Kulanu Misubin? Are Women Obligated to Recline at the Passover Seder?

According to the Mishna Brurah, women are obligated in observing all of the mitzvoth of the Passover Seder such as drinking the four cups of wine, reading the Haggada, eating matzah and eating maror(bitter herbs). The Gemara in Sotah 11b explains why women are obligated in these mitzvoth even though they are time-related. The women were the ones who took an active role in the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt. The women continued to have vision that the redemption would occur and continued to have children despite the reluctance of their husbands. Miriam the prophetess insisted that her parents continue having children and the result was that her mother gave birth to Moshe. The midwives, Shifra and Pua continued saving the babies despite Pharaoh's decree to kill the newborns.

What about the custom of bringing a pillow to the table and reclining at the seder? Are women obligated in observing this custom? Are they even permitted?

According to the Gemara in Pesachim 108a, a woman who is with her husband is not obligated to recline, but if she is an important woman, she is obligated to recline. The Rama (16th century) who quotes the Mordechai (13th century) states "In our community all the women are important". According to the Vilna Gaon (18th century) "An important woman is wealthy enough that she doesn't need to busy herself with the needs of the household and the preparation of food." Does that mean that those of us who have just spent the last week cooking and cleaning should not recline?

According to Sylvia Barack Fishman, noted author in her book "A Breath of Life", "The vast majority of American Jewish women have levels of secular and Jewish education unthinkable in earlier periods of history. They occupy positions of importance and prestige in the professional and business worlds. They most certainly are free persons". Following this approach coupled with the approaches of the Mordechai and Rama, it makes sense that women should recline at the Passover Seder even if they were the ones doing many of the preparations. In fact if they did most of the preparations, they certainly should recline on the night where we talk about moving from slavery to freedom!

To all the women out there, take out your pillows, and follow the words of the Ma Nishtana: "kulanu misubin", WE ALL RECLINE!