Sisterhood Blog

Of Oranges and Coffee Beans: Feminist Seder Rituals Decoded

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Come seder night, Jews the world over will be sharing age-old traditions, like drinking four cups of wine and hiding the afikoman. But at what seems like a growing number of seder tables, the old traditions are being joined by newer ones which reflect the lives and voices of women.

Perhaps the best-known new tradition adds an orange to the seder plate.

Many have heard the apparently apocryphal explanation that the orange was added as a protest response to a rabbi who said that “a woman belongs on the bima like an orange belongs on a seder plate.” In actuality, the ritual was started was started by Susannah Heschel — the daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and herself a professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth. She is said to be inspired by women at Oberlin College in 1984, who made space on their seder plate to represent all who were not explicitly present in the Passover story; for Heschel, the orange represented solidarity with women and homosexuals. This article on RitualWell is by Deborah Eisehnbach-Budner and Alex Borns-Weil, two of the women who were there and “made the space” for a potent symbol on the seder plate.

There’s a Facebook group devoted to “Oranges on Your Seder Plates,” and even one devoted just to fans of Susannah Heschel.

It doesn’t stop at oranges.

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