Confessions of a Wicked Daughter
Every Passover, my family makes me the Seder’s “wicked son.” I don’t mind—it’s a part I was born to play.
Depending on whom you asked and when, Rabbi Yitzchak Sender’s explanations for the Wicked Son also work as descriptions of my own lifestyle choices. I might have outgrown the bacon-cheeseburger phase of my Jewish rebellion, having given up kashrut to become an unapologetic omnivore, before morphing into an ethical meat eater and then deciding to become a vegetarian who occasionally eats fried (organic, local, humanely raised) chicken. But it wouldn’t be off the mark to call me an “unregenerate heretic,” who despite being “educated in the ways of Torah … willfully and spitefully … reject[ed] everything [I] learned.” After all, it was me who, at 13, sat in the back of my yeshiva high-school classroom and challenged the rabbi to explain what was really so “blasphemous” about gay sex. And it was me, years later, learning Torah with my father and his rebbe, who explained—to their shared amusement—that I rejected the Torah’s notion of gender roles, and would never marry a man who wasn’t willing to help around the house. A product of both Solomon Schechter and yeshiva, I was always encouraged to ask questions—they were just supposed to be the right ones. (“Why do we have two Seders? Can’t we just have one?” “Deena, the real question is why we have any Seders at all.”) Sure, my sisters went through their own “rebellious” phases in high school; but even if they occasionally violated certain tenets by drinking too much on Simchat Torah or even eating hot wings at Hooters, neither veered as far as I did from the Nice Jewish Girl path—which I did by questioning those basic tenets altogether.
Sender’s other exposition of the Wicked Son, that he “has become blinded to the truth as a result of his having become accustomed to a lifestyle characterized by addiction to his own desires without restriction,” is also a fairly apt description of my lifestyle. But I don’t think my vices have blinded me to the truth so much as they have opened my eyes to it. It was only after smoking a pot-spiked hookah in my Hebrew University dorm room that I realized that a career in Middle Eastern politics would be futile for me, that the conflict was too entrenched, and that a Jewish girl from New York, no matter how well-meaning, was never going to be seen as an impartial peace broker. And as a strong believer of in vino veritas, I’ve come to consider alcohol a critical component of my writing career. (Hey, it worked for Hemingway.) If these things make me wicked, then wicked I am. But also fun-loving, truth-seeking, and honest.
Lucky for me, though, not everybody is so hard on the Wicked Son. My favorite interpretation comes from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who tells us in a Chabad Haggadah that “there is only a slight distance between [the wicked son] and his [wise] brother.” My family has not officially chosen our chacham, but it seems like my brother-in-law, the Orthodox rabbi who comes to every Seder equipped with an all-Hebrew Haggadah penned by his grandfather, has more than earned the mantle. I might roll my eyes when he scolds me for eating too much karpas, but I also recognize that there are reasons behind the limits he is imposing, and that they were probably discussed, dissected, and ultimately determined by a long series of arguments based in both Torah and logic. But while I appreciate that there are people learning all of these rules, I also want to thank the Lubavitcher Rebbe for recognizing that we rashas could memorize the laws and regulations, too; we just choose not to. Like the great rashas before me, from Betty Friedan to Larry David, I know the social norms and conventions; I simply reject them. Any chacham can learn the rules of kashrut, tzniut, or a conventional marriage. But it takes a rasha to ask why we have these rules at all.
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Chicken Marbella, once a staple of trendy dinner parties, is now a mainstay recipe for Passover’s festive meals