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March 29, 2018 by

Let’s Liberate the Feminine This Passover

Two weeks ago, I hosted my first full weekend retreat, co-facilitated with some of my favorite collaborators and teachers. It was called “Embodying Liberation.” On the new moon of Nissan, with Passover on its way, we explored freeing our inner Divine Feminine through tangible, embodied spiritual practice. We danced, drummed, sang and chanted. We meditated, contemplated, sat in silence and in open-hearted vulnerable discussions. We ate nourishing food, connected with ourselves and nature, and constantly investigated the questions: what is our relationship to our bodies in spiritual practice? How do society’s gender norms hold us back, and how do we liberate ourselves through new views of the masculine and feminine? Most importantly, how are those portrayed in Jewish text and tradition, from ancient times til today? 

As Passover approaches, the theme of liberation is on everybody’s lips, and feminine liberation is a Hot Topic. Feminist Haggadahs have increased in popularity year on year, we have the orange on the Seder plate, and we have Miriam’s Cup. Growing up Hasidic, I had access to none of these, and they likely might even be laughed at in some of the Orthodox communities I still visit. I’m here to tell you there’s still a long way to go. In fact, in many traditional communities, the work of preparation for Passover falls disproportionately on women—some of whom have little opportunity to then participate or lead in the Seder rituals they have worked so hard cleaning, cooking and preparing for behind the scenes.

Yet, we also need to liberate the paradigm of the feminine, the need for societal gender norms, and the disparaging and diminishment of behaviors and tendencies that for so long in this society have been branded “female” or “women’s work.”

Midrash on the Egyptian exile tells us that one of the most humiliating pieces of the Israelite slavery was the reversal of gender norms: that women were made to do men’s work and men to do women’s work. WhIle my physical build often has me asking for the strongest human (of any gender)to help me shlep boxes, I’m okay being a lady who doesn’t lift. But if we’re talking about the white-collar men’s work of today—leading meetings, speaking publicly, inspiring organizations,I think I might do quite okay thank you very much.

On the flip side, men doing women’s work might conjure up images of Mrs. Doubtfire-like strong gentleman sweeping and cooking, or those bumbling dads who can’t change a diaper. For me, it reminded me of many years working in “boys clubs,” industries like sports, sales, and yes, professional Jewish organizations, where men would fumble around using a printer or keeping documents organized, while asking women to take on the “secretarial” roles. It’s always been frustrating, those stories we tell ourselves about what we are or are not good at based on gender.

But more than that: As we move into a newer epoch where gender roles are broken down, both in the home and in the workplace, can we rid ourselves of that tiny, buzzing-fly-on-the-shoulder, still-present voice that devalues some types of work because for so many generations they have been “feminine”, while lauding work that is more “ballsy”, “forward-thinking”, “leadership material”, and “authoritative”? Subtly criticizing women when they step into those classic old-fashioned male roles (“watch your tone” was a refrain on my performance review for years) and promoting men who perform the same behaviors – while neglecting to notice that workplace characteristics of collaboration and empathy are just as, if not more, valuable to a corporate strategy in the long run?

Some say Jewish feminism has moved on, or should move on. We have female rabbis, so what’s the problem? Some say women are still super-oppressed—just look at women in Hasidic communities. Some women say they don’t feel oppressed within their strict gender binary roles, because it makes them happy and fulfilled that way (many of my own dear family members included). Some say they want to step into a more traditionally “masculine” role without being called “aggressive” or “ballbreaking,” Others want in a healthcare or education role without being sneered at for doing the “typical Jewish girl thing.” Most suffer from pay gaps across the board.Women’s work” is still severely devalued in pay and opportunity.

We’re in an exciting time, one where women are finding a voice, each day slowly liberating their industries from expectations based on sexuality, gender expression, parenting roles and relationship roles. Women are standing up and saying “me, too,” stepping out of paradigms where “it’s just the done thing” for men to use power dynamics to gain sexual favors or make sexual comments in the workplace. And while we liberate ourselves from sexual oppression, the story of Passover reminds us that it’s also time to liberate ourselves from gendered oppression: from the diminishment and subjugation of all that was once feminine.

I’ve written many times in these pages of the paradigm shift for today, into one of non-hierarchy rather than patriarchy. And as we speak of lifting the Divine Feminine from her place in exile, we also recognize that it’s not just about liberating women—but everything that has been gendered as belong to women.

Expression of emotion, even in the workplace. Embodied activity. An orientation toward detail, careful organization and planning. Compassion and empathy. Collaborating rather than competing. Creative peaks and emotional dips, as part of our process of being human, not machines.

These are deep shifts, ones that will be transformative in our workplaces, communities, and homes. They will enable little boys as well as little girls to be okay with who they are, they will allow people of all genders  to embody the Divine Feminine, and they will permit Divine femininity to be defined however we want, way beyond the once-true stereotypes.

The Hebrew word for Egypt, “Mitzrayim,” shares the same root as the Hebrew word “meitzar,” or boundary. What are the meitzarim, the boundaries, that we free ourselves from today? The Talmud states, “in the merit of the righteous women the Israelites were redeemed from Egypt, and in the future they shall be the cause for the redemption.” How can our rethinking of the feminine principle reshape our own journey to personal liberation?

This Passover, I pray we find out how.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.