Passed Over For An Orange

by admin on April 25, 2011

Since it’s the holidays, I was thinking about something that happened a number of years ago to my mother.

We were living in the UK at the time, and a number of people from the States happened to be passing through during Passover (hee! Puns!). My dad’s oldest friend was joining us, as well as the daughter of one of my mother’s distant cousins, as well as the friend she was traveling with. We had never met this girl before, but my mom loves meeting new family members and always the eager hostess, welcomed everyone with open arms. With my mom, the more people she gets to feed the happier she is. Two days prior to our seder, we received a call from our rabbi, who was desperately trying to help four exchange students from the States. They had absolutely nowhere to go for Passover, and being ex-pats ourselves, thought it would be a real mitzvah to accommodate them. My mom was overjoyed to open her home to these kids.

So it’s the first night of Passover and my mother has somehow managed to manipulate the physical laws of the universe, fitting in my parents, four exchange students, my two brothers, myself, my dad’s friend, my mom’s cousin’s daughter, and my mom’s cousin’s daughter’s friend into our cramped dining room. The exchange students were the nicest people. They thanked my mother profusely for having them, shared stories of their own seders, and were the epitome of good house guests.

My mom’s distant cousin’s daughter was not. Just as my mom was getting ready to start the seder, this girl gets up, disappears for a minute, and returns with an orange, which she proceeded to plop on my mother’s impeccably arranged seder plate (an integral part of the seder which contains items central to the Passover story). She says, “A rabbi once told a woman that women have as much place on the bimah as an orange does on a seder plate, so I’d like to put this here to represent women’s place in Judaism.” My mother, not wanting to make anyone feel uncomfortable, smiled and moved on with the seder. This was particularly reprehensible as this girl came into someone’s home for the purposes of a religious ceremony and butted in with an alteration without even consulting the hostess (it’d be rude even then). I know plenty of other Jews who place an orange at their seder plate, and I think it’s a wonderful tradition, but not when imposing it on your unsuspecting hostess.

Well, we ate and sang until 1am, shared stories, celebrated, and very nearly lapsed into comas from all the food. Needless to say, this girl was officially crossed off the list of people we’d ever be inviting back into our home.   0423-11

{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

Kali April 25, 2011 at 6:22 am

I’ve never had much exposure to Judaism, but what is the place of a woman in Judaism? Is the orange on the seder plate a positive or negative thing? At first, I read it as, it was especially offensive because she’d said something horribly sexist, as well as the other things, but then the person in question describes it as a ‘wonderful tradition’. I’m confused.

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QueenofAllThings April 25, 2011 at 6:57 am

“Needless to say, this girl was officially crossed off the list of people we’d ever be inviting back into our home.”

Really? Really?!? The OP says “I know plenty of other Jews who place an orange at their seder plate, and I think it’s a wonderful tradition” and then condemns her guest to EHell for following the tradition?

How … odd. The young lady is far from home for an important holiday, and is celebrating with virtual strangers, and this is the response she gets for following (what she probably thinks is) tradition? Not gracious at all.

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LeeLee88 April 25, 2011 at 7:26 am

I’m very sorry to be ignorant, but I’m not understanding the orange and the bimah. Was the girl saying that women are ridiculous on the bimah, or that they fit right in? As you can see, I know nothing about that part of Judaism, and what I googled wasn’t very helpful. Could someone please enlighten me? :-)

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Saucygirl April 25, 2011 at 7:30 am

I was really expecting the op to say she began eating the orange, or something along those lines. I just don’t find what she did that rude, and definitely not ban-worthy, especially if she then enjoyed and participated in the Seder until 1 am. I am wondering if the op actually found it more to be rude/disrespectful to “challenge” the rabbi, then to have added to a his moms perfect Seder plate.

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David April 25, 2011 at 7:36 am

Your mother sounds like a wonderful woman. Your distant cousin’s daughter was not.

She wishes to place an orange on the seder plate in her own home during her own celebration? Absolutely fine.

She interrupts the seder at someone else’s home to plop down an orange and make a statement? Rude and showing a lack of respect towards the hostess.

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JS April 25, 2011 at 7:45 am

Given that everyone appeared to have a good time after the “orange incident,” I think your Ban might be a bit harsh. Yes, she should’ve asked first (and I disagree that “excuse me, but there’s a particular Passover tradition that means a great deal to me–do you mind if we include it?” is rude), but her addition was in keeping with the Passover ritual. It’s not like she started stumping for the poor, afflicted Egyptians. If she was a polite guest apart from this misstep, I think you and your family are overreacting a bit.

