Break out your Seder plates because Passover is upon us. The Seder is the most commonly celebrated Jewish ritual, and it is performed in celebration of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Exodus 13:8 commands the retelling of the story of liberation every year; the verse reads, "You shall tell your child on that day, saying, 'It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.'" Family and friends gather together on the evening of the 15th and/or 16th day of Nisan to read the Haggadah, which contains the story of the exodus from Egypt, special blessings and rituals, and Passover songs.
The Seder is a beautiful reminder of the plight overcome by the Israelites. However, like many faiths, Judaism is somewhat imperfect since it developed within a patriarchal society. It was men who recorded and interpreted religious laws and practices. Despite this, modern Jewish feminists recognize that our fight for equal rights echoes the Passover Exodus story of oppression and liberation. That is why many women have adapted the traditional Passover Seder to reflect the female experience.
In 1976, the first women-only Passover Seder was hosted by Esther M. Broner, noted Jewish feminist, in her New York City apartment. Thirteen women attended, including feminist activists Gloria Steinem and Letty Cottin Pogrebin. Can you even imagine? Sounds a dinner party straight out of my dreams. Broner created a women’s Haggadah, which was published in Ms. Magazine that spring so other feminists could observe the holiday this way too. Where only men are mentioned in traditional Haggadahs, Broner’s guide includes the Wise Women, the Four Daughters, the Women’s Questions, The Women’s Plagues, and a women-centric Daynu (Passover song).
Today, some Seders also include a cup for the prophet Miriam along with the traditional cup for the prophet Elijah. Some Jews also include an orange on the seder plate to symbolize the fruitfulness for all Jews, including those marginalized like women and queer people.
To hold your own feminist Seder this year, follow this guide. According to Jewish feminist Francine Klagsbrun, “Women's Seders have become a phenomenon of our time...From New York to Nebraska, from Berlin to London, thousands of Jewish women throughout the world celebrate the Passover holiday every year with an evening of ceremony and remembrance led by women for women.” And you can too. Mazel Tov.
Published April 21, 2016
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