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