Saturday, April 19, 2008

MinHaggadah - Passover Shopping

I told my daughter that I was going to buy some holiday groceries. She asked me what I was going to get. I already had apples, but we still needed the horseradish and more eggs. There was also the matter of the matzah.

"Don't we also need to get an orange?"

"If you say that we need an orange, then I will get an orange."

"But don't we NEED an orange."

"If an orange is part of your minhag, then we should have one."

She tried the phrase "supposed to" on me, but that didn't specifically apply either.

So, about the orange:

The seder plate includes five symbolic foods, although the seder is based around three symbolic foods including the unleavened bread which is not even one of the five on the plate. A Venn diagram might be useful here. Israeli seder plates include a space for a fresh green in addition to the mild parsley and the bitter horseradish. This is usually lettuce, and my haggadah does not mention any symbolism for it. An orange is not among the five.

There is a very modern story, probably originating in our lifetimes, and in my opinion, like an earlier one about George Washington and the cherry tree, quite likely after the fact, about the passover orange. Today there are many female rabbis, but this is a phenomenon of the last half century. Before that, rabbis were all male. Orthodox synagogues still do not have any women in rabbinical roles. Since those guys say that they are doing everything correctly, and all else is inauthentic imitation, adherents would be of the opinion that there STILL are no women rabbis.

We could get into many advantages and disadvantages of an all-male clergy. I like the idea that it gives men something to do. Hanging out with their rabbi and discussing a Jewish equivalent of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin provides camaraderie and defrays boredom. This can contribute to a congenial home life. When women are discouraged from this esoteric knowledge, some of them desire inclusion. For example, if I were more informed, I might understand the significance of the not-so-bitter Israeli lettuce. There is also an increasing trend of clerical authoritarianism, I see that as the real issue in this citrus conversation. When both sexes are involved in a process, that egalitarianism is transmitted to those they serve. That would be the congregations.

Returning to the orange:

Once upon a time, not too long ago, a young woman asked her rabbi if she could also become a rabbi when she grew up. He responded: "When women can be rabbis, there will be an orange on the seder plate." Since that time, oranges have shoe-horned their way onto crowded holiday tables.

The haggadah doesn't say anything directly about why an egg is included either, only that you need one. Tradition has always been an evolving fusion.

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