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Dorothy Bruce April 25, 2011 at 7:52 am

I am not Jewish but spend Passover Night 1 at my friend’s home helping to share Seder. In fact, I helped the family matriarch and took her to the kosher grocery to pick up the meal and get it into the DIL’s house. I’ve been going for a couple of years now and it’s the only time I will ever eat egg salad is at Passover.

I showed more respect of the family religious practice and the Seder than the distant cousin’s daughter did and SHE’S Jewish. I hope your mother had a few words with the father of this girl and it was the right call to permanently cross her off any guest list in future.

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N.R. April 25, 2011 at 8:21 am

If Im understanding this, correctly… you place the orange in the center of the plate, and basically you are saying “A woman belongs on the Bimah”
All political correctedness aside, what if you dont agree with that statement?
From what I can pick up off of Wikipedia, they are basically saying – to “Americanize” this, that a woman should be a Priest, or a Sr. Pastor, of a church. The one delivering the sermon.
There are *alot* of people, who *dont* agree with that standpoint, particularly within the older, more dogmatic circles, and whether you agree with it or not, is not the point. The point, is that it would be *horrifying* to have someone push on you their own pseudo-religious-political agenda, in the midst of such a ceremony.
Im afraid I would have removed the orange from the platter, myself, and using the sites faverate line, looked at her, smiled politly, and in my *best* Bree Hodge voice, said “Im sorry, I cannot accommodate this request”, and put the orange back on her plate.

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Shannon April 25, 2011 at 8:27 am

I’m sorry, but I’m not sure why this is such a big deal. Can someone please explain?

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--Lia April 25, 2011 at 8:37 am

How old was the daughter of your mother’s distant cousin? If she was between 13-19, I’d say her last minute addition, while technically rude, was ordinary rebellion for a girl that age, not even particularly creative. It’s on the order of slipping and using a 4 letter word or contradicting in conversation when it would have been wiser to hold one’s counsel. In other words, a misstep, but something teenagers do during that awkward phase. For someone older, it’s just weird. I’d learned the original as “a woman has as much place studying Torah as an orange on a seder plate,” but when I look up the origin of the line, I see that it’s not attributed to one sarcastic rabbi but seems to have grown as a sort of urban legend. No one knows who first said it or under what circumstances.

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Michelle P April 25, 2011 at 8:48 am

Not being familiar with bimah or the seder tradition, I’m having a hard time understanding what the young woman was trying to say. I agree it was rude to interrupt the dinner and just drop something on the plate of the hostess, but I don’t think it’s the most terrible thing she could have done. I know far worse stories of nightmare guests, and have experienced them myself.

Explanation of the orange and bimah, please OP?

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Michelle P April 25, 2011 at 8:57 am

Okay, looked it up online, and found out where the saying of the orange on the seder plate came from. Not only was the cousin’s friend’s daughter rude, she was mistaken. The statement was taken out of context from a tradition started by Professor Susan Herschel from Dartmouth. The orange is put on seder plates for the last thirty years or so to symbolize equality in Judaism; Herschel meant it to be symbolic of solidary with women, gays, and disabled people in Judaism. Here’s the link:http://eqfl.blogspot.com/2011/04/orange-on-seder-plate.html

Still agree the guest was rude, but not to the very offensive point.

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Jillybean April 25, 2011 at 9:15 am

“…particularly reprehensible…” sounds a little harsh. Seems to me, she was just trying to be involved. If that is all that the did, while misguided, it doesn’t seem to me to be some horrible offense. As you state, it’s a custom (and a nice one at that) that many Jews partake in. Now, had your mother put the orange on the plate and this girl removed it saying she agreed that women had no place on the bimah, now THAT would be particularly reprehensible. Seems like a small offense to cross her off into “never invitng back into your home” category.

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Giles April 25, 2011 at 9:24 am

While a lot of people wouldn’t see this as major, I know my Polish-Jewish mother probably would have invited her back into the kitchen and ripped out a chunk of her hair. Our seder ceremony is very important to us… It’s the same my father’s parents (and their parents before them) performed back in Germany before the Holocaust. We have the same decorations as them; my father buried them deep in their back woods before they were moved to the ghettos and they were miraculously still there when they got out of the camps (my father was alone and in charge of his surviving sister and cousins). Our ceremonies are always a time to not only mourn that but keep the traditions alive despite how much they’d undergone.

