Saturday, April 07, 2007

Tapuz--The Orange

Matzoh, the cracker-like substance that replaces leavened bread, is a famous food eaten during the 8-day celebration of Passover. During that time, observant Jews do not eat wheat, spelt, barley, rye, or oats. Many of us do not eat corn, rice, or legumes like peanuts or soy or other beans or peas, either. Even things like sunflower seeds and sesame seeds are often avoided. Given that additives of various sorts made from corn and soy are in almost every processed food on the shelf, this proscription can be fairly challenging unless you buy specifically kosher-for-Passover brands--or eat a whole foods diet.

There are other foods associated with Passover. A traditional seder plate holds bitter herbs (usually horseradish), charoset (a paste of sweet fruit and nuts), a roasted egg, a shankbone (or roasted beet for vegetarians), etc. In a traditional haggadah, we point to the foods and say things like, "Why do we eat matzah tonight?" or "Why is there charoset on the seder plate?"--then have a discussion of many different understandings, many different possibilities and ideas. The horseradish reminds us of the bitterness of slavery. The charoset is a way of expressing the sweetness of liberation.

Our seder plate, and the plates of many other progressive Jews, also holds an orange.

Why is there an orange on the seder plate?

The explanation we've read for a dozen years is that after hearing about women becoming rabbis, a man roared, "A woman has no more place leading prayer than an orange has a place on the Seder plate!" So we place an orange on the Seder plate, for it belongs there as a symbol that women belong wherever Jews carry on a sacred life.

Recently I discovered that this story is not the full story.

An early feminist haggadah placed a crust of bread on the seder plate as a sign of solidarity with Jewish lesbians, showing that traditional Judaism offers as little acceptance of lesbians as it does of bread during Passover. One rabbi, Susannah Heschel, believed that this symbol suggested that gays and lesbians were truly out of place in Judaism and violated the meaning of the religion. She wanted to use a different symbol, one that showed that the inclusion of gays and lesbians made Judaism all the more fruitful. The need to spit out a few seeds just reminds us that we need to constantly remove traces of prejudice from ourselves.

Round you are and bright as a newly risen moon.
You are sweet and acid, dessert and medicine.
You carry within your curves the future
of your kind, those pale seeds winking
from the sections, each an embryo tree.

Come into your own and shine,
where the only roundness was the almost
hidden plate bearing up the ritual items.
Be subject as well as object. Sing
in your orangeness of female strength.

Clash if you need to. Roll if you must.
Center the plate about your glow.
We are, we will be, we become: rabbis,
yes, cantors, shapers, prophets, creating
a new Judaism that is yours and ours.

-- Marge Piercy


Lee said...

I had not heard this before. I hope next year to have an orange on the Seder plate. It looks great.

Helen said...

That's really neat.
I like it -- for both women and gays/lesbians. With either (both) symbolisms, I'd put it on a Seder plate.

Specs said...

Thanks for this entry! I'm teaching a Marge Piercy book at the moment and am having a hard time articulating how closely and necessarily she intertwines the religious and feminist messages. You've helped me though. I just may print this and bring it to my next class, if you wouldn't mind.

KBlicious said...

What an amazing story, thank you so much for posting it. Hope your Passover was sweet!


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