We talk about the four sons but what about the four daughters?

Women were actively part of the miracle of the Exodus, so where are they in the Hagaddah?

THE WOMEN go out to the fields armed with small fish, wine and mirrors, setting the stage for seduction.  (photo credit: INGA GEZALIAN/UNSPLASH)
THE WOMEN go out to the fields armed with small fish, wine and mirrors, setting the stage for seduction.
Toward the end of the tractate of Pesachim, there are several comments made about women’s participation in the Passover Seder.
The first is that women are obligated to drink four cups of wine. In the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi it is explained that this is because they were part of the miracle of the Exodus. A second reference is about women reclining during the Seder. While chapter ten opens with a Mishna requiring even a poor man to recline, it is unclear if women have the same mandate. This is largely understood to refer to married women who do not normally recline in front of their husbands out of fear and respect. The conclusion in the Talmud seems to be that unmarried women should recline while a married woman is “not required to recline” unless she is an “important woman.”
The conflict around married women and reclining remains present in post-Talmudic sources until today with some authorities stating that “all of our women are important” and must recline while others state that women can choose to recline but are not obligated to in contrast to men who are obligated.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes in Igrot Moshe, “Rather we must conclude that over the course of time they recognized that men have no reason to feel superior to their wives and women recognized that great need that their husbands had for them… and since women are also required by the Torah to eat matzah in order to recognize this, this is the explicit reason given in the Torah, that every person has to say while he is saying Haggadah what Rabban Gamliel tells us to say, and it is relevant to obligate women in this decree as well so that she eats in a manner that brings full awareness of this freedom.
Rabbi Feinstein suggests that there has been a change in this aspect of a married couple’s relationship so that obligating both men and women to recline poses no threat to marital harmony.
In other aspects of the Seder night, there is consensus that women are included in all of the mitzvot from eating the Passover offering in the time of the Temple to the obligation to eat matzah and bitter herbs to the reciting of the Haggadah. The Shulhan Aruch writes that the Haggadah must be said in a language understood by the women! What is surprising is that there is a known statement in tractate Kiddushin exempting women from time-bound mitzvot which loosely means mitzvot dictated by time.
Women’s full inclusion is centered on a Midrash Halacha which textually understands, based on a juxtaposition in the biblical text, that since women are prohibited from owning hametz, they are equally obligated to eat matzah. This type of textual methodology is also used to firmly obligate women in positive mitzvot having to do with Shabbat.
One of my favorite passages in the tractate is a beraita (teachings of sages in the Mishnaic era) in which a father encourages his sons and daughters to run to Jerusalem. Whoever arrives first will loosely “acquire” the Passover offering in their name. The girls, who were enthusiastic, arrived before their “lazy” brothers – which paints a lovely picture dating back 2,000 years how the chance for active participation translates into religious fervor!
As noted above, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi explains that women were actively part of the miracle of the Exodus. It is similar to the explanations given for women’s full inclusion in the ritual obligations of Purim and Hanukkah as well. With regard to Passover in particular, this sense of activism is reinforced by the many midrashim around women who brought about the Exodus because of their ongoing belief in God’s promise of redemption.
These include midrashim about the midwives who defied Moshe and are named as Yocheved, his mother, and Miriam, his sister, tying their story to Moses’ birth, Miriam’s insistence that her father remarry her mother in order to continue bearing children, ultimately leading to the birth of baby Moses, and the daughter of Pharaoh who is reintroduced as a woman named Bitya in Chronicles who marries the heroic Caleb, one of two righteous spies who stand up to corruption.
Finally, there is the famous midrash about the women who raised up the hosts of Israelites who went out of Egypt. In this narrative, the women go out to the fields armed with small fish, wine and mirrors and set the stage for seduction and desire, reawakening a sense of identity and self in their husbands who have become nameless, faceless slaves by convincing them to look in the mirror. These women continued to bear children into the uncertain darkness of Egyptian slavery, believing against all odds in the future redemption.
In conclusion, we read about the four sons in the Haggadah but with the organic interconnection between Halachic and midrashic sources that obligate, include and valorize the role of women in the Exodus, we should certainly make room to talk at the Seder equally of the four daughters!  
The writer teaches contemporary Halacha at the Matan Advanced Talmud Institute. She also teaches Talmud at Pardes along with courses on Sexuality and Sanctity in the Jewish tradition.