Include women's voices with JWA's Passover Haggadah
Last week Kathleen Peratis shared her disappointment with the widely acclaimed The New American Haggadah by Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander:
I loved it at first touch. Then I read the first line: “You are blessed, Lord God-of-Us, King of the Cosmos, who has set us apart with his mitzvot, and instituted us to eliminate all hametz.” “Lord”? “King”? “His”? Oh no.
And then page after page of more of the same: male pronouns for God, and other words referencing a male God: king, father, etc. And the story of the four sons was the four sons, not even the four children. Women and girls are totally absent from the greatest story ever told in The New American Haggadah.
For the last 20 years at least, “gender inclusiveness” in Jewish texts has been an option for us as writers. Some of the contributors of The New American Haggadah must have grown up with such “gender inclusive” texts.” Yet they neither employed this model, nor explained why they didn’t.
Peratis then quoted Letty Cottin Pogrebin, recent honoree of JWA's Making Trouble/Making History Award, who said:
Regardless of this Haggadah’s innovative design and smart commentaries, I feel alienated from a modern text that altogether disregards women’s sensibilities. I feel excluded at the gate by its choice of gendered language. What one hopes for from modern interpreters are translations of canonical works that connect our tradition more intimately with ALL our people, rather than reaffirm that Judaism is a masculine preserve.
Last year, the Jewish Women's Archive collaborated with JewishBoston.com to create a fully inclusive JWA edition of The Wandering is Over Haggadah, Including Women's Stories, that weaves women's voices throughout the seder.
The JWA Haggadah highlights the roles of Shifra, Puah and Miriam in the Passover story, offers an alternative Four Questions and "10 Modern Plagues" to discuss, and honors a historical or contemporary Jewish woman for each cup of wine. It also explains the origin of rituals like the orange on the seder plate and Miriam's Cup. Staying true to our JWA roots, we included an oral history exercise so that telling your own family's story can become a part of your Passover tradition.
There is a reason we chose not to call our Haggadah a "women's Haggadah." To us, a "fully inclusive" Haggadah is not just for women, but for men too. We need to change the status quo from one in which men's stories are for everybody and that women's stories are only for women--where men's voices are "neutral" and women's are gendered. Hosting a seder that includes women's voices is an important part of changing this assumption; just as women's voices add value and richness to the Passover tradition, women's stories are an essential piece of the Jewish narrative.
The good news about Haggadot is that it's perfectly acceptable to use more than one. Whether or not you will be using the The New American Haggadah this year, we encourage you to download the JWA Haggadah (it's free!) and explore the various opportunities to add women's voices to your seder.
How to cite this page
Berkenwald, Leah. "Include women's voices with JWA's Passover Haggadah." 21 March 2012. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 3, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/include-womens-voices-with-jwas-passover-haggadah>.
In 1980 at InstiPrints in Jerusalem I self-published a little hand-bound and colored edition of a book I called Her Haggadah, a multi-media Pesakh scrapbook starring the Jewish (wo)manifestation of the divine feminine (what Raphael Patai called The Hebrew Goddess) . It was dedicated to my mother and so many generations of Jewish women who "made Passover" but were invisible in the Haggadah and often absent from the pillowed thrones of this celebration of Spring and liberation; they were too busy cooking and serving and cleaning up to sit down for long-- let alone recline. My version of "Her Haggadah" is still evolving, but there are a few original copies left; one is in the Judaica collection of Harvard's Widener Library. I encourage women to use the stories and images and songs and recipes dearest to them -- and borrow from centuries of favorite Haggadahs and other freedom texts-- to create their own Haggadahs. Leave blank pages for the children to fill.