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.”
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.
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
Cilly Kugelmann (2013), „Go down Moses“ and an Orange on the Seder Plate. About Actualizations and Re-Interpretations of the Passover Story.
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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
The Big Clean-Up
Dana Akrish on Passover in Jerusalem
A Kind of Family Gathering
Bitter Herbs and Their Relatives in the Diaspora Garden
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
“Go down Moses” and an Orange on the Seder Plate
Cilly Kugelmann on old and new customs for Passover
The Long Night of Tikkun
Mirjam Wenzel and Avner Ofrath about what we can learn from loving women
New Customs for the New Year
Shlomit Tripp about tashlikh boats and petals on the water
Kol Nidre and the “Civil Improvement of the Jews”
Haim Mahlev on controversies throughout the ages
Apples in Honey and Gefilte Fish
Museum employees share their personal experiences of the High Holidays
Avner Ofrath on Yom Kippur in Israel
Naomi Lubrich on candy as a tricky matter for synagogues on Simhat Torah
Hanukkah Lasts Eight Days...
and for each day, we’ve got a little treat for you here (including some information about Chrismukkah)
“8 Facts” about Hanukkah
David Studniberg on the Jewish Feast of Dedication
“If I were a rich mouse ...”
Michal Friedlander on Mickey, Minnie and their Hanukkah message
In the Sleeping Car with Ten Hand-puppets and a Travel Hanukkah Candelabrum
Shlomit Tripp on her Hanukkah with the bubales family
Menurkeys for Thanksgivukkah?
Food for thought and recipes by Signe Rossbach
Tu bi-Shevat Traditions in Israel
Avner Ofrath on trees, fruit, and a breath of New Age
“Clever Esther” – Not Suitable for Children?!
Shlomit Tripp reports about her child-oriented retelling of the Esther story
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.