Modern day midrashim have influenced some Jews to put an orange and a
(shellacked) challah on our seder plates. Suzanna Heschel heard the story that a
rabbi responded that women in Judaism are like an orange on the seder plate (i.e.
irrelevant and not needed) when she was speaking at Oberlin in the 1980’s. She
started adding an orange to her seder plate each year after that as a symbol of the
importance of women’s place in Judaism. She repeated the story often enough that
many people wrongly think that the comment was said to her. She told me that,
although it is not a true story, it is a worthy midrash and a good reason to have an
orange on one’s seder plate.
Another story quotes an Orthodox rabbi who was asked "Rabbi, do you think
lesbians have a place in Judaism?" He answered: "A lesbian belongs in Judaism as
much as challah (which would be considered unthinkable because it is chametz )
belongs on the seder plate." And, so tonight, our seder plate contains a miniature
(shellacked) challah. This is a symbol of the Queer "in your face" pride that we
must express to the rabbis and other homophobes that don’t believe that we
belong on the bima or elsewhere. I created this midrash in response to hearing
Rabbi Yoel Kahn’s drash at Congregtion Sha’ar Zahav in the mid 1990s. He
explained that the rabbis understood the cleaning out of chametz from our homes
is symbolic of clearing away our puffed up egos as we get in touch with the
mitzrayim, narrow places, we need to leave behind in our spiritual exodus.
Chametz is not intrinsically bad. Passover is an opportunity to introspect about the
coping mechanisms that we use in our everyday secular lives. We put a shellacked
challah, that has no crumbs, rather than a real one out of respect for the need to
clear away our puffed up egos at the same time as making decisions about what to
stand up and speak out against in protest.
Tonight as we share this round, succulent, and juicy orange, let its sweet taste
provide us with nourishment from the Jewish communities and Jews who have
already accomplished a lot towards addressing sexism, misogyny, homophobia,
heterosexism, and other forms of oppression. Let the bitterness of the orange zest
help us find the zeal needed to continue working towards ending all forms of
ignorance and hatred that plague the world. Passover teaches us that no one is free
until all who are oppressed are free. Let us pray together that soon all people will
be able to shed their thick skins that protect them, expose their vulnerabilities, and
delight in each other with appreciation instead of fear.
בְּרוּכָה אַתְּ יָהּ אֱלֹהֵינוּ רוּחַ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדַּשְׁתָּנוּ בְּמִצּוֹתֶיהָ וְצִוַּתְנוּ לִרְדֹּף צֶדֶק וּלְכַבֵּד כָּל נֶפֶשׁ וְשֻׁתָּפוּתB'rukhah At Yah, Eloheinu, Ruach ha-olam, asher kidshatnu bemitzvoteha
vetzivatnu lirdof tzedek, u'lchabed kol nefesh v’ shutafut.
You are Blessed, O God, Spirit of the World, who makes us holy with your
mitzvot and commands us to pursue justice and honor all people and connections.
Hebrew assistance from Rabbi Jane Litman in honor of Queer Minyan and Pardes Rimonim
Used by permission of author