The Orange on the Seder Plate: How myth works

LincolnSpector

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In the politically progressive circles I run in, an orange is standard for the seder plate. This tradition is maybe 30 years old, and yet its origins are already lost in myth.

The seder is the traditional Passover ritual and meal. The seder plate contains various symbolic foods--matzo, roasted egg, horseradish, etc.

In recent decades, it's become common to place an orange on the seder plate. Depending on who you ask, it represents either egalitarianism (women and men are equal and can do the same ceremonies), welcoming the previously-rejected LGBT community, or both.

There's considerable controversy about where this tradition started. More than one person has claimed to have come up with the idea. There are multiple origin stories. A friend of mine has done considerable research on the subject, but he can't give a definitive answer.

My favorite origin story is almost certainly untrue: An Orthodox rabbi, or perhaps a politically-conservative Conservative rabbi, allegedly complained that a woman on the beema (pulpit) is as out of place as an orange on the seder plate. So someone go the idea of putting an orange on the seder plate to remind people that there's nothing out of place about a woman on the beema.

To my mind, this is a good, concise example of how religions work. People get ideas, alter traditions, and help their faiths evolve. And the details get lost into myth. I like that.
 

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One of the Jewish members of my ministry tells me that an orange on the Seder plate started sometime in the early 80's as a protest against the exclusion of homosexuals in Judaism.
 

LincolnSpector

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One of the Jewish members of my ministry tells me that an orange on the Seder plate started sometime in the early 80's as a protest against the exclusion of homosexuals in Judaism.

It's not so much a protest as a welcoming to the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community.
 

Jayhawker Soule

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To my mind, this is a good, concise example of how religions work. People get ideas, alter traditions, and help their faiths evolve. And the details get lost into myth. I like that.
I prefer to accept Heschel on this one.
And Myth can be unravelled. In this case in particular, the origins are not "already lost in myth."

And we should not lose sight of the downside here. The 'myth' has divested a symbol of any reference to the LGBT community, effectively diluting its message to one perhaps more palatable to many participants.

Messages migrate. Meaning gets redacted. This is true whether we are talking about oranges or Torah. What's important and valuable in my opinion is due diligence in recovering, to whatever extent possible, original intent, and then addressing the message honestly.
 

Frrostedman

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It seems most everyone is agreed on what the orange signifies. Heschel, either directly or indirectly, very likely had something to do with it.

But I don't understand how the practice for some people of placing an orange on the Seder plate has anything to do with how myth works.

LincolnSpector said:
To my mind, this is a good, concise example of how religions work. People get ideas, alter traditions, and help their faiths evolve. And the details get lost into myth. I like that.

??

Ok so the custom of the Seder plate was established. Then later, someone who supports a group of people that they think are unfairly marginalized. The person adds to the custom, an additional practice to show support for that group. Other supporters catch on, and then over time, the additional practice becomes customary among certain people within the entire community.

That doesn't demonstrate how myth or religion work, any more than traditional practices at Fraternity houses or college campuses do, or a secret handshake within a street gang.

Your orange on the Seder plate example doesn't show how religion works because the practice itself (placing the orange on the plate) is evidently practiced by relatively small amount of people. If the orange on the Seder plate took over as a custom among all Jews, with no one remembering when and why it started... then maybe you would be on to something.
 

A Cup Of Tea

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Your orange on the Seder plate example doesn't show how religion works because the practice itself (placing the orange on the plate) is evidently practiced by relatively small amount of people. If the orange on the Seder plate took over as a custom among all Jews, with no one remembering when and why it started... then maybe you would be on to something.

Before everyone does something, a few does it. And given enough time, all things pass into history and then legend.
 

Frrostedman

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Before everyone does something, a few does it. And given enough time, all things pass into history and then legend.

I guess. But as with the orange on the Seder plate... any potential "legend" or major custom that has its first practice within the last century or so, would never have its original author or intent forgotten over time. That's because now we keep archived permanent records on more than just tablets, parchments, and scrolls. And with the advent of the internet, every little mundane detail of every event is recorded... it doesn't take very long to dig up the origin of the practice.

