Miriam's Cup - A New Tradition that Brings Women
into the Heart of Judaism
by Risa Borsykowsky
Miriam a special place at the Passover table is a new concept in
Judaism. Like most religions, Judaism developed within a male-dominated society and there are few pages dedicated to women in the Bible. Honoring and celebrating
Miriam at Passover is
a great opportunity to introduce Miriam, and the role she played in the Jews'
exodus from Egypt.
The introduction of the Miriam’s Cup in a Passover Seder originated in
a Boston Rosh Chodesh group in the late 1980’s. Stephanie Loo Ritari created
this new ritual, which is based on the Legend of Miriam’s Well. The women
were inspired by the Mayim Chayyim - Living Waters - of Miriam’s
well, and the group drank from a special kiddush cup called Kos Miriam
- The Cup of Miriam.
INTRODUCTION TO MIRIAM’S CUP
Rosenfeld, one of the talented artists at Jewish Gift Place, makes one of
our very favorite Miriam’s Cups. She sums it up eloquently in a card that
she encloses with each of her Miriam’s Cups:
“The Miriam’s Cup is part of a new tradition,
which brings the story of Miriam into the Passover Seder and women into the
heart of Judaism. It is filled with water instead of wine and is used in addition
to the Elijah’s cup. Miriam helped sustain her people during the exodus
from Israel; first by discovering a miraculous and continuous well, and then
with her joyous dancing. It can also be used weekly at Shabbat, instead of
a Kiddush cup, with the same idea of bringing women more centrally into Jewish
Including a Miriam's Cup at the Passover table is a pioneering
tradition that gives a women of the Bible notable esteem at one of the most
important Jewish celebrations of the year. By discussing her role as a prophet
and a heroine, while noting her admirable qualities of strength, determination,
and optimism, it will enlighten all who partiicpate in a Passover Seder and
empower women everywhere.
At the end of the article you will find the most beautiful pictures and paintings,
as well as words to the song, "Miriam's Song," by Debbie Friedman with
a link to her YouTube video.
Miriam (her name has many meanings including prophet, waters of strength, beloved,
rebellious) is celebrated as a heroine and a prophet. (A prophet is someone
who speaks by divine inspiration; someone who is an interpreter of the will
of God.) She was the older sister of Aaron and Moses. She is believed to be
7 years older than Moses and 3 years older than Aaron.
A passage in Micah (one of the books of the Hebrew Bible) suggests why Miriam
had significant regard among later prophets, and why God chose her, along with
Moses and Aaron, to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. In Micah 6:4 it says,
“And I brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed
you from the house of bondage. I sent before you Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam.”
WHERE IT BEGAN - MOSES' BIRTH
When Miriam's mother was pregnant, Miriam prophesied that her parents, Amram
and Jocheved, would give birth to the child who would be the Israelite leader.
He would bring about the Hebrew's redemption from slavery in Egypt and lead
them to the Promised Land after 10 generations.
When the Pharaoh, Ramses II, became disconcerted by the growing number of the
Hebrews in Egypt, he ordered that all male children of Hebrew slaves be drowned
in the Nile River. Jocheved had two midwives, Shiprah and Puah, who did not
cooperate with Pharaoh's order. This is considered the first occurance of civil
disobedience in the Bible and was the first seed of the Exodus.
Moses was born on 7 Adar 2368 (around 1400 BCE - 3,410 years ago) and Jocheved
was able to hide her baby for 3 months. During this time, she instilled his
Jewish heritage in him and compassion for his people. However, after 3 months,
she couldn't hide him any longer. In a desperate attempt to save her baby's
life against Pharaoh's decree, she wove a papyrus basket for him and and put
baby Moses in it. Miriam, only 7 years old, placed Moses in the Nile river,
and promised to watch over her brother. She followed the floating basket down
the river and hid in the bulrushes to make sure he was alright, until he was
was found by the Pharaoh's daughter.
