the conflict.  It requires enormous patience not just to explain it in simple terms to such people, but to do so in ways that will persuade an uninformed Jew that the outcome of this conflict matters to them and to all Jews.

The vast majority of Jews, I’d say, are in the latter two categories.  They are either simple/innocent or can’t even begin to understand what’s going on.  Reaching them is enormously important if we are to find a way to peace.

I’ve written some worthwhile posts for Passovers past which you might find of interest.  I translated a Sholem Aleichem Passover story from Yiddish.  And I wrote a long meditation on the figure of Moses as an allegory for Jewish existence.

This article first appeared at Tikun Olam

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.