Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

The Broken Matza

The broken matza.
That’s the symbol.
It’s lehem onni, the bread of loss, of lack, to begin with.
And then we break it.
We also sandwich it between two whole ones, because we have to keep going. And whatever support we can get, we take.
We are not the first generation of Jews, not by a long shot, sitting down to a seder broken.
Compassion. A load, load of compassion. And expectations in line with reality.
Salt water.
We dip a fresh, spring, vegetable in it because reality is both. Grief and life.
The red wine, symbolizing redemption, freedom, may not resonate much this year but we drink it anyway, blessing the hag over it and even thanking for having reached this day, however bitter that feels, and it does. Plenty of times we do because not to do is worse. That’s it. That’s as much as is reasonable to expect. And frankly, that is heroic, no less.
Raise that kos, even as we cover the matzot when we do, because these were always opposing symbols and both were always core to the seder. It was never just one of these experiences but always, both.
Notice that when we focus on redemption, we cover the matzot, so as not to pain them that we are thinking of something good.
And when we uncover the matzot and highlight them, we do not raise the glass, we leave the joyful, happier thoughts in their corner. And we cycle back and forth because that is reality.
Sober reality. We do what we can as best we can.
And rachmones, just rachmones
About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History at Oberlin College. She is the author of four published books and numerous articles on Jewish modernity and the history of Jewish women, and winner of a National Jewish Book award and other prizes. Her new book is the first history of agunot and iggun from medieval times to the present, across the Jewish map. It also presents analysis and critique of current policy on Jewish marital capitivity and proposals to end this abuse. Entitled, "Thinking Outside the Chains About Jewish Marital Captivity," it is forthcoming from NYU Press. She is a founder of women's group prayer at the Kotel and first-named plaintiff on a case before the Supreme Court of Israel asking enforcement of Jewish women's already-recognized right to read Torah at the Kotel. Her opinions have been published in the Forward, Tablet, EJewish Philanthropy, Moment, the Times of Israel, and the Jerusalem Post.
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