With trepidation and boldness, Miriam approached the Pharaoh's daughter and
offered to find a nursemaid for the baby. She told her that she knew of a Hebrew
woman who had just lost a baby and her newfound child might allow her to feed
him. The Egyptian princess asked that the Hebrew woman be brought to her, and
so Moses continued to be nursed by his own mother. The Pharoah's daughter raised
Moses as her own.
Even at such a very young age, it was clear why God chose Miriam, along with
her brothers, to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Miriam's role as a leader
of the Hebrew women was demonstrated with her boldness, courage, strength, and
MIRIAM, THE PROPHETESS
The first mention of Miriam being a prophetess in the Bible was after Moses,
Miriam, and Aaron, led the Hebrews across the Red Sea. Miriam was so certain
of her prophesy that Moses would lead the Hebrews to freedom, that she brought
her tambourine with her during the Exodus from Egypt so that she could lead
the women in singing and dancing.
After the Israelites passed through the Red Sea, a song led by Miriam appears
in Exodus 15:20-21:
"And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel
(tambourine) in her hand, and all of the women followed her, with timbrels
and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them:
Sing to the LORD,
for he is highly exalted.
The horse and its rider
he has hurled into the sea."
MIRIAM, HER HUSBAND, AND CHILDREN
Miriam was married to Hur, of the tribe of Judah. Unlike other cultures at
that time, Jewish women enjoyed many freedoms including talking with men in
public, appearing without a veil, and travelling alone. For this reason, Miriam
was present when Moses, Aaron, and Hur discussed Israel's problems and was intregral
in devising the solutions. As a prophetess and the first lady of Israel, her
opinion was highly regarded.
Miriam, Moses, and Aaron, led the Hebrew people through the desert for 40 years.
In Miriam's honor and because of her righteousness, God created a miraculous
well of clear spring water that followed her and nurtured the Israelites throughout
their journey in the Sinai desert. Miriam did not live to see the Promised Land.
She died before Aaron, shortly before the end of the Israelites' journey and
was buried in the wilderness. The well remained with the Jews until Miriam's
The “Cup of Miriam” is filled with water and is placed beside the
customary “Cup of Elijah,” which is filled with wine during the
Passover Seder. It is symbolic for several reasons: Miriam saved her brother's
life in the water of the Nile River, she led a victory song and dance after
walking through the waters of the Red Sea, and she was followed by a continuous
well of spring water that sustained the Israelites in the desert.
A "Miriam's Cup" brings honor to a heroic woman of the Bible. It
was her faith, confidence, and wisdom that gave comfort to the Hebrews and helped
them overcome the hardships of the desert during their Exodus from Egypt. She
stood side by side with Moses and Aaron as they passed through the Red Sea,
and she is heralded for her strength. The "Miriam's Cup" is symbolic
because it is the first time a women is so honored at one of the most important
Jewish celebrations of the year. It serves as a reminder that there were many
unheralded women of the Bible whose contributions helped define and nourish
HONORING MIRIAM AT THE PASSOVER SEDER
Since the Miriam's cup is a new tradition, there is no right or wrong way for
incorporating it into the Passover Seder. I, personally, am going to start off
my Passover Seder by explaining the symbolism of the six items on the Passover
plate, the matzah, the Elijah's cup, and the Miriam's cup (which will be empty).
Everyone at the table will have a glass of water and a glass of wine. I will
explain that the water in Miriam's Cup symbolizes the miraculous well that followed
Miriam and the Israelites for 40 years in the desert. The waters of Miriam's
well were said to be healing and sustaining. Miriam's Cup is a symbol of all
that sustains us through our own journeys. Miriam's Cup emphasizes the importance
of Miriam and the other women of the Exodus.
Miriam's Cup will be passed around and everyone will add some of their own
water to this cup. We will say the following prayer:
Zot Kos Miryam, kos mayim chayim. Zeicher l'tzi-at Mitztrayim.
