Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Life

I’ll Take My Haggadah Without Fathers or Kings

I bought 24 copies of “The New American Haggadah” sight unseen, based on the recommendation of a friend and the yiches of its creators, writers Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander. The aesthetic of the books is very Zen, very Steve Jobs: It’s light — literally, the paper seems nearly weightless — and spare, with monochromatic flying Hebrew letters.

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.” I considered taking the books back to the bookstore.

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.

As my friend Letty Cottin Pogrebin says:

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.

Amen.

Engage

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.