As an aside, I believe the internet at some point in the not so distant future, is going to become a great teacher or an oracle of sorts. All that's got to be done is take all that information and squeeze it into a human form (graphical is ok for now, maybe eventually some kind of bot or cyborg), and folks can get information by asking it questions. This teacher would replace the whole educational system and learning could be a one-on-one experience with every child from their home. The learning curve would get MUCH steeper, wouldn't it. 7 year olds would have the equivalent of a college education.

And then taken much further, I speculate that with the human race getting all its information from 1 source, anyone nation, any person, with the ability to control that information would have unprecedented power.

And finally I think the human race would end up like a "hive mind" where everyone knows everything... via instant, wireless via implant, access to the source.. and everyone thinks and believes exactly the same.
 

A Cup Of Tea

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I guess. But as with the orange on the Seder plate... any potential "legend" or major custom that has its first practice within the last century or so, would never have its original author or intent forgotten over time. That's because now we keep archived permanent records on more than just tablets, parchments, and scrolls. And with the advent of the internet, every little mundane detail of every event is recorded... it doesn't take very long to dig up the origin of the practice.

Don't know that that is true, there were a couple of other stories surrounding the orange, so the problem nowadays is too much information. The more information we have, the harder it will be to find a great deal of it.
 

Frrostedman

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Don't know that that is true, there were a couple of other stories surrounding the orange, so the problem nowadays is too much information. The more information we have, the harder it will be to find a great deal of it.
Why did I go off on that rant about a cyborg Google oracle? Was that me? It all seems like a dream...
 

A Cup Of Tea

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That's this place for you, we all get a peak into each others demented minds.
Na, but I didn't respond to it because we would truly left any connection to the OP, and my view on information is so fundamentally different to yours I would only have been a downer. It was all very interesting though!
 

Marcialou

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We've placed an orange on our Seder plate since the 80s. Back then we said it was in defiance of a time when a rabbi said that women are as appropriate on the bima (pulpit) as an orange on a Seder plate.

We still tell this story but follow it with Heschel's version (presumably the correct one), where the orange symbolizes the marginalization of gays and lesbians in our society. We note how many of our Jewish traditions have likely come to us through a similar folk process.
 

Jayhawker Soule

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We've placed an orange on our Seder plate since the 80s. Back then we said it was in defiance of a time when a rabbi said that women are as appropriate on the bima (pulpit) as an orange on a Seder plate.
Again, that is not the origin of the practice. Please see my first post above.
 

LincolnSpector

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It seems most everyone is agreed on what the orange signifies. Heschel, either directly or indirectly, very likely had something to do with it.

But I don't understand how the practice for some people of placing an orange on the Seder plate has anything to do with how myth works.



??

Ok so the custom of the Seder plate was established. Then later, someone who supports a group of people that they think are unfairly marginalized. The person adds to the custom, an additional practice to show support for that group. Other supporters catch on, and then over time, the additional practice becomes customary among certain people within the entire community.

That doesn't demonstrate how myth or religion work, any more than traditional practices at Fraternity houses or college campuses do, or a secret handshake within a street gang.

Your orange on the Seder plate example doesn't show how religion works because the practice itself (placing the orange on the plate) is evidently practiced by relatively small amount of people. If the orange on the Seder plate took over as a custom among all Jews, with no one remembering when and why it started... then maybe you would be on to something.

The point I was making was about oral history and myth. Within my adult lifetime, this practise was invented, and there's already controversy over who invented it and why.

And the most-often heard versions are generally the best stories, not necessarily the accurate one.
 

Jayhawker Soule

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The point I was making was about oral history and myth. Within my adult lifetime, this practise was invented, and there's already controversy over who invented it and why.

And the most-often heard versions are generally the best stories, not necessarily the accurate one.
And I think it's an instructive point. Also interesting is that the original militancy was confiscated and thereby rendered more palatable to a larger number of people.
 

Marcialou

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Jayhawker,

Re your post #15, I agree that the story I knew in the 80s is not the true one. We tell it at our Seders because it is "traditional" in our family. We then discuss the Heschel version, which we now know to be correct one. We explain that the original (correct) story went through the folk process.
 

Jayhawker Soule

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Jayhawker,

Re your post #15, I agree that the story I knew in the 80s is not the true one. We tell it at our Seders because it is "traditional" in our family. We then discuss the Heschel version, which we now know to be correct one. We explain that the original (correct) story went through the folk process.

Yasher koach! I think that is exceptional.
 
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