drwex (drwex) wrote,

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This year's Pesach post (part 1)

Long-time readers will remember that Passover is my favorite of the Jewish holiday cycle. Each year is different.

For the first time in a long time my parents (dad and step-mom) came up for Passover. Step-mom claims she hasn't been to a Seder before, though I think I remember her at some family Seders in the early years. There will be a separate post on the weekend, but this post is about Seder.

The books we use for Seder (called Haggadot) have been in my family since my childhood. We've looked at other Haggadot over the years and thought about replacing these as they are quite literally falling apart but it's never happened. This year I pulled down the books and got one with the four-questions cheat sheet for Thing 2. Turns out that was my mom's Haggadah, replete with sticky page markers she'd written on.

The past few weeks I'm stumbling over bits of "mom" everywhere. I mostly get through them without overtly bawling, but it helps to have a tissue near to hand.

One of the important elements of the Seder is telling the Passover story. When we got to that point this year, the kids more or less groaned in unison. They know the story, they complained. They've heard it SO MANY TIMES. OK, we said, how about you tell it?

Mostly they did, getting most of it right. We added some bits they had forgotten and Thing 2 added a bit that he'd picked up from his Hebrew schooling, which I don't think I'd ever heard before (which I'm going to put into a separate post). And somehow this segued into a discussion of G-d's gender.

It helps to know that Hebrew (and, I believe Aramaic) is a heavily gendered language. Things like doors and carts have gender and that gender is always one of a male/female binary. This is quite common in non-English languages - French speakers often chuckle at me because I'll misremember the appropriate gender form for nouns. So in Hebrew - and thence its translations into English - G-d is almost always referred to in the masculine. It is because of what He did for me when I came out of Egypt, for example. A great deal of angst for modern and feminist persons ensues from this. Some Reform and Reconstructionist Jews have reimagined G-d in order to avoid the heavy masculine emphasis of the traditional liturgy and storytelling.

This year our conversation around the Passover story involved G-d's gender and it was noted that even in the original forms, G-d is referred to with male gender when viewed at a distance, but when one speaks of the presence of G-d or the feeling of G-d the female gender and pronouns are used. This is just the sort of odd thing I love about Passover, though this isn't specific to this holiday - it's present throughout.

On the one hand you could say that this reflects a traditional patriarchal view of the world, in which the dominant father (male) is distant and the nurturing mother (female) is close. But the Bible is clear that the presence of G-d is not always nurturing/comforting. It can be terrifying or challenging, too. Also, I think that separating the two is a non-Jewish idea. Given that Judaism was the first monotheistic religion it somehow needed to express the idea that one divine being embodied all aspects. G-d is not a male and a female; G-d is all things, including (as we moderns might think of it) both binary gender and non-binary gender.

I'm sure I'm not the first one to think about this and if I was arsed to go do actual research I could certainly find plenty of scholarly work. But the point of this isn't reading someone else's scholarship - it's about how we think and wrestle with the ideas in the Passover story, which is why I love this holiday so much.
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