What Does An Orange On A Passover Seder Plate Mean? The Fruit Is A Symbol Of LGBTQ Inclusion
Passover officially begins on the evening of Mar. 30, which means that for the next couple of nights, folks will be marking the holiday by preparing Seder plates. And if you're the one prepping a Seder plate for your friends and family, you'll want to know there's a simple component you can add that will show your support for LGBTQ folks: An orange.
For those not in the know, traditional Seder plate components include "matzah, the zeroa (shankbone), egg, bitter herbs, charoset paste and karpas vegetable," according to Chabad.org. Each component is arranged in a specific way, and each has a specific meaning. Chabad.org explains that for example, three matzot, or pieces of matzah, are arranged on top of each other on a napkin or plate, and then covered. They represent three Jewish groups: priests, Levites, and Israelites. They also "commemorate the three measures of fine flour that Abraham told Sarah to bake into matzah when they were visited by the three angels," according to Chabad.org.
While the Seder plate components are a longtime tradition, the concept of adding an orange to support LGBTQ inclusion is a recent addition. According to My Jewish Learning, Susannah Heschel, a well-known Jewish feminist scholar, originally encountered the idea of including a crust of bread on Seder plates to show support for Jewish lesbians. The idea was "that there's as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the seder [sic] plate."
Heschel, however, felt that putting leavened bread (in contrast with matzah, which is unleavened) on the Seder plate "would be to accept that Jewish lesbians and gay men violate Judaism like hametz [leavened food] violates Passover," according to My Jewish Learning. Instead of bread, she decided to include an orange "as a symbol of the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life." Orange seeds are also part of the fruit's symbolism; according to Herschel, the act of spitting out the seeds represents "repudiating the homophobia of Judaism."
Heschel told TIME in 2011 that including an orange on Seder plates is "a gesture of solidarity with Jewish lesbians and gay men, and others who are marginalized within the Jewish community." That means a Seder plate orange can be a gesture showing solidarity with people of all LGBTQ identities, not only those who identify as gay or lesbian, and it can also represent inclusion of other marginalized identities makes it an all-around excellent addition for Passover traditions.
According to Sarah Roth writing for Pride, the origins of the Seder orange are often mistold. "Each year, come Passover, there were always two explanations provided for the orange at the center of the Seder plate," she wrote. "The Floridian explanation, and the feminist explanation."
Her mother would speak in the middle of Seder, saying, "A man once said [...] that 'a woman belongs on the bimah (the podium or platform in a synagogue) as an orange belongs on a Seder plate.' We include the orange on the Seder plate to show that, indeed, a woman belongs on the bimah."
"This is a story often told at Passover Seders," Roth added, saying she learned the queer history of the Seder orange when she attended Seder at a friend's house and her friend brought an article about Herschel to read out loud.
Herschel has addressed this mixup, saying, as reported by My Jewish Learning, that a "typical patriarchal maneuver occurred," and that, "Now the story circulates that a man said to me that a woman belongs on the bimah as an orange on the seder [sic] plate. A woman's words attributed to a man, and the affirmation of gays and lesbians is erased. Isn't that precisely what's happened over the centuries to women's ideas?"
With the origin and meaning of adding an orange to the Seder plate in mind, it's something to think about when you're getting ready to mark this year's Passover with those closest to you.