Avadim hayinu

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I generally agree with the shift in language usage that tries not to use the noun “slave” for people—the point being to remind ourselves that slavery is not an ontological status, and slavery is not an occupation, and it’s not a naturally occurring thing. People are not slaves; people are enslaved by other people. I feel that it’s a helpful shift in language, to the point that it grates on me when I see it used, as I have recently done with some frequency, in books set in the 19th century US and UK and Caribbean.

So it’s interesting to me about myself that I am very resistant to changing the Haggadah.

I say fairly often that the basic story of Judaism is avadim hayinu, we were slaves, or more fully, We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. It’s a very simple edit to make it We were enslaved by Pharaoh in Egypt. But I can’t do it.

I do hate and fear change, and maybe that’s all there is to this. But I also feel that in the Seder, we are already doing the thing that the shift of language is supposed to do. We center the experience of the people who are enslaved, rather than the people who “own” them. We also say: hashata avaday, now we are slaves; l’shanah haba’ah b’nay chorin, next year, we will be free (the sons of freedmen, which is an idiom worth thinking about as well). It’s clear in the language that there is no inherent “slaveness” in having been enslaved.

Maybe next year.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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