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Seder Plate


plate decorated as a house

One shank bone, one roasted egg, one tablespoon of fruit paste, one horseradish root, one leaf of romaine lettuce, and one large sprig of parsley. This may sound like a list of ingredients for an unsuccessful experimental soup, but these are the symbolic foods (give or take the regional variations) discussed at length during the ritual seder meal, held during the Jewish holiday of Passover. Passover is a spring festival commemorating the liberation of the ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. At the seder meal, each symbolic food has a designated place on the seder plate and becomes a focal point during the evening, acting as an impetus for discussion.

 This contemporary seder plate has an additional recess for an orange, marking a new custom which has found growing popularity in the last decades. The origin of the orange on the seder plate is unknown, but it seems that Susannah Heschel, a leading Jewish feminist scholar, was the first to pass a tangerine around her seder table. The seeds of homophobia were then spat out in solidarity with homosexuals. The inclusion of a tasty citrus fruit expressed the rich contributions of homosexuals and women to Judaism, as well as their historical exclusion.

The custom took off—minus the spitting—particularly in feminist circles. As with all the symbolic Passover foods, the orange is open to personal interpretation, but it has generally come to represent those who have been marginalized in society in the past and the continuing struggle for equality today.

Object details:
Seder Plate
Harriete Estel Berman (b. 1952)
San Mateo, California, U.S.A., 2003
Painted tin, aluminum, Plexiglas, gold, silver, brass
5.3 x 27.9 x 59.7 cm

Background:

A Jewish woman during ritual cleansing, illustration from a prayer book, Germany 1427-1428
© Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek »Carl von Ossietzky«, Hamburg

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