Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday, 10 April 2011

A Good Idea, The Right Type of Hagadah

One of the reasons Torah Judaism clashes with Western secular liberalism is because of the value it places on roles.  Only a kohen can serve in the Temple.  Men have certain duties, women have others.  Crossing over is generally either not encouraged or flat out forbidden.  As opposed to the more egalitarian vision of the West, Judaism encourages a team approach with each member knowing his/her roles.
One of the areas this is less obvious is on Pesach night during the Seder.  The hagaddah, with its timeless narrative, is actually a very gender and role neutral book.  There are two characters: God and Israel.  The story is one of the former liberating the latter from spiritual slavery and inducting it into Divine service.  In terms of secondary characters, only one is mentioned and he, Moshe Rabeinu a"h, only gets a brief sideways mention.  The hagaddah is definitely about God and the nation of Israel.
This hasn't stopped revisionists over the years who have no real understanding (or a superficial one at best) of the Seder from trying to reinvent the ritual to their liking.  Most famous amongst these are the efforts by various feminists over the last several decades to recreate the hagaddah in their own image.  Unfortunately the reality they live in is one consumed by gender warfare, a never-ending struggled between "he" and "she" in which "he" is the never ending oppressor and "she" is always struggling to overcome violent oppression.
Is it any wonder then that in the view of such folks the hagaddah would be seen as a "male" document exluding women and role their played in the Exodus?  Is it any wonder that multiple versions of the same type of hagaddah have appeared over the years that try to correct this perceived imbalance?
And is it any wonder that they all miss the point of Pesach?  After all, as I've noted before the theme of Pesach isn't simply liberation from an oppressive tyrant but entry into God's service through the acceptance of His Torah.  The narrow "he" vs "she" ideology with its visions of endless gender warfare (after all, if it ends, so do their funding grants) is opposed to this positive vision of spiritual growth from material limitation.
Fortunately there is now a woman's haggadah I can endose, the Haggadah L'Beit Yaakov.  Any new haggadah published these days has to ask: how does this add to the Jewish experience on Pesach?  This hagaddah answers the question by focusing on the descendants of those who left Egypt and continued in the traditions received at Sinai.  It is a positive expression of how the liberation from Egypt resulted in and continues to produce people committed to the Divine service and values of the Torah.  If one can learn how to be a better Jew(ess) from these stories then this Haggadah has served its purpose for men and women alike.
By all means, bring the feminine into the Seder but do it as tradition dictates, through the extolling of Torah-based virtues and actions.

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