Why a Women’s Seder?

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Why a women’s seder?  Here’s how Rabbi Susan Fendrick explains (here):

To read the biblical story of the Exodus with open eyes is to understand Passover as, among other things, a celebration of women’s heroism. But in the traditional haggadah, women are missing. True, Moses is absent too, and the telling of the biblical story focuses on God’s intervention and liberation, not human agency:but in the many references to human beings throughout the haggadah, it is men and boys who are referred to, and women and girls who are invisible.

If it were simply the need for feminist critique that motivated the emergence and persistence of women’s seders,  dayeinu:that would be enough. But there is more: the Passover story is, at its core, one of freedom from oppression, from the expectation that one group of people will be subservient to another. It is fundamentally a story of liberation:a story the telling of which feminists not only critique, as above, but also embrace, as elemental to our own journey as Jewish feminists.

The first feminist seder was organized by Esther Broner, Marcia Freedman, and Naomi Nimrod in Haifa in 1975…..

Esther Broner fills in some of the details of the first women’s seder, with a slightly different start date (here):

image credit:http://www.phyllis-chesler.com

Each year since 1976, the”Seder Sisters”have met for their own Women’s Passover. I had co-writtenThe Women’s Haggadah with Nomi Nimrod. The group reads from that text – with the original feminist substitution for the males: the Wise Women, the Four Daughters, the Women’s Questions, the Women’s Plagues, and our own”Dayenu.”The Haggadah is xeroxed and passed around to the guests so we can all participate, pray, question, harangue, and celebrate together. When the book was published by Harper San Francisco, our first artifact was formalized. And, as the decades passed, artifacts have accumulated. There was”The Sacred  Schmata (rag),”[shown in 1983 photo above – ed.] a shlocky pink strip of nylon, roped and knotted together, with which we enwrapped ourselves and one another to proclaim that we were community.

-Bridget Crawford

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1 Response to Why a Women’s Seder?

  1. Anita Bernstein says:

    In addition to what these sources say in the post (I haven’t read the full sources so might be repeating something here), the traditional haggadah and seder have a nice Hebrew phrase, “kulanu misubim,” i.e. [now] we all recline. We used to be slaves toiling for our oppressors, but now we sit around a big table and relax while others serve us.

    Even as a little kid I used to goggle at how false it was. For observant Jewish women, Passover labors are backbreaking: cleaning, shopping for groceries, cooking, and hauling boxes around to the tenth power. Very few men join in the toil. To say the holiday is one of well-earned rest as furnished by God–wow.

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