I hear you about houses defying physics around the holidays, though. I’m from a family of five kids, and between us all we have eleven kids of our own. Add extended family and it’s like playing Tetris trying to move around!

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Abbie April 25, 2011 at 9:31 am

I comprehend that this was a very rude thing to do. One does not interfere with any hostess’s set up unless there are dire circumstances. However, being ignorant of many Jewish traditions, I’m not sure exactly the level of the offense here. What is the seder plate and/or bimah? Does the orange imply women belong or that women are out of place in the ceremony? I’m really just Jew-curious. Living in the very Baptist south, other traditions and ceremonies (like Catholic mass!) fascinate me. I try to seize every appropriate opportunity to ask respectful questions to learn.

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Lola April 25, 2011 at 9:47 am

Religion is a private and touchy subject. At the same time, when you invite friends and family to a religious celebration, you’re making them part of the event. As such, a little give and take should have room at the table. Yes, the girl was rude not to have consulted the hostess before sharing her ritual — but even according to the OP, the ritual itself was quite common and thus, should not have been a great shock. A little tolerance might have been called for in face of an idealistic but ill-mannered youth (and believe me, I’ve been on both sides in the struggle with idealistic ill-mannered youths).

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Otter April 25, 2011 at 9:53 am

From what I gather, an orange has no place on a Seder plate. A bimah is a raised platform from which the Torah is read. Since she said “a woman on a bimah is like having an orange on a seder plate” I’m assuming neither should be there. So it seems she was saying women have no place being leaders in the temple? Am I right??? Then it was an insult to all the women there.

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JS April 25, 2011 at 9:55 am

@N.R.–”horrifying”? I think that’s a bit much. It’s not horrifying when someone refers to the Lord as exclusively masculine when reading the Haggadah. It’s not horrifying when the Haggadah refers to the liberation of men exclusively. It’s just a version. Maybe not one I agree with, but it’s not “horrifying” to be exposed to an opposing viewpoint. Rude, maybe (see my post above) but let’s reserve words like “horrifying” for actual horrors.

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Jay April 25, 2011 at 9:55 am

Just to be clear..

Once upon a time, someone said that women don’t have a place in Judaism. To make this point, they said that they have as much place as an orange does on a seder plate, which is to say they don’t belong at all. (“Judaism needs women like a fish needs a bicycle,” basically).

Sometimes now, some people put an orange on their seder plate to say, yes, we’ve put this orange here specifically to show that women DO have a place. An added symbol, based on the “non-equality” remark made once in the past.

This girl wanted to add that symbol, and she did so without asking the hostess, in a pretty rude way. Nothing wrong from a religious perspective, but a pretty rude thing to do as a guest. Without the religion aspect, it would be like a guest sitting down to a table with a home-made centerpiece, and then getting up, going outside, picking a few flowers from the host’s garden, and coming back and re-arranging the centerpiece to be more attractive.

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Stephanie April 25, 2011 at 10:08 am

The offense is basically interfering with the hostess’ duties–it doesn’t matter the exact nature of what she did. She could have added an extra pair of candlesticks or a box of fancy Israeli matzo or anything else to the table and the effect would have been the same. I would never think to impose my own tradition or ways of the table setup on someone else’s house. You eat their food and follow along with the way they do things. My senior year of college, I got put up at someone else’s house for a seder and I was so grateful that I had a place to go!

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Typo Tat April 25, 2011 at 10:08 am

While the young woman was definitely out of place, I can understand where she’s coming from. Jewish tradition does often treat women as sub-human. She was doing her feminist thing, and even prepared the orange in advance.

The polite thing to do would be to ask the hostess in advance, instead of imposing!

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Marlene April 25, 2011 at 10:08 am

Hi! OP here!

Our family seders are very special to us; we’ve been doing it exactly the same way for 30+ years (with the same seder plate). For those unfamiliar with Passover, it’s a Jewish holiday in the spring where we celebrate our liberation from Egypt. The seder is sort of an interactive telling of the story of Exodus, and the seder plate contains items vital to that story, such as a bitter herb that reminds us of our slavery, and a shank bone to represent the sacrificial lambs whose blood was used to mark the doors of the Israelites. Placing an orange on the seder plate is meant to say, “Look. Women have just as much a right in Judaism as men do.” (Frankly, if you need any proof that my family fully supports that, just look at my mom; she’s led every seder since she and my father have been married.)

