A grandmother with daughters speaks up. “Before someone young asks the four questions I have a question. Why is there an orange on our Seder plate?”
A woman answers. “In our own day as in the ancient days of our tradition, events become stories; stories are woven with legends, and the resulting Midrash leads to new teachings. So it is with the orange on the Seder plate. At first some women who were angry because they were not treated equally in Orthodox Jewish law wanted to protest by putting a crust of bread on the Seder plate.
Other women, not willing to either bow down to tradition, or break one of its most ancient rules, decided to place on the Seder plate not bread but an orange – this is a traditional, reform transformation, not a radical transgression. Now for the first time, women are sharing equally with men.
Why an orange? An orange, like every female, carries within itself the seeds of its own rebirth. In our generation, the Jewish people is again giving birth to itself. For the first time, women are sharing equally with men. For the first time in 16 centuries, thousands of non-Jews ( mostly female ) are entering the Jewish community every year, and contributing their own new vitality to our ancient people. So for the first time we bring to our Seder plate a fruit that carries, within itself, the seeds of its own rebirth.
Then another woman with granddaughters or daughters asks, “Why is the Haggadah silent about the egg on the Seder plate?”
A man replies: Our sages commemorated the everyday sacrifices of our mothers and our wives when they added an egg to the Seder plate. Through loving deeds of quiet devotion Jewish women enabled the Jewish people to survive. Rabbi Avira taught: “Israel was delivered from Egypt as a reward for the righteous women who lived in that generation.” (Talmud Sotah 11b)
In addition those same Jewish woman had so much trust and hope in the redemption of the Jewish People; that they packed tambourines for the dance of celebration they believed would occur when they had escaped from Egyptian bondage.
Our generation speaks out to explain the egg this way because in our generation, the Jewish people is again giving birth to itself. After centuries of silent sacrifice Jewish women’s voices are now being heard. We look forward to sharing equally with them for we know Jewish women will contribute more and more in future generations.
An Ashkenazi man asks: What important lesson can we learn from the Seder table of Sephardic Jews, who eat rice and legumes during Pesach. These foods were first forbidden in the 12th century by some Ashkenazi rabbis who thought ‘stricter is better’. Although other rabbis opposed this extra strict precaution, the custom became widespread in Europe by the 16th century.
In the early 19th century the Reform movement (and just recently the Conservative movement in Israel) trimmed back these additional restrictions to teach us not to be constrained or enthralled by the power of the machmeer — the one who thinks ‘stricter is better’.