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Do women recline at the Seder?

Do women recline at the Seder?

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On the Passover Seder nights we attempt to relive the feeling of liberty and freedom our ancestors experienced when leaving Egypt. One of the ways we accomplish this is by reclining on our left sides when eating the matzah and drinking the wine.

In ancient times, reclining while eating was considered regal and luxurious; only "free" men reclined when eating. It was also considered unwomanly to recline in public.

With the course of history, things changed. About 800 years ago some scholars pointed out that reclining while eating was already "out" and impractical; most people preferred to eat upright. According to some opinions, at that point in time reclining at the Seder became optional. Others maintained that reclining remains mandatory—we are beholden to continue a tradition practiced at Seders since time immemorial.

At about the same time, women reclining in public was no longer viewed as unwomanly. Now, if reclining while dining would still have been "in" at that time, women would certainly have started to recline at the Seder. But considering that until then they were not required to recline, and it was not viewed as a form of luxury and freedom any longer, it wasn't a given that women should start reclining.

Considering the above, Ashkenazi custom has left reclining by the Seder optional for women. The Sephardic custom is that women do recline.

Best wishes,

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson is a writer who lives with his family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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Yosef Portland, OR April 18, 2011

tzius Not men deciding, but in fact women. Jewish women (and men) are known for their modesty and out of concern for modesty do many things that specially set themselves apart. I am not clear that the reclining is an issue of tznius (jewsih modesty for men and women), but it certainly could be, and thank G-d there are Jewish women and men who consider this issue in their daily lives as well as on the Chagim. Reply

Miriam NYC June 30, 2010

Re: Anon June 30 I don't know if anyone decided it WAS unwomanly. Rather, in the same society where it was considered luxurious, as opposed to today where it is considered impractical, it was a man thing to do, not a woman's. A good example of this today would be the custom in Western culture in which men bow and women curtsy. Reply

Anonymous Syracuse June 30, 2010

women reclining Who decides what's unwomanly? Men? Reply

Anonymous Mexico April 2, 2008

Re: anon from Brooklyn In ancient times it was considered unwomanly (not necessarily immodest), and the article specified that in today's society it is not so. Reply

Anonymous April 2, 2008

reclining Very well said! Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn, NY April 2, 2008

Reclining It is very interesting that women recline in the Sephardic Community/ and not in the Eastern European Community. I was unaware that women reclining in public maybe immodest. Thanks for clearing up these facts.
A kosher Peasach for all! Reply

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