The orange itself isn’t an offensive concept to us. Dropping it down on our seder plate without asking my mom (who is so nice she would have said yes) was rude. Going into a stranger’s house and plopping a political statement onto a seder plate is rude. I left this out of the original email because I didn’t think it had that much bearing on the story, but while the rest of the seder was wonderful, distant cousin’s daughter was just unsociable. Everyone (mom, dad, exchange students) tried to engage her in conversation and all anyone got were monosyllabic answers followed by looks of boredom for the whole evening.

Distant cousin’s daughter was about 28 at the time. And having been to many different seders over the years (Hillel, with friends, at synagogues) all seders are essentially the same. Same story, same components, typically the same foods, same songs…they just have mild variations. So ever seder sort of feels like the one you’re use to, so I don’t think I can rightfully say this woman was trying to make herself feel more at home.

Oh! The bimah is a podium at synagogue. It’s where services are conducted from.

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Enna April 25, 2011 at 10:19 am

It was a bit rude but people have been reported for ruder and more offensive behaviour then this. Like the article on here about the boyfirend’s mother being snooty and rude to the girlfirend and then the boyfirend taking drugs at the parents’ home. Also the hostess who wasn’t aware her husband had invited student relations to stay and locked them out of the house. Not to mention the food server who was judgemental to the lady wit the eatig disorder as well as the saleswoman who said “better late then never” to the married couple who were replacing their rings.

@ Dorothy Bruce: I think it is harsh to cross her off the invitation list. Maybe have a word with the father that it is polite to ask the host about traditions and obtaining persmission before doing them. I think if everyone who did something like this was crossed off inviataion lists then I don’t think anyone would be invited to anything. The OP did say it was a nice tradition. If the girl is young then she needs to learn form her actions – I’m sure if it was explained to her she would be mortified she had done something to upset people. It wasn’t like her actions ruined the evening as everyone else seems to have had a good time.

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Becca April 25, 2011 at 10:36 am

The guest here has bad timing and obviously expresses herself awkwardly. But I honestly I find “pseudo-religious-political agenda” sort of ungenerous. How do you know her intentions were false? Especially considering the orange is part of an established tradition in many households, and solidarity of that kind (especially represented by something as lovely as an orange) isn’t “pseudo” anything, even if it’s a variation on convention.

The story’s happy ending at 1am suggests she’s not a bad guest. If she improves her timing and her sensitivity she’ll probably be a very welcome guest in future.

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AS April 25, 2011 at 10:48 am

I started attending Passover Seder only in the past few years since I started dating a Jewish man. So, I cannot say about the custom. But from my experience, I know that my grandmother would have been extremely upset if someone kept something random in her beautifully decorated items for religious purposes. All though, she might have graciously and happily accepted if the guest told her the reason and asked her permission first.

That said, I know people who are feminists, and believe in trying to establish women’s place in a particular religion. I can empathize with that girl for wanting to do that, especially because she seems to believe in something quite strongly. But it would have been cognizant of her to ask the hosts first before doing something so randomly. (I don’t think asking the host is rude as the OP says, especially if she belongs to the same religion too).

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Josh April 25, 2011 at 11:09 am

I’m trying to think of a Christian analogy for this, and I’m having a hard time coming up with one. Perhaps closests: It’d be like walking up to the altar at a Catholic Easter service and plopping down a statue with a potentially politically charged statement right before the service proper started. The Seder plate’s contents are heavily involved with the religious ceremonies that go on during the meal, and Passover is the second-most-important religious festival in Judaism (right behind the High Holy Days).

Now, granted, there is an orange on my family’s seder plate, because the symbolism of it is awesome (essentially, it’s asserting that everyone of any gender or orientation or ability is welcome to any role in Judaism, in the opinion of the person whose seder plate it is). The rudeness comes from the potential disruption of a religious ceremony to which you’ve been invited. Not knowing exactly what type of Jews the family was, I can’t say further–if the Seder was Orthodox or Hasidic, that gesture may well have been as inflammatory as if you’d place a pro-abortion memento on the Catholic altar mentioned in my first-paragraph analogy.

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Leslie Holman-Anderson April 25, 2011 at 11:17 am

The girl was imposing her liberal feminist ideology on a religious ceremony that was about tradition. The bad manners were not in the ideology, which many people share including yours truly, but in high-handedly imposing it. The time to have brought it up (if at all in a stranger’s home!) was during the after-dinner conversation, and it should have been along the lines of “Lovely seder, Mrs. X! Different from the way we do it at home — so interesting. I wonder what you think of the modern custom of putting an orange on the seder plate to symbolize women’s place in Judaism?”

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Harley Granny April 25, 2011 at 11:30 am

My brother and SIL are Jewish so I know a wee bit about this…..but instead of asking a bunch of questions that I can easily get answers from my friend “Google” I’ll put my 2 cents in.

It is rude to come to a stranger’s (albiet distant relatives’) home and attempt to change their traditions.
It’s not really about the orange…it’s about respecting your hosts.

Hopefully she was young at the time and someone took the time to explain to her exactly what she did wrong.

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Housetrolls April 25, 2011 at 11:52 am

Religious issues and symbolic meaning aside, I still think it was rude. Think of it this way: You host an nice holiday dinner with all the fixings and gather everyone to the table to eat. Suddenly, one guest stands up and leaves the room with no explanation, returning shortly with a bottle of ketchup and plunks it on the table.

Okay, so, the guest wanted ketchup, but is this how s/he should have handled it? No. Slights to your cooking aside, any normal guest would have politely and quietly asked the hostess, preferably before everyone sat down, if it’d be possible to get a bit of ketchup. I can’t speak to the atmosphere in the hostess’s home–maybe things are very informal with everyone welcome to help themselves to food and beverages–but most people are going to be a little miffed. If nothing else, many hostesses would prefer to take care of their guest’s needs rather than making them forage, so the hostess was denied the opportunity to accommodate the girl’s wishes.

To me, the girl was in the wrong on two levels: 1) basic guest etiquette and 2) religious etiquette.

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--Lia April 25, 2011 at 11:56 am

I’m not the original poster, but maybe I can answer the questions. All have struck me as respectful and polite. Thus all deserve answers. As with anything having to do with religion, you can’t expect everyone to agree, but here goes.

Jewish rituals are traditional. Most can agree with what the traditions are. Few can agree with how those traditions can be interpreted or how important it is to follow them exactly. The Passover seder has particularly a lot of traditions. There are traditions having to do with the meal, the setting of the table, the service. Just about everything concerning Passover has a ton of tradition and meaning behind it. One example is the seder plate. The plate itself is likely to be handed down over generations. It’s beautiful and decorative. The symbols on the plate are also ancient traditions, something children learn from the time they’re small. Messing around with those items could be seen by some as something akin to sacrilege. If not that, it would at least be so odd as to get a lot of attention. I’m trying to think of an example from Christian tradition that could make the point, maybe suggesting that the wine and wafer at Mass should be Kool Aid and tofu, something weird and attention getting.

The symbols on a seder plate don’t include an orange. An orange is totally out of place, and anyone who grew up observing Passover would know that. As the story goes, a rabbi was trying to make a point. He was saying that a traditional Jewish woman’s place was in the home, that she shouldn’t be on the altar (bimah) leading prayers, that she shouldn’t study Torah. So he made an absurd analogy. He said that a woman belonged on the bimah the way an orange belonged on a Seder plate. It was like saying that a fish needs a bicycle. To him, women didn’t belong on the bimah.

And thus the backlash. People who thought that women could lead prayers, that women could be on the bimah, and that women could study Torah, made their point by putting an orange on the seder plate. It looked absurd, got attention, and started discussion.

What did the guest do wrong? She essentially told her hostess, in her hostess’s own home, that the hostess, by following thousands of years of tradition, was doing something wrong, that she wasn’t with it or cool. Imagine interrupting the minister in the middle of a service with your own idea on what he should be preaching. Imagine at the last minute bringing out your own meal while announcing that the hostess wasn’t serving the right thing. Imagine being invited over for one sort of entertainment and then putting it down and insisting on something else.

That explains the initial objection. Now having said all that, I agree with those who say that the guest, while wrong, didn’t do anything so horrible as to deserve etiquette hell. That’s especially, if as I said before, she’s a teenager. If everything else she did that evening was alright, she might deserve a 2nd chance. The mother, if she truly objected to the orange, might have said that it would be fine if this guest wanted an orange on the seder plate when she was hosting the seder, but that it wouldn’t remain there on this particular night.

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badkitty April 25, 2011 at 12:03 pm

The most important issue here, that many non-Jews are missing, is that this was not a social gathering; this is a religious ceremony, conducted with a great attention to tradition and solemnity. No guest has any place adding their own views/traditions/preferences to someone else’s religious ceremony. I am not Jewish myself, but I did have atheist friends who attended my son’s christening – they kept their mouths shut, smiled for pictures and ate the cake. They did not crack jokes about my mythical man in the sky, or whine about only the Godfathers (not the Godmothers) being allowed to light the candles, or bring any of their own personal opinions to my religious ceremony. If they had, they would have been cut from my social roster pretty quickly, because I don’t want to spend any of my time with people who have so little respect for the beliefs of others. There is a time and a place for social commentary and frank religious/doctrinal discussions, but it’s not in the middle of the ceremony.

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Kimbubbley April 25, 2011 at 12:07 pm

It’s a pro-feminist symbol, widely accepted by many Jews. However, different families, different traditions…like the OP says, her family sort of doesn’t need the orange on the Seder plate to indicate their acceptance of women’s equality in Judaism since it’s her MOTHER who presides over their Passover feast.

For Christians, it might be akin to bringing a flashlight to Easter Vigil or your own crackers during Communion…if you’re attending a religious ceremony or festival, choose one that fits you or go along with the norms of that to which you’ve been invited and agreed to attend. Don’t foist your own traditions or practices on a crowd that you are not otherwise intimately involved with and who have their own way of doing things.

The orange, itself, is lovely in its symbolism. The guest’s foisting it upon the hostess and subsequent sour-puss attitude is what was not.

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ashley April 25, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Thanks for comeing in and clearing some things up for us Marlene^^. I can understand what the bitter herb and the shank bone were meant to symbolize, but I don’t quite get how the orange of all things symbolizes women xD guess I’ll have to look that one up.

And I agree that interuppting your mom and adding her own statement to the seder plate was rude. Sounds like she meant well by it, but was uninvited to do so, she should of asked first out of respect. Your mom sounds like a very graceful and wonderful lady btw^^.

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loveisintheair April 25, 2011 at 12:37 pm

I would have loved for someone to share a bit of themselves during our holidays (such as the guest with the orange) Rather than being horrified or thinking it rude, I would have thought it was her way of sharing, and I would have enjoyed that cultural exchange.

Can I be the rude one here a bit? Some of these stories can be confusing to me trying to figure out all the relationships and background to the stories. While some of it is certainly necessary to fill out a story, mostly it bogs the story down. In this story, couldn’t the OP simply said this seder was attended by “X” number of relatives, “X” number of exchange students and “X” number of friends without going into the relationship dynamics? It would help me keep the players straight for there to be less , but maybe others enjoy it?

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JackManifesto April 25, 2011 at 12:40 pm

The reason this was so rude was because a seder and all of the objects on a seder plate are traditional- conservative/orthodox, even. Each one has a purpose for the ceremony, and rarely are there extra things on the plate; the fact that this girl put an orange, a political statement which can go against a conservative opinion, on the seder plate without asking really changed the dynamic of the very traditional set up the OP’s mother had already implemented. Yes there are many Jews who do this during their seder, but as previous posters have mentioned, its a very tradition-based practice that some people have taken with them through many generations. To change that, especially last minute, would be considered VERY rude.

Think of it like this; A family is having a family member over for Christmas eve dinner and has a nativity scene in their home. Just before the dinner is started, that family member brings out their own version of the nativity scene/baby Jesus which is of a different race depicted in the host’s nativity scene, because evidence points to Jesus and all of the people involved in the biblical stories surrounding him being middle eastern. They plop their version in with the old version, and state that they were adding it to be politically correct, to reflect that evidence. Now…generally the host family might not have had a problem with this change, and might even like the idea, but the guest didn’t ASK to do so or whether or not the family minded their nativity scene being changed/added to. They simply DID it out of the blue. Perhaps this was an antique porcelain nativity scene passed down through the host’s family for generations and was placed out at a certain time and place through tradition? Certainly, the addition was not overtly ‘rude’, but the effect that it had on the host was the same as if they had somehow insulted their tradition…even if they hadn’t.

Does that make a bit more sense?

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Sarah Jane April 25, 2011 at 12:42 pm

I may get some criticism over this, but I think some people are making some very shallow statements with regard to whether some aspects of the aforementioned religion are offensive to women. There are many religions with gender-specific principles that are accepted by those religions’ followers. If something is a fundamental doctrinal belief of a certain faith (and I’m not saying that is necessarily the case here), it’s not really our place on e-he’ll to judge that. I think the question is whether she breached etiquette in the context of this religious observance.

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Chocobo April 25, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Someone else’s home is never the right place to make a political statement. For those who need a a Christian analogy: imagine if once someone said “Women belong on the altar like Orange Juice belongs in the wine cup”, for those Christian sects who may perform communion ceremonies with wine and bread (usually done with grape juice or wine). Then, at your next communion mass, a visiting parishioner declares to the congregation that because women DO belong on the altar, they’re changing the contents wine cup to have orange juice, as a statement.

That’s basically what this woman did. She took a holy ceremony with meaning and ritual for the participants, in someone else’s home, and made it into a political statement without consent. Regardless of how I might agree with progressive views of women and religion, it’s not appropriate to shove your opinions in someone else’s face in their home, as their guest.

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Miss Raven April 25, 2011 at 1:11 pm

My family is reform (very, very reform) and we don’t have an orange on our seder plate. I wouldn’t necessarily be against it, especially what it represents, but we just don’t choose that particular time to make a statement about equality in Judaism. We make that statement every day. Our synagogue welcomes women and the gay community, and all Bat Mitzvahs are encouraged to read their torah portion, not just their haftorah. We have a very active and open Sisterhood.

The problem as I see it is essentially bringing up politics during dinner. Not everyone in my extended family is reform. The older generation tend towards conservative, with a few orthodox branches. It’s the same in a lot of modern Jewish families. Even if some of my more religious relatives agree with the sentiment of the orange, plopping it down on the seder plate with no forewarning in order to make a political statement would have ruffled their feathers something awful. In an orthodox household, I can’t even imagine the response but just thinking about doing something like that there is making my stomach churn.

The seder plate is steeped in tradition and symbology. It’s not SACRED, but it serves an important purpose in the ritual meal that is the seder. OP’s cousin was taking a risk (an unnecessary one, at that) that none of her hosts would take offense to her citrusy protest. I think it was quite tacky and immature.

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Abbie April 25, 2011 at 1:17 pm

@ marlene- Thank you so much for the clarification and explanation of your traditions! I absolutely live for chances to learn more about different spiritual paths! It is really unfortunate the guest did not try to talk to your mother BEFORE the event. She missed out on a chance to talk a woman of her faith of a different generation. Simply asking if the orange could be added before starting things could have opened up a wonderful dialogue about the chances in your faith in relation to genders in the past few decades. She might have learned that while “women’s lib” seems like a new concept, in many families women have quietly been “the boss” for generations. Perhaps she and your mother could have both learned new traditions and bonded as women of the same faith.

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R April 25, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Not being Jewish I didn’t quite get it but now I think I understand why this would be so offensive. I had to relate it to something I’m familiar with.

Being Catholic every year during the Christmas season my family has a tradition of lighting an advent wreath every Sunday before dinner for the weeks leading up until Christmas. This would be similar to my mom inviting someone over for Sunday dinner where we light the candle, and then loudly proclaiming that women should be in the priesthood and very symbolically modifying our advent wreath. Now my mom would probably agree with that statement, but as an invited guest you don’t modify someone else religious tradition…period!

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Wink-n-Smile April 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Don’t the women light the candles to start off each Sabbath dinner, and Seder, as well? I’d say that’s important just there, and there are many other things women do, as well.

Ruth and Esther and Deborah and Hagar – all of these are important women in Jewish tradition. And I’m not even Jewish!

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Wink-n-Smile April 25, 2011 at 1:36 pm

As I understand it, basically the girl, without asking permission, injected her own beliefs into your parent’s Seder. It’s a lovely tradition IF it’s the tradition in that home. And yes, it is meant for solidarity and equality with women, gays, etc. But what about the host’s beliefs? What if they are not politically correct and progressive, and in fact, hold with the traditional gender roles and male/female marriage? In that case, the orange on the seder plate would be horribly offensive to them.

A lot of people can be tolerant during the rest of the year, but take their religious ceremonies VERY seriously, and for a guest to meddle with those religious ceremonies, and inject meaning with which the hosts do not agree, is very rude, indeed.

If she had asked, first, they probably would have told her, no.