This is the Cup of Miriam, the cup of living waters. Let us remember the
Exodus from Egypt. These are the living waters, God's gift to Miriam, which
gave new life to Israel as we struggled with ourselves in the wilderness.
["Miriam's Cup Blessing" Copyright 1996. Matia Rania Angelou, Janet
Berkenfield, Stephanie Loo]
At each occurance of Miriam in the hagaddah, I will emphasize her importance
and will give honor to her at the following parts of the Passover story:
- Her prophesy that Moses would free the Israelites from bondage.
- Her watchful eye as Moses floated down the Nile River into the Egyptian
- Her victory song and dance after the Hebrews passed through the Red Sea.
- Her miraculous well that followed her as the Israelites wandered through
the desert for 40 years.
I found a very beautiful song by Debbie Friedman called, "Miriam's Song."
The words and a link to the Youtube video are below. I will distribute tambourines
to the kids at the table and will play this song after the Israelites have crossed
the Red Sea.
I will end the Seder with everyone taking a sip from Miriam's Cup, symbolizing
the freedom of the Jews after passing through the Red Sea, the sustaining properties
of water, the strength of Miriam, and her optimistic prophesy of hope and redemption.
SUGGESTED RITUALS FOR INCORPORATING MIRIAM INTO THE
Below are three different rituals from various websites with suggestions on
how you can honor Miriam at your Passover Seder.
RITUALS SUGGESTED BY WWW.CARYN.COM
Below are suggestions from www.caryn.com
on using Miriam's Cup in the Passover Seder:
- Fill Miriam's Cup at the very beginning of the Seder, to symbolize inclusion
of men AND women at the Seder. Miriam also appears at the beginning of the
- Hold up Miriam's Cup after the recitation of the Ten Plagues and before
Dayyenu, which tells the story of the Exodus across the Red Sea and into the
wilderness. This is when the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years
and Miriam's miraculous well played an important role.
- Or fill Miriam's Cup towards the close of the Seder and place it next to
Elijah's Cup, with Elijah representing the future coming of the messiah, and
Miriam representing the spiritual connection to bring about redemption needed
in the present lifetime.
RITUALS SUGGESTED BY RABBI HAMMER OF TEL SHEMESH
The rituals below are written by Rabbi Hammer, the founder of Tel
Shemesh and the author of Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women.
RITUALS SUGGESTED BY MIRIAMSCUP.COM
Below are suggestions for incorporating Miriam's Cup in your Passover Seder
- Fill Miriam's Cup following the second cup of wine and before washing the
hands. Raise the empty goblet and say:
"Miriam's cup is filled with water, rather than wine. I invite
women of all generations at our seder table to fill Miriam's cup with water
from their own glasses."
- Pass Miriam's cup around the table. Explain the significance of filling
Miriam's cup with water and say:
"Miriam's words of comfort gave the Hebrews faith and confidence
to overcome the hardships of the Exodus. We fill Miriam's cup with water
to honor her role in ensuring the survival of the Jewish people. Like Miriam,
Jewish women in all generations have been essential for the continuity of
our people. As keepers of traditions in the home, women passed down songs
and stories, rituals and recipes, from mother to daughter, from generation
to generation. Let us each fill the cup of Miriam with water from our own
glasses, so that our daughters may continue to draw from the strength and
wisdom of our heritage."
- When Miriam's cup is filled, raise the goblet and say:
"We place Miriam's cup on our Seder table to honor the important
role of Jewish women in our tradition and history, whose stories have
been too sparingly told."
- Recite a prayer from Susan Schnur:
"You abound in blessings, God, creator of the universe, Who sustains
us with living water. May we, like the children of Israel leaving Egypt,
be guarded and nurtured and kept alive in the wilderness, and may You give
us wisdom to understand that the journey itself holds the promise of redemption.
