None Are Free Until All Are Free: A Seder Ritual About the Struggle for Civil Rights of Same-Sex Couples

A ritual to add to the Passover seder about marriage equality.

February 20, 2019

By Congregation B'nai Jeshurun


Adding new rituals and texts to the Passover Seder is a way to connect this ancient holiday of the liberation to contemporary struggles for freedom. As we say each year at the Seder, “In every generation, we are commanded to view ourselves as if each one of us was personally brought forth out of Egypt.”
This year we ask you to consider adding the ritual and text below to your Seder to bring attention to a struggle for civil rights that is currently taking place in our state—the fight for same-sex couples to obtain a civil marriage under New York State law and to obtain the full legal rights and responsibilities that are accorded to heterosexual couples through civil marriage.

Suggested Seder Ritual and Text

To incorporate this text and ritual into your Seder, we suggest reading it after Yahatz (breaking of the middle matzah) or after eating the Maror (bitter herb). You will need something to represent an incomplete ring, such as a shower curtain holder, a broken plastic ring or wire circle. Place it on the Seder plate.

“We were slaves unto Pharaoh in Egypt…” is how the story of the Jewish people’s struggle for freedom begins.

The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim, which is often translated as the “Narrow Place.” It carries the meaning of the ways in which our ancestors’ lives and spirits were crushed by that narrowness. Today this narrowness exists in many facets of our modern lives. We close off our minds to new ideas. We separate ourselves from other people and allow our neighbors, our family, and people we do not know to be alienated from the joys and privileges of community. And at times we turn a blind eye to other people’s struggles and pain. In so doing, we return to that Narrow Place.

At Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, our commitment to social justice has always led us to seek ways to help ourselves and others to break out of that Narrow Place.

In New York State in 2008, the institution of marriage is defined in too narrow a way: it does not include gay and lesbian couples. B’nai Jeshurun has taken up the fight for “marriage equality”—the ability of same-sex couples to obtain a civil marriage under New York State law and to obtain the full legal rights and responsibilities that are accorded to heterosexual couples. These rights include insurance coverage, inheritance, medical decisions, and recognition as parents of children being raised by the couple. The costs to same-sex couples include many thousands of dollars, their homes, their health, and untold anguish.

BJ is actively engaged in the campaign to pass marriage equality legislation in New York State—for the rights of our fellow congregants, family members, and friends—and for those gay and lesbian couples whom we may not know—to receive equal treatment under the law. “Remember the stranger, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt.” None can be free until all are free.

The Incomplete Ring

[Hold up the ring from your Seder plate]

This incomplete ring serves as a reminder that the relationship between the Jewish people and God has been spoken of as a marriage—and that this marriage is reaffirmed every morning when people put on tefillin:

And I betroth you to me everlastingly,
And I betroth you to me with righteousness and justice, with loving and compassion, And I betroth you to me in faithfulness,
And you shall know The Eternal One

Yet Jews who are in loving, committed relationships with partners of the same sex cannot marry under New York State law. They are denied their civil rights to justice and the protections accorded to straight couples through civil marriage. This ring is incomplete in recognition that the relationships of gay and lesbian couples are not yet fully included in our society. This injustice keeps the Jewish people, and all of society, from being a whole and holy community. By including this symbol on our Seder plate, we are affirming our commitment to an inclusive community.

Although this ring is incomplete, our hearts and our devotion remain whole as we commit ourselves to tikkun olam, the repair of Creation and of our society.

Together we sing or say in Hebrew the prayer translated above:

V’erastikh-li le’olam, v’erastikh-li b’tzedek, u’v’mishpat u’v’hesed, u’v’rahamim. V’erastikh-li b’emunah, v’yada-at et Yah.

Passover will end, yet we must transform our story into action. We can write and speak to our New York state senators and tell them to support full marriage equality. And we can join BJ in Albany on April 29 to speak with our legislators face to face.