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Orange on the seder plate

June 24, 2012

2341175908How did the custom of the orange on the Passover seder plate begin?  It turns out that the story we remember hearing is not quite true. 

Here is the account from the woman who started this modern custom – from a Haaretz interview with Susannah Heschel (Dartmouth), daughter of the famous biblical scholar, theologian, and civil rights activist Abraham Joshua Heschel:

For her part, Heschel the younger has made her political mark in the feminist arena. She is the author of the book On Being a Jewish Feminist, but her real claim to fame comes from a tradition she created of putting an orange on the seder plate. The popular story behind the ritual is an urban legend, suggesting she did it because a rabbi once told her, “A woman belongs on the bimah [pulpit for reading a Torah scroll] like an orange belongs on the seder plate.” In truth, the idea occurred after a visit to a university where some students had been putting bread crusts on the seder place as a symbol of protest against the exclusion of women, gays and lesbians. Excited by the idea, but not the execution, Heschel proposed an alternative that did not bring hametz [leaven, strictly forbidden to possess during the Passover holiday] onto the seder table. The orange was to be consumed and the seeds spit out – representing the rejection of homophobia.

She also has many acidic comments about liberal Judaism in the US, which she says leaves “little time left for spiritual and intellectual rigor,” and features a “lack of warmth and human connection.”  (She mentions an example – when she was teaching five hours away at Dartmouth and her mother was ill, she called up the Jewish Theological Seminary – where her father had been employed for 22 years – and asked them to send a student across the street with food for her ill mother.  The seminary refused.)  Instead she prefers the outreach ethos of Chabad and Hasidic teachers.

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