- Tell the story of a Jewish woman you admire and who is a role model for
- Dancing in honor of the prophetess Miriam follows the rituals for the prophet
Elijah after the meal. Lift Miriam's cup and say:
"Miriam's life is a contrast to the life of Elijah, and both
teach us important lessons. Elijah spent part of his life alone in the
desert. He was a visionary and prophet, often very critical of the Jewish
people, and focused on the messianic era. On the other hand, Miriam lived
among her people in the desert, following the path of hesed, or loving
kindness. She constantly comforted the Israelites throughout their long
journey, encouraging them when they lost faith. Therefore, Elijah's cup
is a symbol of future messianic redemption, while Miriam's cup is a symbol
of hope and renewal in the present life. We must achieve balance in our
own lives, not only preparing our souls for redemption, but rejuvenating
our souls in the present. Thus, we need both Elijah's cup and Miriam's
cup at our seder table."
- Sing and dance with tambourines. First hold up a tambourine and say (from
"And Miriam the prophetess, took a timbrel in her hand; and
all the women went out after her, with timbrels and with dances. And Miriam
sang unto them, Sing ye to God, for God is highly exalted; The horse and
his rider hath God thrown into the sea."
"As Miriam once led the women of Israel in song and dance to
praise God for the miracle of splitting the Red Sea, so we now rejoice
and celebrate the freedom of the Jewish people today."
A CHILDREN'S STORY - MIRIAM'S CUP
If you're looking for a beautifully illustrated story of Miriam's
Cup, this is a book that I read a few years ago at my sister-in-law's house.
WORDS TO ‘MIRIAM’S SONG’ BY DEBBIE
I think you will really enjoy this song by Debbie Friedman. I’m trying
to figure out how to use this song in my Passover Seder. I don’t think
I’ll be able to remember the tune in the next 2 weeks, so I’m thinking
of recording it and playing it after the Israelites pass through the Red Sea,
which is a great time to play this very joyous song. I think by the end of the
song, my lively family will be singing along. Listen
to it here.
And the women dancing with their timbrels,
followed Miriam as she sang her song,
sing a song to the One whom we've exalted,
Miriam and the women danced and danced the whole night long
And Miriam was a weaver of unique variety
the tapestry she wove was one which sang our history.
With every strand and every thread she crafted her delight!
A woman touched with spirit, she dances toward the light
When Miriam stood upon the shores and gazed across the sea
the wonder of this miracle she soon came to believe.
Whoever thought the sea would part with an outstretched hand
and we would pass to freedom and march to the promised land!
And Miriam the prophet took her timbrel in her hand,
and all the women followed her just as she had planned,
and Miriam raised her voice in song-
She sang with praise and might
We've just lived through a miracle:We're going to dance tonight!!
Pictures of Miriam, Moses, and the Exodus From Egypt
All of the pictures below are from the beautiful clip art collection of Bible
PICTURES WITH MIRIAM
Miram ventured to come closer
Moses exposed on the Nile (an outline by Dickenson)
Pharaoh's daughter finds baby Moses
The finding of Moses (an engraving based on a picture)
The finding of Moses by Sebatien Bourdon
The finding of Moses
The finding of the infant Moses
Miriam the prophetess
PICTURES OF MOSES
Moses and the burning bush (a portrait by Guy Ro)
Moses and the burning bush
Moses' rod turned into a serpent
Fear grew in Moses' heart
MOSES AND AARON APPEAR BEFORE PHARAOH
Moses appearing before Pharaoh by James Tissots
Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh
Moses' rod changed into a serpent
The plague of hail and the plague of frogs
The plague of locusts
Death of the firstborn of Egypt
The death of the firstborn by Bernardino Luini
EXODUS FROM EGYPT AND CROSSING THE RED SEA
The departure of the Israelites
Pharaoh and his army in pursuit of the Israelites
A painting by German artist Lucas Cranach
Crossing the Red Sea
The passage through the Red Sea
Pharaoh and his army drown in the Red Sea
Read all of the articles in our Jewish Passover Traditions series: