Thursday, 21 Apr 2016

Written by Igor Zinkov

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover!
James Marcia is a clinical and developmental psychologist. His area of research is identity crisis and the achievement of adolescent identity. He is best known for his extensive research and writings on psychosocial development and lifespan identity development. [1] According to his theory, there are four identity statuses: foreclosure, identity diffusion, moratorium and identity achievement.
I think these four stages correspond well to the experience of Seder Pesach. First of all the number four is a symbolic number for the Festival of Freedom. There are four verses in the Torah which describe four stages of Jewish miraculous liberation from slavery. There are four cups of wine which are supposed to be drunk during the Seder. There are also four children asking questions. Let’s now look at another Pesach dimension – the four identity stages of the Seder.
The first stage is “Foreclosure”. According to Marcia “The foreclosure status is when a commitment is made without exploring alternatives. Often these commitments are based on parental ideas and beliefs that are accepted without question”. One of the first lines in the story we read is “Avadim hainu” which means “We were slaves”. The story of the Jewish people initially began with an unchallenged identity of slaves. There was no one to question it until Moses came.
The second stage is “Identity Diffusion”. It is described as “the mark of those who have neither explored nor made commitments across life-defining areas”.  We have a very detailed Exodus story throughout the Magid. It contains many kinds of explanations, midrashic and haggadic commentaries, but there is so little said about the Jewish identity. All we know is that we are not slaves any more. Such a negative identity is exactly what diffuses any kind of identity. For instance, one can hear from a progressive Jew “we are not orthodox”, while an orthodoxy may respond “we are not reform”. If we are talking about Israel today, there are some Jews who would identify themselves as “not Arabs” and some Arabs who say “We are not Jews”. I’m not judging anyone, but my point is that this kind of identity is totally legitimate, but it is just not enough. I think that this kind of identity corresponds exactly to the stage “Identity Diffusion”. According to Marcia it is an important and inevitable stage of the identity formation. What is important for me is that it shouldn’t become the last or the only one.
The third stage is “Moratorium”. It is a “status of individuals who are in the midst of a crisis, whose commitments are either absent or are only vaguely defined, but who are actively exploring alternatives”. In the middle of our Haggadic story we have four children with different types of Jewish identity expressed in their questions. This is the time for listeners of the story to ask themselves which of the four children’s identity is closer to them. We look at others, we turn to literature and scriptures in order to find a relevant phrase which would express our identity for the current moment of our lives. Even though we are not sure yet which one of them is closer to us, at least we are familiar with some options.
The final stage is “Identity Achievement”. Marcia explains the destiny of this process as ‘a likely progression would be from diffusion through moratorium to identity achievement’. At the end of the Haggadah we recite a prophetic vision of a future return to the rebuilt Jerusalem: “L’shanah haba’ah b’yerushalayim habnuya”. Judaism has a strong relationship with the Land of Israel and Jerusalem in particular. However in the book of Leviticus we can see a condition for its possession:
“But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean, lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.” (Leviticus 18:26-28)
Therefore this connection strongly depends on a moral and ethical state of the People of Israel. I think the line about Jerusalem has to be read as a hope for justice and fair behaviour of the modern Israelites.
I wish all of us Shabbat Shalom, Happy Passover and “L’shanah haba’ah b’yerushalayim habnuya”!
Igor Zinkov
April 2016
[1] You can find an abstract of Marcia’s theory on the following link: