Skip to main content

The Jewish Museum Berlin, its library, its archive, the museum shop, and café will remain closed due to coronavirus restrictions.

Seder Plate by Harriete Estel Berman, USA 2003; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

„Go down Moses“ and an Orange on the Seder Plate

About Actualizations and Re-Interpretations of the Passover Story

Passover is not only a feast day evoking an historic event through a ritualized form of remembrance. It also appeals to reenact the exodus out of Egypt and envision divine mercy, freeing us from bondage and disenfranchisement. Like many Jewish holidays the original biblical Passover story has been and still is seen in relation to other historical events.

Re-Interpretation of the Biblical Passover Story

The Egypt of the Exodus story turned into Ukraine and Belarus in the 17th century, when the Cossack chief Bogdan Chmielnicki allowed many hundreds of thousands of Jews to be murdered over the course of his struggle to liberate Poland. In the 20th century, Germany under the Nazi regime became the country to flee.

The Seder as a Framework

Through its culinarily-underscored recitation and discussion of the narrative, the seder provides a framework for each new re-interpretation. This appears primarily at the dinner: even while the symbolic dishes are determined by the Passover Haggadah, the other foods vary according to geography and the cultural conventions of the place where the celebration is taking place.

There are especially numerous recipes for the “mortar,” the charoset, which resembles in color and texture the cementing agent used to build houses.

New Musical Tradition

The Passover story’s current mise-en-scène is also reflected in the music: the American civil rights movement and the student protests of the 1960s and 70s enriched the seder with a Jewish liberation theology, thus founding a new musical tradition in the USA.

Once the traditional seder songs are sung, songs like “Echad Mi Yodea” and the cumulative song “Chad Gadya” about the one little goat father bought, spirituals take their turn, particularly the favorite, “Go Down, Moses.”

Seder Plate by Harriete Estel Berman, U.S.A., 2003; Jewish Museum Berlin photo: Jens Ziehe. Further information on this object can be found in our online collections (in German)

Chad Gadja, artist: A. Reschel, manufacturer: Lewin-Epstein Brothers and Associates, Poland 1929; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe. Further information on this object can be found in our online collections (in German)

In current editions of the Passover Haggadah there are also new interpretations of the Passover story, contributed by Jewish refuseniks who were denied the possibility to emigrate from the Soviet Union, feminists in the USA, and people from other social movements.

The Orange on the Seder Plate

Twenty years ago Susannah Heschel, professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College, added an orange to the seder. At that time lesbian women wanted to put a piece of bread on the seder plate to protest their discrimination within orthodox Judaism. With this gesture they would integrate the leavened bread that is usually banned from Jewish households for the duration of the Passover feast.

Reacting to the threatened sacrilege, Susannah offered a conciliatory suggestion and introduced the idea of an orange which – as she recently re-emphasized – is meant to recognize the fruitful contributions of homosexuals to Jewish tradition.

Jaffa orange crate, Israel; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

An orange doesn’t belong on the traditional Seder plate, but neither is it forbidden for law-abiding Jews: all would be able to gather around such a plate. Thus since that time, the orange has stood for the recognition of diversity among Jews celebrating Passover.

Cilly Kugelmann, former programme director and chief curator of the permanent exhibition of the JMB

Susannah Heschel about the orange

Forward article “An Orange on Plate for Women — And Spit Out Seeds of Hate”, 2013
More on forward.com

Citation recommendation:

Cilly Kugelmann (2013), „Go down Moses“ and an Orange on the Seder Plate. About Actualizations and Re-Interpretations of the Passover Story.
URL: www.jmberlin.de/en/node/7803

Share, Newsletter, Feedback

Holidays: Old Rituals, New Customs (19)

Old Rituals, New Customs

Museum employees talk about traditions on Jewish holidays.

Across Mannheim in the Matzo-Mobile

David Studniberg about the great feeling to support others during the corona crisis

Report
Apr 2020

The Big Clean-Up

Dana Akrish on Passover in Jerusalem

Essay
Mar 2018

A yellow clay plate with traditional Passover herbs

A Kind of Family Gathering

Bitter Herbs and Their Relatives in the Diaspora Garden

Essay
2017

Cover of a Hebrew-German edition of the Haggadah with handwritten entries on the inside flaps

A Small Window onto History

Aubrey Pomerance, Head of Archives, on a newly acquired Passover Haggadah and its previous owners in Kreuzberg

Behind the Scenes
2014/2016

“Go down Moses” and an Orange on the Seder Plate

Cilly Kugelmann on old and new customs for Passover

Essay
2013

The Long Night of Tikkun

Mirjam Wenzel and Avner Ofrath about what we can learn from loving women

Essay
May 2013

New Customs for the New Year

Shlomit Tripp about tashlikh boats and petals on the water

Essay
2012

Picture of scholars with books discussing with each other

Kol Nidre and the “Civil Improvement of the Jews”

Haim Mahlev on controversies throughout the ages

Essay
2015

Apples in Honey and Gefilte Fish

Museum employees share their personal experiences of the High Holidays

Interview
2013

Cycling Holiday

Avner Ofrath on Yom Kippur in Israel

Gloss
2012

Jewish Halloween

Naomi Lubrich on candy as a tricky matter for synagogues on Simhat Torah

Gloss
2012

Hand-painted colorful candelabrum made of ceramic and synthetic resin depicting various New York City landmarks: the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the World Trade Center, Broadway, and others.

Hanukkah Lasts Eight Days...

and for each day, we’ve got a little treat for you here (including some information about Chrismukkah)

Online Feature
2017/20

“8 Facts” about Hanukkah

David Studniberg on the Jewish Feast of Dedication

Essay
2016

“If I were a rich mouse ...”

Michal Friedlander on Mickey, Minnie and their Hanukkah message

Essay
2015

In the Sleeping Car with Ten Hand-puppets and a Travel Hanukkah Candelabrum

Shlomit Tripp on her Hanukkah with the bubales family

Essay
2015

Menurkeys for Thanksgivukkah?

Food for thought and recipes by Signe Rossbach

Essay
2013

Tu bi-Shevat Traditions in Israel

Avner Ofrath on trees, fruit, and a breath of New Age

Essay
2013

“Clever Esther” – Not Suitable for Children?!

Shlomit Tripp reports about her child-oriented retelling of the Esther story

Essay
2015

Quite “best practice”

Tom Chai Sosnik celebrated his coming out as transgender in spring 2015 with remarkable aplomb – in a ceremony performed by Rabbi Tsipi Gabai at a Jewish school in California, supported by his family.

Essay
2017