New Traditions Arise as So Many Examine the Role of Women in their Faith

Well we can feel it, or at least hope and dream; spring is on the way. With it the glorious daffodils, the AAUW Ohio symbol of diversity.
We have celebrated our own spring traditions, Easter, Passover and perhaps others less well known. With this in mind, I would like to share with you an article about some modern changes in the way Passover is now being celebrated in some homes and communities. We learn of the new emphasis on greater participation of women, as well as recognition of the role of historic and modern women in this spring celebration of freedom and hope. As we read of the historic importance of women in their faith, we are reminded of the current worldwide struggles of women to participate fully in their spiritual and secular communities, cultures and homes. Fondly submitted for the Diversity Committee
Women and Passover Observance*
Over the centuries the connection between Jewish women and Passover was largely expressed through their roles in cleaning the homes to meet the stringencies of the holiday and preparing the special Seder meals. Although women such as Yocheved mother of Moses; Miriam, Moses’s sister and guardian; Pharaoh’s daughter, who saved and adopted Moses; and Shifra and Puah, the midwives who risked their lives to save Hebrew infant boys, played important roles in the biblical accounts of the Passover epic; their stories were largely glossed over in the Passover Haggadah, the ritual narration of the Exodus from Egypt. However, during the last quarter of the 20th century, particularly in North America, women have taken a broader role in Passover observances, reclaiming Jewish women heroes from history and, together with Jewish men, reconfiguring the Haggadah and Seder experience to be more reflective of women’s central contributions to Jewish history and Judaism.
The Passover Seder provided a framework of expression for many liberation movements during the 1960s and 1970s. Just as African slaves in the United States had sung spirituals such as Go Down Moses, identifying with the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, in the late 20th century a panoply of groups utilized the format of the Haggadah to tell their own stories. The Seder structure became a vehicle for expressing the yearning for liberation, from the oppression of Egypt to racism, war, gulags, and sexism. Black-Jewish Freedom Seders, a part of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, gave way to Save Soviet Jewry Freedom Seders in the 1980s. Passover Sedarim that stressed themes of women’s liberation began with a small group of women in 1975. By 2005, thousands of women celebrated feminist Sedarim annually in synagogues and Jewish community centers around the world, as events separate and apart from their personal Sedarim with family and friends.
The first feminist Seder was organized by novelist Esther M Broner, Marcia Freedman, and Nomi Nimrod in Haifa in 1975. Inspired by this experience, Broner and Nimrod wrote The Women’s Haggadah, first used in New York and Haifa in 1976. Subsequently a version of ths work was published in Lilith, the Jewish feminist magazine, making it more widely accessible. The Women’s Haggadah follows the order of the traditional Seder but alters the elements to insert the lives of biblical and rabbinic women into the story, to invoke past and current oppression of women, and to enhance the spiritual journey of self-discovery. For example, the list of ten plagues includes violence against women. Subsequently, women throughout the United States organized similar Sedarim, often composing their own text.
By the 1980s, the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements published new Haggadot, which made various changes to include women, at least in the English translations. For instance, in the Conservative movement’s Haggadah, Feast of Freedom, the passage about the four sons is rendered as the “four children,” although the Hebrew is not changed. In midrashic sections of the Haggadah, alternate rabbinic texts describing the righteousness of Jewish women are included, and in the English translation of the narrative the genders are alternated. The commentary also cites the roles of important women in the story of the Exodus.
Another ritual innovation that began in the same era and became widespread in the United States in the 1990s was to place a cup in honor of Miriam the Prophet on the Seder table alongside the cup of Elijah. This cup was filled with water, recalling the Midrash that the Israelites had fresh well water during their wanderings in the wilderness thanks to Miriam. Finally, in addition to their traditional activities preparing for the festival, in recent decades women more frequently conduct or co-conduct the Seder in their own homes. As women have become cantors and rabbis, they often lead publish Sedarim, as well.
*See also Haggadot, Passover: Feminist Haggadot. [Rela M. Geffen (2nd ed.)]
*Source: which gives additional information to those who are interested.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s