Thought Vomit

I haven’t posted in a while, but here’s some thought vomit for y’all. A summary of what’s been happening in my brain of late.
I’m going back on the idea of saying Avot V’imahot all the time. It doesn’t make grammatical sense. Avot means Avot V’imahot already. Possible alternatives:

1. Just say Avot
2. Horim (parents, but is that just a Modern Hebrew thing?)
3. Dorot (makes larger implications about not just previous generations, but includes this generation and generations to come. Is that even a problem?)

I’m taking Miryam back out of my G’ulah. I actually arrived at this conclusions while thinking about Kos L’Miryam, Miraym’s Cup, a modern addition to the seder. (For those who have never experienced a seder with this cup, it is a cup of water in honor of Miraym’s well.) The idea is to become inclusive and put a female character on the same level as Mosheh, I suppose. But, that’s a problem for me.

Mosheh is an extraordinary character. To set Miryam up on the same level is absurd. Rather than artificially pumping up female characters, shouldn’t we begin to recognize female characters who have made significant contributions? Where are D’vorah and Yehudit and other strong female characters? I don’t mean where are they in the seder. Obviously they’re unrelated, but so is Miryam’s well! The well has nothing to do with the Exodus and everything to do with wandering in the desert, a topic with which the seder is not concerned.

Mosheh is a big deal character, yet he only gets one line of text in the Hagadah referring to him. If he only gets one line, how disingenuous are we to the text if we create a whole new item for the table settings to represent Miryam.

And I leave you with this: There are supposed to be two cooked dishes on the seder plate, now usually a lamb shank and an egg, to represent the two types of sacrifices that were to be given on Pesach. My People’s Passover Haggadah, Vol. 1 has this to say on page 39:

“Sheira Gaon (Gaon of Pumbedita, 986-1006) noted a custom of including a third symbolic cooked food—in addition to the chank bone and egg—“in memory of Miriam, as it says, ‘I brought you from the Land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of bondage, as I sent you before Moses, Aaron, and Miriam’” (Mic. 6:4).

There you go. Some brain vomit to chew on.

7 Responses to Thought Vomit

  1. phyllis March 17, 2008 at 9:31 pm #

    isn’t it more like equating miriam with elijah, not with moses? and the reason moses isn’t in the haggadah is to place all the emphasis on God’s role, not on Mo’s role…to not de-ify Moses. But no one ever forgets him or discounts his role. Adding Miriam in is a way of honoring her contribution, without de-ifying her.

    Plus, I think the whole point of the Seder is that it grows and changes with every generation. Many newer Haggadot actually tell the story with Moses as the central character. Maybe this is becuase when the Haggadah whas originally written, “everyone knew” the story of Moses. Perhaps the seder itself now serves as the primary means of education and therefore it’s time to put Moses back into the Haggadah, with limits…and Miriam as well.

    What do you think of the orange on the seder plate, then?

  2. Another Yid March 18, 2008 at 3:07 pm #

    David –
    These suggestions are very thoughtful, and I happen to agree 110%!
    Chag Purim

  3. David A.M. Wilensky March 18, 2008 at 4:52 pm #

    Another Yid – Thanks! Who are you?

    Phyllis – I suppose your note about the cup equating Miryam with Eliyahu is apt. I was perhaps thinking the way I was because I’m hung up on the addition of Miryam to Mi Chamochah right now too, which is certainly an attempt to equate Miryam with Mosheh.

    I’m currently reading vol. 1 of Larry Hoffman’s My People’s Passover Haggadah and never before have I been more aware of the ever-changing nature of the seder. Just because it has changed in the past, does not mean we should begin to throw in every change we can think of. I’m not against change. I’m just against change that doesn’t make sese. If anything, I think that may even be the overall theme of my blog these days.

    As for the Orange, the story told about it as actually nonesense. I just concluded Vanessa Ochs’ book, Inventing Jewish Ritual, which clarifies the issue.

    Apparently a chabad rebbetzin visited a Jewish women’s group at UC Berkley to give a talk. Someone asked what traditional Judaism has to say about Lesbianism. The Rebbetzin called it a small transgression, “like eating bread on passover.” In response, this group started placing a piece of bread on their seder plate!

    The practice spread during the 80’s, coming to be included in many lesbian hagadot. Soon the practice was shifted, through unknown means, to an orange, which is far less problematic, obviously. Soon it came to represent the inclusion of all gays, not just lesbians and from there it became what it is now: a predominantly feminist symbol.

    Later a story evolved with which many of us are familiar: a feminist Jew speaking in Florida was heckled by a man in the audience who said that women Rabbis made just as much sense as an orange did on the seder plate.

    Regardless of which of these stories is true, I wouldn’t want to do either at a seder I was in charge of. Both practices are totally reactionary. I prefer Miraym’s cup to these things (were I forced to pick one) because it is a positive new creation and makes far more sense.

    My overall feeling about making statements about gender during the seder (especially the reactionary orange, which has no bearing on the content of the seder) is that the seder is about freedom for everyone. Gender is not the issue. The story of the Exodus is the issue. I don’t wanna make it about anything else.

    I look forward to a time when we don’t have to go around making the distinctions. Jews are Jews, not matter what lies (or doesn’t lie) between their legs.

  4. Glenda March 20, 2008 at 4:46 pm #

    No, avot doesn’t mean the same thing as avot v’imahot.

    We’ve worked hard to purge masculine-as-the-norm words from English (like mankind instead of people or forefathers instead of ancestors). You don’t remember a time when that was the norm, but it’s not long in the past. Gender-non-neutral language is particularly offensive to my generation, at least to those of us who worked to establish gender-neutral as the preferred usage.

    You are a guy, so you don’t feel the exclusion in assuming that the masculine form is neutral. It is offensive because it really does shape thinking in sexist ways.

    Miriam’s cup is another problem entirely, so they don’t need to be discussed or resolved in the same way.

  5. David A.M. Wilensky March 21, 2008 at 9:10 am #

    Glenda – English is not a gendered language, though. Hebrew is. I’m not going to argue this further with you, Mom.

    Miryam’s cup is another issue. That’s why I addressed them seperately and did not attempt to tie them together, except to say that I’ve been thinking about both issues lately.

  6. REK April 13, 2008 at 9:18 pm #

    1. Avot–In terms of Hebrew, I fully agree that “avot” as a Hebrew word covers both patriarchs and matriarchs…but, that being said, North American Judaism (despite the fact that I disagree) has accepted the fact that you need to add imahot in order to include women…another interesting balance (accuracy vs. what’s become the norm) to consider

    2. Miriam–in fact, I believe that the best choice would be to include Aaron in some way, as opposed to excluding Miriam. In rabbinic literature, the 3 (Mo, Miriam and Aaron) are equated in many ways, and each has a symbol/miracle associated with them. Just a thought.

    3. The orange–what I find most interesting about this tradition is that the fact that in not so long a period of time (in the grand scheme of Jewish history), how much the story has transformed. Kind of makes you think about how much the stories of much longer ago have change through time (in particular, between the time at which they were told and the time at which they were written).

    Thanks, as always, for making me think!!


  7. davidamwilensky April 14, 2008 at 1:19 am #

    REK- You’re welcome, as always.