Sunday, April 27, 2014

Bread on the Seder Plate?

Life in Israel has a link to an interesting interview with MK Ruth Calderon or Yesh Atid.

Ms Calderon is an interesting person with a strong connection to Judaism and Jewish sources. She made a name for herself in her maiden address to the Knesset when she gave a Talmud Class which showed her familiarity and respect for Jewish scholarship.

In the video, the guests on the talk show are discussing how they conduct a seder. Not surprisingly, Ms Calderon said that she has several haggadot that she uses during the seder and analyzes the text, however she also said that she has an Orange and often a piece of bread on the seder plate.

An orange on the Seder plate has long been a symbol of Jewish Feminism. She expended it to refer to support for single-sex families. I'm not sure why people think that the seder is the correct opportunity to promote the political cause of the week; there are "green Haggadot", "feminist Haggadot", "Pro-Plaestinian Haggadot", "Jews-for-Jesus Haggadot". You name the political or social cause, there is a haggada to make that the emphasis of the seder.
Many of these are important causes, but I never understood why we have to take a 3000 year old ceremony filled with meaning, and make it a ceremony about a different cause. If you want to make a ceremony to protest global warming - fine, an excellent idea - but if the only way you can do it is by hitching a ride on one the most powerful ceremonies held in Jewish households all over the world, you are cheapening both ceremonies.
The seder is filled with powerful themes such as liberty, nationhood, connection to family and Jewish tradition and Jewish history, and connection to the G-d who took us out of Egypt. If these themes don't speak to you, making the ceremony about a different unrelated social cause is insulting to both the seder, and to the social cause.

What was more worrying about Ms Calderon's seder is she said that she said that she includes bread on the Seder Plate to remind the participants of all those who are hungry and don't have food. What is upsetting about this, besides the obvious halachic problems, is that one of the themes of the Seder and Matza itself is "Bread of Affliction" - all those who are hungry are invited to join the Seder. One of the important preparations of Pessach is "Kimcha D'Pesscha" - providing food for the needy to make sure that no one is hungry on Seder night.
Instead of emphasizing these points that are already explicitly in the Haggada and Jewish practice, Ms Calderon decided to invent a new practice that is deliberately against traditional Jewish practice. There is a lack of humility in the statement that even though we have a tradition that has been handed down for 3000 years, and was filled with meaning to Jewish families throughout history and in all corners of our exile, yet she can rewrite it to make it better, not by adding a commentary or discussion to thy existing scholarship, but by openly defying the tradition. I would have expected more respect from for someone with so much knowledge and understanding of Jewish tradition and scholarship.


Rabbi Sedley said...

The haggada as we have it is certainly less than 1800 years old. We know that Rav and Shmuel discussed the correct meaning of 'disgrace' and 'praise'. The Israelites in the desert (probably) did not have the discussion of the Rabbis of Bnei Brak. And I think actually Avraham Burg made this point. He felt that a haggada written under Roman persecution is no longer relevant to the age in which we live.
However, I completely agree with you that even if the haggada that we have is only a few hundred years old (it is certainly more than that), to hijack it for some other purpose cheapens both. And to do so by blatantly discarding the halakha is even more disappointing.
I had been very impressed by Ruth Calderon, from the time I first heard about her, with this current knesset. However, sometimes, with a single action, a person can lose all of their merits (like Rabbi Yochanan Cohen Gadol). I'll leave it for G-d to decide who is right and wrong, but unfortunately, with this one interview, I have lost all my respect and admiration for Ruth Calderon and everything that she is doing.
I still hope that there is someone else out there doing what I had thought she was doing. I would love it if there was more Torah/Talmud knowledge and learning amongst non-religious Jews. I don't care whether it makes them more religious or not. But if the learning is in order to discard Judaism, and destroy the little that we have, then it is not for me.

Michael Sedley said...

The Haggadah as we have it may be less than 1800 years old (but even if it is olnly 1000+ years old that is still pretty impressive), however central parts of the Seder (Pessach, Matza, Marror, and possibly Maxwell House), however, as you said, an Orange, Bread, feminism, gay rights, and other modern causes and ritual were never part of the ceremony.

I think that even with the innovations of the Haggada in Talmudic times, the Seder may be one of the few Jewish rituals that our ancestors from biblical times would recognize at least in some form. Even if the Matza and Marror today are different from what they would be familiar with, they would have had a family meal that included a bread made from flour and water together with a bitter vegetable while talking about the exodus from Egypt. Almost every other ritual (especially things like Tfilla) are either "new" or so different from biblical practice that they would be totally unrecognizable - but that is a topic for a separate blog.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Some people put apple into the charoset because of the midrash reference to the apples trees in Egypt under which so many Jewish children were conceived.

The joke about the orange is that "tapuach" in the Bible refers to oranges, not apples. It was under orange trees, not apple trees that the holoy nookie occured. As a result those people putting oranges on their seder plate are actually being more accurate despite their attempts to be avante garde.

People were all excited when Ruth Calderon spoke about the Talmud in the Knesset but if you read her speech you could see that she only has an academic love for the book the way a physicist might wax eloquently about Einstein and relativity. With no real connection to Judaism is it any wonder she invents her own rituals to fill the evening?

Michael Sedley said...

Thanks Garnel - I'd never heard that before about Orange being the original "Tapuach: - I always thought that "Tapuach" referred to some generic unidentified fruit - however it does change the whole meaning of the Apple on the Seder Plate

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Another thought: if she has bread on the plate to symbolize hunger, then what does she think "ha lachma ania" means?