The Ten Plagues

Of blood, frogs, hail, & more.

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"As we ate our Pascal lambs that last night in Egypt the darkness was pierced with screams. Our door posts were protected by a sign of blood. But from the windows of the Egyptians rose an anguished cry: the death of the first-born.

"Yah Sh'chinah [an appeal to God using a term associated with God's feminine side]soften our hearts and the hearts of our enemies. Help us to dream new paths to freedom.

"So that the next sea-opening is not also a drowning; so that our singing is never again their wailing. So that our freedom leaves no one orphaned, childless, gasping for air" (Tamara Cohen, ed., The Journey Continues, 70).

Many Jews update the seder by supplementing the recitation of the biblical plagues with the mention of contemporary "plagues" such as war, hatred, and disease. The Jewish Council on Urban Affairs' Immigrant Justice Haggadah counts as plagues "the detention of immigrants, unwarranted deportations, hate crimes, the denial of drivers' licenses and other services to undocumented immigrants, hopelessness, apathy, and fear of speaking out." The Love and Justice Haggadah includes in a tongue-in-cheek list of the plagues of contemporary life--"reality TV, muzak, and SUVs."  Feminist haggadot add plagues such as sexism and violence against women; environmental haggadot mention the destruction of natural resources; and haggadot focused on inter-group relations speak of the plagues of prejudice and distrust.

Every modern application of the story of slavery and liberation necessitates the creation of a new list of "plagues" to be eradicated.

The plague narrative is both an integral part of the exodus story and one of the most difficult parts of this story to understand. Contemporary readings of the exodus therefore struggle to reinterpret the plagues to reflect our current consciousness and/or to expand the list of plagues in order to draw attention to all of the parts of the world that remain in need of liberation.

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Rabbi Jill Jacobs

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America. She previously served as the Rabbi-in-Residence for the Jewish Funds for Justice.