Miriam’s Cup

A modern feminist symbol

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In describing "a new ritual object," this article looks at an innovation that a number of people have added to the seder. Obviously, many traditionalists would not take part in this ritual or other innovations discussed in related articles in this section. For many liberal Jews, these new rituals are of great importance and are even viewed by some lay leaders as a new development in modern halakhah. Reprinted with permission from www.ritualwell.org.

What is a Miriam’s Cup?

A Miriam’s Cup is a new ritual object that is placed on the seder table beside the Cup of Elijah. Miriam’s Cup is filled with water. It serves as a symbol of Miriam’s Well, which was the source of water for the Israelites in the desert. Putting a Miriam’s Cup on your table is a way of making your seder more inclusive.

It is also a way of drawing attention to the importance of Miriam and the other women of the Exodus story, women who have sometimes been overlooked but about whom our tradition says, "If it wasn’t for the righteousness of women of that generation we would not have been redeemed from Egypt" (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 9b).

There are many legends about Miriam’s Well. It is said to have been a magical source of water that followed the Israelites for 40 years because of the merit of Miriam. The waters of this well were said to be healing and sustaining. Thus Miriam’s Cup is a symbol of all that sustains us through our own journeys, while Elijah’s Cup is a symbol of a future Messianic time.

When and How to Use Miriam’s Cup

As Miriam’s Cup is still a new addition to the seder, its use is not fixed. Some fill Miriam’s Cup at the very beginning of the seder. Miriam, after all, appears at the very beginning of the Exodus story (watching over her brother Moses in the Nile). Starting with Miriam’s Cup is also a way of letting people know right from the beginning that your seder is going to be a fully inclusive one. Also, since Elijah’s Cup comes at the end of the seder, it is nice to use the two cups as a frame for your seder and begin with Miriam.

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Tamara Cohen is a Jewish feminist writer and educator currently living with her partner is Gainesville, Florida. She is the spiritual leader of a community in Litchfield County, CT and is on the board of Brit Tzedek V'Shalom: The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace.

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