Exodus, Chapter 12, verses 29 and 30:
And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.
The Israelites were spared the tenth plague that God visited on the Egyptians, because they had smeared lambs’ blood on their doorposts; the Angel of Death ‘Passed Over’ their houses. As a consequence Pharaoh relented and let the Children of Israel leave—only to change his mind soon after, and have his army drowned in the Red Sea... The celebration of 'Pass-over' takes place on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan and is a major event in the Jewish calendar, commemorating the first step on the journey to found the Promised Land of Israel. Jesus was celebrating Passover during the Last Supper.
I was privileged this year to be invited to a Seder, which is the ritual meal celebrating Passover. My wife and I have been to Seders before, and our hosts on this occasion were very old and dear friends, so there was no awkwardness or discomfort during an event that was conducted with almost as much ritual as the Tridentine Mass—of which I have chilling childhood memories. The table was set as I remembered from previous occasions. Pride of place in the centre was Elijah’s Cup, a goblet filled with wine, in case the prophet should arrive; the front door was opened later on should he have been minded to come... Also there were the various ritual foods, including Matzo—unleavened bread—a bitter herb, a shinbone, a roasted egg, another herb dipped in salt water—usually parsley—and a mixture called charoset, used to symbolize the mortar used by the Israelites during their bondage in Egypt.
Our host and a friend shared the reading, most of which was in Hebrew, and much of which was sung. There was the eating of the ritual foods, drinking of four glasses of wine at appropriate places, a recitation of the ten plagues, and the singing of the traditional song Chad Gaya about a kid that gets eaten by a cat, which gets bitten by a dog and so on. There were seven of us at the meal plus a number of others taking part via a Zoom link. Everyone except my wife and I was reading the Hebrew from the texts, and joined in the singing most heartily. The rhythms, melodies, and cadences were decidedly Eastern European, and we were all surprised and delighted to discover that the special large Passover Matzo we were using had been manufactured in Ukraine.
There was a real feeling of joyous community about the occasion. I have encountered this before at previous Seders, a Bar Mitzvah, and a Jewish wedding that I attended decades ago as a member of the band providing music. On that occasion, the jovial host came up to me saying, ‘You’re a Catholic boy? Never mind! Snip! Snip! We’ll soon turn you into a good Jew!’ I particularly remember doing Hava Nagila for them—to great applause when I played the chorus with the guitar over the back of my head...
I envy my friends the joy of their religion. I was brought up in Catholicism, where any sort of pleasure was regarded as a sin. There were no community events like the Seder or Bar Mitzvah. We named ourselves after martyrs, people who had been tortured to death for their religious beliefs, and believed in eternal damnation in Hell for relatively trivial misdemeanours.
Peter Hennessy, Lord Hennessy, journalist, academic, and constitutionalist, gave his verdict on the Prime Minister on Broadcasting House, today on BBC Radio 4, around 9:30 am. He was reading from his diary entry for 12 April. The following is a transcript:
"Tuesday, the 12th of April 2022, will be forever remembered as a dark, bleak day for British public and political life. It is the day that Boris Johnson became the great debaser in modern times of decency in public and political life, of our constitutional conventions, our very system of government.
The moment was captured on film for ever. Just after 6 pm Johnson, in a panelled room at Chequers, clutching a prepared statement which he reads to the cameras for Vikki Young of the BBC. He apologises, says he’s paid the fine, and refuses to resign. He was, he added, speaking in a spirit of openness and humility.
If there were cocks on the chequers estate when all this was going on, they would’ve crowed at their very loudest at this point, as the prime minister sealed his place in British history as the first lawbreaker to have occupied the premiership. An office he has sullied like no other, turning it into an adventure playground for one man’s narcissistic vanity.
Boris Johnson has broken the law, misled Parliament, and has in effect shredded the ministerial code which is a crucial part of the spinal-cord of the constitution. And the great weakness of the system is that the Prime Minister, the wrong’un in chief, is the guardian of the code and with it the supposed protector of accountability and decency.
The Queen’s first Minister is now beyond doubt a rogue prime minister unworthy of her, her parliament, her people, and her kingdom. I cannot remember a day when I’ve been more fearful for the well-being of the constitution."
I had thought that the government reached rock-bottom when both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor were issued with police fines for attending parties during lockdown. On many occasions in Parliament and elsewhere, the Prime Minister repeated again and again: ‘All Covid guidance was followed ... no rules were broken ... no lockdown parties were attended’. It is clear that the person who leads this country is incapable of recognizing the truth, even when it is presented to him by his local police station.
But now, the United Kingdom, a country that prides itself as a liberal democracy with a strong moral code and a belief in charity and compassion and 'doing the right thing', has instituted a policy to transport asylum seekers to a small African country ten hours flying time from London. I thought this was a sick joke when I first read about it. Apparently our humanitarian home secretary has used a rare ‘Ministerial Direction’ to push the plan through against the advice of her civil servants. How on earth can we lecture others on how to behave in the modern world when we are doing this? I actually start to wonder whether Ms Patel is not slightly mad.
The transportation of convicts overseas ceased in this country in the 1850s; now that our government has brought it back what is next I wonder? A new Poor Law? The Workhouse? And what about providing our prisons with treadmills—couple them to electricity generators and our energy crisis would be solved...
Almost worse that the policy itself, is having to listen to it being defended by the apologists, including Johnson, elevating hypocrisy to new heights of total moral bankruptcy. They talk about the ‘evil’ people smugglers preying on 'innocent victims', and the ‘terrible danger’ and ‘loss of life’ that results, and what do they do? Prepare to punish the victims!
If the government is really serious about stopping this dangerous cross-channel traffic, all it needs to do is provide a simple legal way for asylum-seekers to come here. Set up a reception centre in Calais—I’ll bet the French would be falling over themselves to help. Organize a simple checking process and 95% of the crossings will evaporate. If demand drops like a brick, the people smugglers will find other ways to make money. The last time I looked, there were 1.25 million job vacancies in this country. If ever there was a time when we needed more workers, it is now; what we do not need is people like Johnson and Patel.
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs