David Bernat's Passover Reflection

The Passover Haggadah contains the following statement, “In each and every generation, ‘they’ rise up and seek our annihilation.”  This tragic trope, of ever present enmity, is part of a thematic thread that commences on Shabbat Zachor, when we are commanded to remember and utterly blot out the name of the Amalekites, continues in the Purim narrative, and is then emphasized in the Passover liturgy.  The notion of an unrelenting threat is articulated in the Jewish legal or halakhic concept of the Rodef, Pursuer.  The Rodef is classified as a person, or entity, that persistently seeks your harm or death. A Rodef therefore must be met with merciless resolve and pro-active attention.  The Talmud (Sandhedrin 72a) puts it bluntly “If someone comes to kill you, pre-empt (literally ‘get up early’) and kill them.”  The Rodef concept can play out in many and varied contexts.  One contemporary example could be Israel’s war on terror.  Din [law of] Rodef provides an ethical justification for the targeted killing of a Hamas bomb-maker, even absent a “ticking-bomb.”

While we often conceive of a Rodef as an external threat in human form, my purpose at present is to foreground a Rodef that is so dangerous because it is internal and microscopic.  I am referring to the BRCA gene mutations that lead to an extraordinarily high instance of cancer among Ashkenazi Jews.  The BRCA threat is all the more insidious because it only needs one transmitting parent, and the transmitter and recipient can be of either gender.  As Jewish ethnic and cultural differences are more and more blurred, and with the high frequency of Jewish intermarriage, the BRCA gene mutations have the potential to spread outside the Ashkenazi community and to children of a single Jewish parent who may not even identify as Jews themselves.  Under the circumstances, it is imperative that we meet this Rodef head on, with all our might, and with any tool at our disposal.

I call your attention to two major community initiatives dedicated to combatting the BRCA gene mutation threat.  The nationwide BFOR Study, undertaken in Boston out of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Beth-Israel Deaconess Hospital, offers free access to genetic testing. Click HERE for information about the study and how to register. Oneinforty focuses on education and advocacy. Click HERE for their website. Lauren Corduck, founder of Oneinforty, and a cancer patient herself, is one of the featured panelist at Synagogue Council’s June 3 keynote event, “Modeling Women’s Leadership.”  Click HERE for details.

I wish you a Chag Sameach, A healthy and peaceful Passover.

David Bernat, PhD   Executive Director