Sisterhood Blog

The End of Feminist Seders?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

  • Print
  • Share Share
Joan Roth
Esther Broner raises a cup, as she tells the Passover story with her ‘Seder Sisters.’

Google “feminist seder,” and links to articles about Seders long passed come up. Google “women’s seder,” however, and you find links to dozens of current model Seders for women, run by synagogues, JCCs and other Jewish institutions all over the country. The word feminist doesn’t appear.

Outside of the original, private feminist Seder — still going strong in its 37th year, led by “Seder Sisters,” including founders Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Lilly Rivlin, there just don’t seem to be many.

Some 20,000 women (and a few men) attended the Ma’yan feminist Seders that were held in Manhattan from 1994 through 2005. Today, though, I could only find one feminist Seder, which was held at Hartford, Connecticut’s Charter Oak Center, in March.

Is that a failing of some kind, a loss of collective will, or was the interest never widespread to begin with? To be sure, there have long been more “women’s Seders” than “feminist Seders.”

“There are people who are uncomfortable with ‘the F word’ but what they do is quite feminist, if you look at the content,” Pogrebin told The Sisterhood. It may be called a women’s Weder but if participants talk about “the ten plagues of women, an analog to the four questions, if they are bringing their foremothers into the circle, then what is the difference?”

“I don’t really care if people are uncomfortable with ‘tshe F word’ as long as they pursue the goals of feminism,” she said.

Tamara Cohen, editor and co-author of the haggadah used at the Ma’yan seders, and now a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, was at her young son’s Jewish day school model Seder, which featured a Miriam’s Cup on each table. “I thought ‘oh, this is now part of the mainstream I never imagined it would be.’ That’s pretty amazing,” she said.

At the same time, the “New American Hagaddah,” edited and translated by young literary lions Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander, seems to purposely go in an opposing direction.

As Kathleen Peratis writes in this Sisterhood post the vaunted new haggadah’s exclusively masculine God language is alienating.

An Amazon reviewer called Limeslate, who headlined the review “Sexist, Cumbersome…,” wrote:

I just don’t need another text that couldn’t find a way to include females. In this version, G-d is always male, and ancestors are always ‘fathers,’ and all other pronouns and players are male. Really? Do we really have to start out our seder with a conversation about the exclusion of women… from the text (and thus from the story and the ritual) when there are so many creative, even neutral ways of handling that that would be fine with even the most observant at the table.

It is “pretty shocking to me that in the ‘New American Haggadah’ they were able to make that choice and no one stopped them,” Tamara Cohen said. “Maybe there are trends and countertrends.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Women's Seder, Feminist Seder, Passover

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!
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • 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.