April 17, 2008

The orange on the Passover seder plate

Professor Susannah Heschel, a leading Jewish feminist scholar, explains the origin of this modern custom. Her father, the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, was a prominent scholar of Jewish ethics and a civil rights leader who participated with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others in the Selma Civil Rights March (1965).

“In the early 1980s, the Hillel Foundation invited me to speak on a panel at Oberlin College. While on campus, I came across a Haggada that had been written by some Oberlin students to express feminist concerns. One ritual they devised was placing a crust of bread on the Seder plate, as a sign of solidarity with Jewish lesbians (there's as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the Seder plate).

“At the next Passover, I placed an orange on our family's Seder plate. During the first part of the Seder, I asked everyone to take a segment of the orange, make the blessing over fruit, and eat it as a gesture of solidarity with Jewish lesbians and gay men, and others who are marginalized within the Jewish community (I mentioned widows in particular).

“Bread on the Seder plate brings an end to Pesach — it renders everything chometz [leavened bread]. And it suggests that being lesbian is being transgressive, violating Judaism. I felt that an orange was suggestive of something else: the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life. In addition, each orange segment had a few seeds that had to be spit out — a gesture of spitting out, repudiating the homophobia of Judaism.”

Source: Miriam's Cup

Update | April 1, 2012  Visit my related post, In Tel Aviv: The orange on the Passover seder plate, which describes the Joint Passover Seder for Israelis and African Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel that I attended. There, “see” oranges on dozens of seder plates, “meet” some participants, and “listen” to excerpts from their Exodus stories, gripping all.


Anonymous said...

Another option:

Tamar said...

I followed your link and learned about the USA Jewish Community Center (JCC) of the Desert (in California's Coachella Valley — roughly 100 miles east of Los Angeles). I see on the Community Calendar that May 1 is the 3rd Annual Gay and Lesbian Passover Seder sponsored by the local Shalom group in collaboration with the JCC and other area organizations. Very nice. I am sure the orange will be on the seder plate!

Nizo said...

fruitfulness! brilliant..

Your post goes perfectly with the grapefruit I'm eating..

Tamar Orvell said...

nizo — I hope you enjoyed your grapefruit, and I invite you to eat the mother of fruitfulness, replete with seeds that number the stars and the sands: a pomegranate, of course. Though in your current clime, it would surely be imported (as the grapefruit?) and not on a par with its middle eastern cousins;-) I promise you a basket of pomegranates when you reach Israel.