Tonight is the first night of Passover, when Jews around the world gather to celebrate freedom from slavery in Egypt, under the leadership of a man who had two mommies.
Moses and his sister Miriam, the story in Exodus tells us, were born to a Hebrew woman. The Egyptian pharaoh, however, had ordered that all Hebrew boys were to be drowned. The mother tried to hide her son, but when she could no longer do so, put him in his now-famous basket and placed it among the reeds of the Nile. The pharaoh’s daughter found him and took pity on him, even though she guessed he was a Hebrew child. His clever sister Miriam went up to the pharaoh’s daughter and offered to find a Hebrew wetnurse for the boy — unbeknownst to the pharaoh’s daughter, this wetnurse was his own birth mother. The pharaoh’s daughter later “made him her son,” i.e., adopted the boy. Moses therefore had two mommies.
The phrasing isn’t my own: Way back in 1996, Beth Gilbert of Reform Judaism magazine, in an article about “Gays & Lesbians Under the Chupah” (the traditional wedding canopy), wrote about Sophia and Deborah, a couple who had successfully petitioned for a second-parent adoption of their five-year-old daughter Rachel. Gilbert reports that the women’s rabbi began Shabbat services after the adoption by saying, “Moses had two mommies,” and one of the other children present observed, “Hey Rachel, just like you!” I’m not sure this is the earliest reference to Moses’ two moms as showing support for same-sex parents, but it’s the earliest I could find. (Footnote to the article: Today, the Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative branches of Judaism all support marriage for same-sex couples.)
More recently, Kendra Lubalin of Keshet, the organization for LGBT Jews, worked the idea into a school lesson plan. She suggests telling students that “Moses had two moms that loved and cared for him. His mothers came from different cultures and in his life Moses would learn about both. Moses grew up to be a powerful leader and had a lot of support from his family especially his sister Miriam.” She offers ideas for questions to ask students, including “What kind of family did Moses have?” and “Who were the important people in Moses’s life?”
Despite finding the idea of Moses’ two moms within the context of LGBT topics, I personally think his story is more about adoption than about a same-sex couple (although the latter idea would make for an interesting retelling, in the spirit of Anita Diamant’s The Red Tentand Jewish midrash). Nevertheless, for both adoptive families and those created in other non-traditional ways, his story is an affirmation of the long history and successful lives of children from families that don’t fit the mold of one bio mom and one bio dad.
Moses is hardly the only such character in the Bible. To mention just a few examples: Esther was an orphan raised by her cousin. Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel, and children through both them and their handmaidens, Bilhah and Zilpah. From all their children descended the twelve tribes of Israel and pretty much the rest of Biblical history. And many of us have seen the signs at Pride marches declaring “Jesus Has Two Daddies.”
For those of us celebrating Passover, a holiday where asking questions is a key part of the observance, we might consider weaving in a question or two (like Lubalin’s above) about how Moses’ upbringing reflects or contrasts with those of our own families or families we know.
Whatever your faith tradition or degree of belief and observance, however, it’s still worth noting that families of many differing types go far back in human history, and were thought worthy of mention as part of one of the world’s most significant texts. It is time we as a society emphasize their stories, rather than focusing on what some view as restrictions in the Bible against certain types of families.
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