March 15, 2018
Posted by Sarah Chandler
For those of you who have been paying attention, you already know that there are several female heroes in the Passover story - from the midwives who refused to kill the male firstborns to Moses’s sister, Miriam, to Pharaoh’s daughter, who raised Moses as her son. With so many women playing key roles in the Exodus, it’s ironic that some of us grew up on homes where women did not have a public role in our family seders. As a remedy, many communities host feminist model seders to honor the legacy of Jewish women who have led us to freedom, both in the Passover story and in modern times.
As an addition to the traditional seder, a women’s seder can happen on any night, yet the 7th day of Passover has a particular connection with women and miracles. According to legend, while we hold the first seder on the night that the Israelites fled Egypt, it is on the 7th day that the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. Since Miriam and her band of women musicians are associated with the crossing of the sea, a custom has developed to gather on the last nights of Passover to honor and celebrate women. As a bonus, it can be a great opportunity to get rid of some of the last matzah or even the leftover kugel.
Tips for Your Women’s Seder
The liturgy from these seders, such as The Women’s Haggadah by Esther Broner, Ma’yan’s The Journey Continues (which uses feminine God language), or The Chicago Woodman Haggadah (that’s Judy Chicago, available on Haggadot.com!), have lead to increased visibility for honoring often overlooked heroic women from the Bible until today.
If you’ve created your own women’s seder, we hope you’ll share samples that you’ve created here on the site.
Formal or informal: You Choose
If it is not the first or second seder, your gathering does not have to be a complete seder. It can be abbreviated, focusing only on a handful of sections of the formal seder - or it could even just be a meal that includes a text study, sharing circle, art project, or other form of celebration and ritual.
Guests: Females only or all-gender?
You could choose to have a seder that is composed of exclusively female-identified guests, or host a gathering for all genders that still raises up the roles of women in the exodus and beyond.
Expanded Maggid For Heroines
You might try an abbreviated seder with expanded “maggid” to highlight key female characters in the exodus story. This would include dramatic retelling of key moments of heroic women. Take turns playing each character. Imagine a conversation between the midwives, Shifra and Puah, as they planned their non-violent resistance. What was Miriam thinking at each step of the journey? What risks was Pharaoh's daughter taking to adopt this child? Another version of this would be to invite each guest to choose one character from the exodus story and one modern day female or genderqueer individual. Share with the group and compare for each: What was challenging for this individual to take on these heroic actions? What was standing in their way? What’s did they give up in order to be a hero? What did they gain? Who has been most impacted by their heroism?
Gender Justice Focus
Or choose a modern day gender justice issue to explore at the seder. Discuss: What about those impacted by this issue seems like endless slavery? What is one step we could take toward ending gender oppression? You may wish to bring a guest speaker who can speak on behalf of an advocacy organization or who has received support from a non-profit addressing this issue.
Ready to get started? Here are some resources you might use to plan your women’s seder:
Haggadot to purchase:
The Women’s Haggadah by Esther Broner
The Women's Seder Sourcebook from Jewish Lights
About the author: