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This essay is the next best thing to having Ruth Bader Ginsburg at your Passover Seder

RBG is probably not coming to your Seder but this is probably what she would wear if she did.
RBG is probably not coming to your Seder but this is probably what she would wear if she did.
Manuel Ngan/AFP

The bad news: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is probably not coming to your Passover Seder this year. The good news: she's written a commentary for the American Jewish World Service that you can read aloud at Seder, adding some great feminism to the standard Passover story of the Jews escaping slavery in ancient Egypt.

In the version of the Torah story that people generally read aloud during Passover, the two main characters — and really, the only two who even get names — are men: Moses and Pharaoh.

But Ginsburg (and her co-author, Lauren Holtzblatt, who's a rabbi at Adas Israel in Washington, DC) focus on the role of "five brave women" who played an important role in the story — Moses's mother and sister; two midwives who refused Pharaoh's orders to kill Jewish babies; and Pharaoh's daughter, who rescued and adopted Moses:

These women had a vision leading out of the darkness shrouding their world. They were women of action, prepared to defy authority to make their vision a reality bathed in the light of the day.

Retelling the heroic stories of Yocheved, Shifra, Puah, Miriam and Batya reminds our daughters that with vision and the courage to act, they can carry forward the tradition those intrepid women launched.

The stories Ginsburg and Holtzblatt tell are part of the Jewish tradition of midrash — riffs on traditional Torah stories that are somewhere between commentary and fanfic. These particular Passover stories have been around for millennia: two are taken from a section of the Talmud (the most famous collection of midrash and commentaries) that was compiled during the fifth century. But even though the point of a Passover Seder is supposed to be to retell the Torah's story of the exodus from Egypt, these stories are traditionally left out.

It's common for Jewish families to add extra writings to the Seder from one year to the next, and many also tweak Passover tradition in a nod to feminism.

The great thing about Justice Ginsburg's reading is that it makes clear that if you knew where to look for them, courageous women have been a part of the Passover story, and of Judaism, for a long, long time.

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