Sisterhood Blog

Gendered Text Doesn't Spoil New Haggadah

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share
Shotview photographers/gettyimages
Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander conceived of the ‘New American Haggadah.’

Kathleen Peratis wrote in this Sisterhood post that she seriously considered taking her 24 copies of “New American Haggadah” back to the bookstore, after she realized that the Passover manual doesn’t use gender-inclusive language. I’m clearly expecting fewer seder guests than is Peratis. I own one copy of the aforementioned Haggadah, and have every intention of keeping and using mine.

I wonder whether the fact that it is titled “New American Haggadah” is what troubles Peratis and other feminists. After all, the United States gave rise to women’s lib; it’s where Title IX is the law of the land, and where the widespread rabbinical ordination of women took root.

But for me, it is precisely because of the fact that this new Haggadah, edited and translated by leading (male) literary luminaries Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander, was published here that the use of the traditional male-oriented text is totally acceptable.

We, unlike our fellow Jews in other countries around the world — including Israel — live in a Jewish community that widely embraces pluralism. We have as much of a right to put an orange on the seder plate and a Miriam’s Cup on the seder table as to speak of the Four Sons — and not the Four Children. If it doesn’t work out for us with one particular Haggadah, there are plenty more Haggadahs in the sea.

I do, however, think that Foer is somewhat disingenuous, writing in the introduction to his Haggadah: “[T]here is nothing uniquely American about it.” To be sure, there is a tradition of simply naming Haggadahs after the place in which they are made. But aside from artist Oded Ezer, all the contributors to this Haggadah are Americans and naturally bring an American sensibility to it.

My friend Ellen Bob, for many years the proprietor of a Jewish bookstore in Palo Alto, Calif., recently heard Nathan Englander speak to an audience at Stanford University about his translation. “I was astounded that he acted surprised to be asked a question about the gendered language,” she told me. “His response was as if this wasn’t a choice on his part.”

But, she wondered, “Could you really be that clueless in 2012?”

So we could spend our time wondering why these young(-ish) Americans chose not to reflect the more egalitarian Jewish world in which we live today. Or we could appreciate the “New American Haggadah” for what it does offer: contemporary, resonant commentaries; a striking but spare graphic design that purposely does not upstage the text, and Englander’s accessible, powerful and poetic — though sexist—translation that interprets the original Hebrew and Aramaic text differently than other ones. Perhaps it comes down to the simple fact that while you can take the bocher out of the yeshiva, you can’t take the yeshiva out of the bocher (Englander, now a self-professed “God-fearing atheist” had an Orthodox upbringing).

My friend Ellen pointed out to me that the market for this Haggadah is unclear. It seems to be aimed at non-traditional Jews, but aren’t those the ones who rely heavily on the translation— which, in this case, likely does not mesh with their sensibilities and meet their needs?

Foer writes, “Like all Haggadahs before it, this one hopes to be replaced.”

Peratis and others may choose to stand their feminist ground and replace it even before using it. I, on the other hand, am willing to give it a try. It will coexist at my seder with the orange and Miriam’s Cup — and several other Haggadahs, too.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: New American Haggadah, Nathan Englander, Jonathan Safran Foer

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.