As for “I’ve seen it on other tables, and it’s a lovely tradition, ” well the OP acknowleges that it is lovely for THOSE people. However, her parents were in charge of this particular seder, and their ways rule.

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DGS April 25, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Other Jewish posters have already explained the significance of various Passover traditions, so I won’t restate what others have already summed up so eloquently, but regarding the breach of etiquette, it was in fact, very rude. Regardless of one’s personal feelings about various aspects of one’s religious observance (my husband and I, for instance, are more progressive than other members of our families), one does not come into someone else’s house and dictate how they should perform a particular religious ceremony. It is simply rude. Their house, their rules.

My Stepbrother and his family are Orthodox Jews, while my husband and I are much more progressive (we identify as Conservative, not Reform, but are a pretty liberal Conservative). In our congregation, men and women sit together. However, when we visit my Stepbrother and his family for various family functions, I sit with the women in the women’s section, and my husband sits with the men in the men’s section. While it is not something we would choose to do on our own, when we are in someone else’s space, we follow their rules as a gesture of basic respect. The young woman who put the orange on someone else’s seder plate disrespected the gracious hostess who invited her for Seder.

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David April 25, 2011 at 3:31 pm

The setting of the orange set my teeth on edge, not for what it means or doesn’t mean, because of the disrespect to the hostess.

Things that would be similar (as far as I am concerned);

Interrupting grace at the table to state; “I never say amen, so end grace with ‘uff da’ please.”
Interrupting carving the turkey in order to salt the broccoli.
Taking food from random plates and replacing it with the centerpiece.
Complaining about the fact that it’s chicken instead of salmon, and dang it, there are no strawberries for the cheesecake.

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SV April 25, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I think that the problem lies in the fact that this was a celebration in the OP’s family home, not in the guest’s family home. The OP’s mother had put thought and work into the details of the seder and for the girl to impose her own ideas or beliefs upon that was exceptionally rude. When you are a guest in someone else’s home it is simply inappropriate to change what your hostess has planned without asking first, whether it happens to involve a religious ceremony or anything else.

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Tanz April 25, 2011 at 3:37 pm

One thing I’ve never understood – and it’s at the base of my atheism – is why pushing for equal inclusion (*especially* of the sexes) in religion is seen as ‘political’ or rude. While I agree the woman in question made her statement in a confrontational way I still can’t fault her for either her stance/viewpoint (if she was pushing for inclusion, which is how I read it) or the fact she did it at all. I do think her method was faulty but if she had simply and quietly popped an orange on her plate I would not have said she was rude at all.

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Marlene April 25, 2011 at 3:38 pm

To everyone: I’m sorry I didn’t offer more clarifications when writing the original story. I started to, but then thought I was adding *too* many details and ended up leaving important context out. :-P

Yeah, my family is very, veeeeery Reform. Our ruffled feathers had nothing to do with the symbolism of the orange (when I start hosting my own seders I think I will put one on the table, but not necessarily the seder plate. I want mine to be just like my mothers. (: ). @Kimbubbley, you hit the nail on the head. Having always been members of Reform congregations where gender equality (or GLBT equality) has never been an issue, and because my mom’s always been the spiritual head of the house, we don’t really need an orange.

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amyg April 25, 2011 at 3:44 pm

It is true that some seders are extremely political. Many American versions of the Haggadah, the prayer book, make reference to modern struggles for freedom. I’ve also been to an extremely feminist seder where there were a lot of references to the feminine aspects of God and we let in Miriam (Moses’ sister) instead of Elijah. I’d never even heard of the orange thing until after my sister was married; her mother-in-law had instituted that as a tradition. But in all those cases, it was up to the hosts to determine how political and religiously observant the seder was; and it was up to me to accept those traditions graciously. Don’t incorporate your own traditions without asking first.

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WrenskiBaby April 25, 2011 at 3:51 pm

I would like to offer my thanks to everyone who is posting about this topic. I have learned a lot today.

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Rug Pilot April 25, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Seder means order, and the “service” is just that, a prescribed order of doing things. Although there are many Seder books with variations of the service in them (The 30 Minute Haggadah, Chase & Sanborn Haggadah, etc.). The ritual and meal are not just a party or dinner at someone’s home. Popping the orange on the Seder plate is equivalent to interrupting a wedding with ones own practices just because one’s own people do it that way. If the family were Orthodox, they would have been appalled. If they were Conservative, they would have been offended. If they were Reform, they could very well have an orange on the Seder plate already.

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