This collection emerged out of a desire to honor our friend and colleague Dr. Judith Kates. Professor, author, teacher, and scholar, Kates stands among the pioneers of contemporary Jewish women reclaiming their Jewish literary heritage by bringing a feminist perspective to the interpretation of classical Jewish texts. A graduate of Radcliffe College, Kates received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University. Initially as a member of the Harvard faculty, which she joined in 1973, and later as a member of the university’s administration and the first coordinator of the Faculty Committee on Women’s Studies, Kates played a critical role in the integration of the study of women into the curriculum. By the time Harvard finally approved a women’s studies concentration (1986), Kates’ interests had shifted from Renaissance Literature to classical Jewish texts, and she began studying and teaching Bible and midrash in many settings of adult learning in the Jewish community.
Shortly before she was appointed to the faculty of Hebrew College in 1992, Kates began work on Reading Ruth: Contemporary Women Reclaim a Sacred Story (Ballantine, 1994), a volume of commissioned essays she coedited with Gail Twersky Reimer. A few years later, Kates and Reimer co-edited a second collection of essays, Beginning Anew: A Woman’s Companion to the High Holy Days (Simon and Schuster, 1997), this one focused on the different Torah and Haftarah texts read over the course of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
A founding faculty member of the Hebrew College Rabbinical School at its inception in 2003, Kates designed and taught core text courses on Torah to the school’s first generation of ordained rabbis. A beloved teacher and passionate scholar, Kates was awarded an honorary doctorate by Hebrew College in 2017. Her wisdom and deep knowledge of sacred texts have been a gift to generations of her students and colleagues. Kates recently retired, but continues to study, teach, and inspire.
This Hebrew College Passover Companion, written in honor of Judith, represents a unique collaboration among faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of Hebrew College. Following after the Hebrew College High Holiday Companion, it offers a pathway into another of our central ritual moments—the Passover seder.
The Companion is structured around the simanim, or signposts, of the seder, bringing you from the ritual’s beginning, through the meal, and to its closing. Since Judith begins her family seder with the ritual of kos miryam, Miriam’s Cup, we too have chosen to begin this volume with that ritual. We have also included a reading of Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs, traditionally recited in synagogue on the intermediate Sabbath of Passover. Many of Judith’s friends have been privileged to gather at her and Bill’s home during the afternoon of the intermediate Shabbat of Passover to sing together the many songs from Shir HaShirim.
Much as Judith’s seder table is a place for questions and conversation, we hope that this Passover Companion will generate new questions and new conversations around your own seder table—and that you will be touched and surprised by the many ways we can tell our story of liberation.