The four daughters

The feminist Seder movement offers an innovation.

pessah plate 88 (photo credit: )
pessah plate 88
(photo credit: )
In 1975 a group of leaders of the feminist movement in America, Jewish by birth, but not necessarily by political identification, celebrated the first women's Seder in New York. Over the years, this annual gathering, held at the beginning of Nisan or on Hol Hamoed Pessah, has expanded to numerous similar gatherings throughout the world. The idea behind women's Seders is to examine the parallels between enslavement and liberation of the Jews to that of women, while recognizing where the two stories diverge. Did Jewish women experience the same liberation as Jewish men? What do we learn from the absence of the female voice from the story of the Exodus that we recount each year? As with any religious ceremony, the women's Seder has also formed its own symbols and traditions: Placing an orange on the Seder plate as a vernal and succulent symbol of women's belonging and full participation in community and synagogue leadership; "Miriam's Cup," a full cup of water placed on the table symbolizing the well of Miriam that, according to Midrash, accompanied the Children of Israel on their desert trek; and reading the section on the "Four Daughters," found in all feminist Haggadot, in dialogue with the Four Sons of the Haggada. This last custom often finds its way into many traditional family Seders. HERE IS my version of the "Four Daughters:" 0 The Torah speaks of four Daughters: one possessing wisdom of the heart, one rebellious, one na ve and one who cannot ask questions. The daughter possessing wisdom of the heart, what does she say? "Father, your decree is harsher than Pharoah's…The decree of the wicked Pharaoh may or may not have been fulfilled, but you who are righteous, your decree surely is realized." The father heeded his daughter (Miriam). So we too follow in her steps with drums and dancing, spreading her prophecy amongst the nations. The rebellious daughter, what does she say? "Recognize" the ways of enslavement and the tyranny of man's rule over man. Although she rebels against authority it is said: She was more righteous than he, and we enjoy no freedom until we have left our unjust ways. The na ve daughter, what does she say? "Wherever you go, so shall I go, and where you rest your head so there will I rest mine. Your people are mine, and your God my God" (Ruth, 1:16). We shall indeed fortify her in her loyalty to those she loved, and it was said to her: "May God make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built up the House of Israel." And the daughter who cannot ask - only her silent weeping is heard, as it is written, "and she wept for her father and mother." We will be her mouthpiece and she will be for us a judge. We will return her to her mother's house and to her childhood home, and we will proclaim "liberty in the land for all its inhabitants." EACH OF the Four Daughters expresses a unique path from bondage to freedom in a national and human sense. They learn from examining their parents' lives and from the struggle of their nation, while their parents themselves are exposed to new spiritual layers as a result of their daughter's education. • Wise of Heart: According to the Midrash, young Miriam persuaded her father Amram and the other enslaved men of Israel not to separate from their wives despite Pharoah's decree to destroy all male newborns. When her mother Yocheved gave birth to a boy, the two worked together to save the new son/brother. Miriam recognized the historical significance of this nascent struggle, as she did at the splitting of the Red Sea, and thus led her people to redemption (Talmud Bavli, Sotah 12). • Rebellious: Tamar's complex relationship with her father-in-law, Judah son of Jacob our forefather, expresses a rebellion whose result was critical to the continuation of the tribe of Judah and the Jewish people. With her deeds, Tamar barricaded herself against her loss of freedom as an imprisoned widow. She eventually achieves the yibum (levirate marriage) to which she is entitled, and becomes the "founding mother" of the Davidic dynasty, symbol of messianic redemption (Tamar, Genesis 38:26). • Na ve: Ruth the Moabitess remained true to her mother-in-law Naomi, and her ingenuous loyalty is absolute. This wonderful emotional closeness that Ruth so adamantly demonstrates rescues both of them from poverty and internal bondage (Ruth 4:11). • The one who cannot ask: This last of the four daughters lacks sufficient freedom to taste even slightly the redemption and thus remains weeping in utter slavery. Although the "beautiful captive" from war is allowed to grieve for her parents before she is taken (Deuteronomy 21:13), she is a reminder of the reality of silenced bondage, which continues to exist in our midst in various ways. The silent weeping that erupts from this dark reality is a call to action for the cause of freedom and liberty of every man and woman (Leviticus 25:10), born in the image of God, in order to live securely in their homes, among their people and loving family (Song of Songs 3:4). The writer, the first Israeli-born woman rabbi, teaches modern Jewish thought and literature, and Jewish feminism at the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem.