Passover Pages of Sinai Temple
Women and the Seder

Is there a unique role for women in the Passover Seder?...

You might read this Torah passage and the "modern midrash" that follows. It could be part of the telling of the Passover story...

"When Pharaoh became afraid of the Israelites, he ordered the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, to kill all Jewish boys when they were born. But the midwives did not follow Pharaoh's orders. They saved the little boys. Then Pharaoh called for the midwives and said, 'Why have you done this thing and saved the males," The midwives answered, "The male children survived because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women. They are so vigorous that they deliver their children before we can arrive.'"

Exodus Chapter 1

(And should you wonder who these midwives were. Why did they disobey Pharaoh? What were they thinking? Consider the following interpretation of their motives.)

Shiphrah and Puah, two of the Egyptian midwives who served Hebrew women in the capital, sat together over tea after their momentous first meeting with Pharaoh. "Shiphrah, we can't do that," said the smaller of the two women. "For years we have dedicated our lives to providing comfort and safety to women in childbirth. I don't care who these women are or what they believe, they are just like our friends in their concern for their families, in their joy at giving new life, and in their gratitude for whatever help we give them." "

You're right," agreed Shiphrah. "There's no way we are going to harm these precious baby boys, but how are we going to get away with it?"

Puah reached for a biscuit. Chewing on something sweet helped her think better. All of a sudden, her face brightened. "Our men," she began, "think that the Hebrews are like animals. They have not seen them in their tender moments as we have. They don't realize they are just like us, since they only know them as their slaves. Maybe we can take advantage of their ignorance."

Shiphrah smiled. She loved Puah's cleverness with people, even though she disapproved of her eating habits. Shiphrah was munching on a date from the tree in back of the house. "Animals surely do not use midwives," she said slowly.

Puah chuckled and squeezed Shiphrah's hand. "You are so smart, Shiphrah. We'll tell Pharaoh that the Hebrew women are such animals they don't even labor long enough for us to reach them before the babe is already out, clean, tied, and suckling. Men are so ignorant of these matters, how can they possibly dispute us?"

She gathered the rest of the biscuits and fruit and put them in her bag. The nice family near the market square had invited them to the eighth day circumcision ritual for the boy they had helped deliver after a complicated labor last week. "Come on, Shiphrah, we'll be late for the bris." The two women hurried off arm in arm, smiling with confidence of those who know that in matters of greatest consequence, even heads of state are sometimes ill-informed.


Sarah, Miriam, & Esther at the Seder

Where are the daughters of Sarah?

Sarah, the matriarch, is the mother of all Jewish women, for the line of the covenant is traced through her flesh. A woman of wisdom and beauty, she was a priestess in her own right. Perhaps more than anything else, Sarah is remembered for her laughter. In this way, she teaches us to take note of all the joys of life.

Are Miriam’s daughters here?

Miriam led the Children of Israel out of Egypt and danced at the shores of the sea. Sister of Moses and Aaron, she was a prophetess, a leader, and a great musician. Miriam inspires us to celebrate our victories, despite the bitter oppression we have endured.

Every Jewish woman who raises her voice or instrument in song and music, or who moves her body in dance and celebration, - we are Miriam’s daughters.

The daughters of Ruth: Where are they?

Ruth, a Moabite who married into an Israelite family, followed her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to the Land of Israel after the death of her husband. Hers was a free choice to follow a woman she loved. Ruth told Naomi, “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16) choice to cast her lot with the Jewish people, and every woman who chooses to follow other women, out of loyalty or out of love – we are Ruth’s daughters.

Esther’s daughters: Are they with us?

Esther was a Persian Jew who found herself suddenly in a position of power when she was chosen to become the wife of King Ahashuerus. She could have enjoyed her status as a beauty queen and lived a life of leisure in the palace. But when the Jews were endangered by Haman, she risked her life to save her people. Esther’s bravery enabled the Persian Jewish community to survive and thrive for thousands of years.
Every woman who has rebelled against the stereotype of women as sex symbols or Jewish princesses, every woman who has taken a stand for her political beliefs – we are Esther’s daughters.

Do we number Beruriah’s daughters among us?

Beruriah was a talmudic scholar shoes insights were quoted by our sages for centuries. Her love of learning and Jewish law remains a shining exception to the male dominance of Jewish scholarship.

Every Jewish woman who has thirsted for study and knowledge, created her own midrash, interpreted the Torah’s laws, or felt enraptured by a Hebrew prayer – we are Beruriah’s daughters.

Are Doña Gracia Nasi’s daughters here?

Doña Gracia Nasi was born into a marrano family shortly after the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal. Widowed as a young woman, she fled the Spanish Inquisition. As she moved from Portugal to Antwerp to Venice to Constantinople, she also helped other Jews escape through an “underground railroad.”
Every woman who has succeeded on her own or who has had to deny some part of herself to survive, every woman whose bravery helped others survive – we are Doña Gracia’s daughters.

Where are Emma Goldman’s daughters?

Born in Russia in 1869, Emma Goldman was an anarchist leader as well as an early advocate for birth control, unionization, free speech, anti-conscription, and the eight-hour workday. She was imprisoned and deported from the United States for her activism. Even among her political allies, she was considered radical, bravely voicing her support for right of woman and homosexuals.

Every woman who stands behind her principles and voices her beliefs despite the risks, every woman who works for social change – we are Emma’s daughters.

The daughters of Hannah Senesh: Are they here?

Hannah Senesh went to Palestine as one of the aerialist Zionist pioneers. During the Holocaust, she returned to Nazi Europe to rescue fellow Jews. Captured and tortured, she died at the age of twenty-three. Hannah Senesh, a true hero, left us her powerful poems.
Every Jewish woman fighter, Zionist, or poet – we are Hannah’s daughters.