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Alternative Jewish Ritual Toolkits

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Alternative Jewish Holiday Toolkits

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One of my long-term goals is providing resources that seem necessary. In the case of alternative Jewish rituals, this is important to me, both for the sake of presenting alternatives to ways of prayer that may not seem appropriate today, and in presenting the Hebrew necessary for continuity with tradition. It has been a slow process. Time is seldom available, and the list of documents grows slowly. In the meantime, there is a whole "Open Source Judaism" movement that covers everything from software to fonts to collections of Hebrew and Yiddish writing, to tools for making your own Haggadah. Here are a couple of significant sites:

  • Ritual Well—a really nice source for thoughtful re-imaginings of Jewish prayers, as well as additions for prayers that should be in the siddur, but are not yet there (or not yet there in all siddurim).
  • Sefaria—the most wonderful collection of Jewish texts from Talmud to Tanakh to historical texts, to prayers and Mussar materials.
  •—neat tools for building your own Haggadah by yourself, or as part of a group. Someone showed me this site at a Haggadah swap at our synagogue in 2023.
  • Kolture—An interesting and brand new (2023 launch, just before Pesakh) interactive Jewish Culture site

These are the toolkits and resources that I have created, and that are available from this site. Enjoy!

I have long felt that the Kaddish has a rhythm to it that matters. In creating a pdf, I focused on supporting that rhythm and making it easier for folks who aren't as familiar with the Aramaic to follow. This version follows the Reconstructionist wording that my synagogue uses.

Every year we walk into the sukkah with our lulav and esrog (or etrog, for non-Ashkenazi peoples) and go, 'so, nu, now that we've finished the honeycake, what now?' Finally, I compiled a few of the basic blessings that go with fulfilling the mitzvah of sitting in the Sukkah. If you put this on the East side of your Sukkah ("Mizrakh" being Hebrew for "east"), you'll also be properly aligned to follow the instructions for "benching" (or davenning, or praying) with the lulav and esrog. Now, if it just stops raining, all will be well. Like all recent toolkits, this was composed using Unicode, so feel free to cut and paste Hebrew or English from the PDF using the editing tool of your choice if you'd like to create variants.

There is also a bare-bones Hanuka Toolkit with traditional and non-traditional Hebrew of the basic three blessings for lighting the candles. I held this one off for years, always meaning to at least add "Ha-nerot halalu" and "maoz tzur." Maybe with version 2?

The first toolkit ever, is this Tu B'Shvat Seder. The original text was based on a seder created by a friend many years ago. At the time I created the toolkit, finding Tu B'Shvat seder texts was difficult. I hope this is a good place to start. Version 1.2 was uploaded on 1/20/98.

I still haven't managed to do well by my Passover Hagaddah, developed by friends and me in New Jewish Agenda. It is still mostly in ASCII form. The text hasn't changed substantially in decades (other than the names of the struggles we mention at the end)—I never made the transition from creating this by cut and paste paper to a digital format, so it remains frozen. Still, this feels good as a Jewish, leftist telling of the story. Please feel free to use bits in your own seders (and let me know of your own online hagadahs). For Passover 5765 (2005) I reworked the little Hebrew into Unicode that there is so that it should be possible to cut and paste into a Hebrew-savvy, Unicode-compliant word processor. This is version 0.2, which tells you how complete I feel the Hebrew is.

But wait, there's more! Why do we put an orange on our seder plates? This one-page PDF (100K) provides some of the answers, last updated for Pesach 5761. For some of the steps along coming up with this definitive version, see correspondence with a friend back in 1998. (For some, we now also put a tomato on our seder plates in the 2020s, to remember the struggle of Immokalee workers for fair wages and working conditions).

Did Pat and I feel that we had the definitive version back then? How silly. My friend, Abbe Don, who is also one of the world's best storytellers (among many talents), posted this summary, this year (1999) on the WELL, whose Jewish discussion area I co-founded, and is the oldest, moderated Jewish community on the internet (but not nearly so old as, say, soc.culture.jewish, which is not moderated). I have added reference info for the books she cites, so you can follow up further:

jewish.642.47: mystical matzo ball moment (abbe) Thu 25 Mar 99 07:02

The book Like Bread on the Seder Plate by Rabbi Rebecca Alpert (PB, 224 pp, 1998, Columbia Univ Press; ISBN: 0231096615 link to documents the "urban legend" of bread and oranges on the seder plate very thoroughly. It's quite interesting to read how this evolved. (Note: the full title of the book is: "Like Bread on the Seder Plate: Jewish Lesbians and the Transformation of Tradition.")

Here's a synopsis of the evolution of this story, according to Alpert, from pages 1-3: In 1979, a Jewish Women's Group at UC Berkeley Hillel invited Hilda Langer, the rebbitzin from the campus Habad House, to speak on the subject of "Women and Halakha." When asked her opinion about the place of lesbians in Judaism, she treated the issue as a minor matter, suggesting it was a small transgression, like eating bread during Passover.

Later that spring, as some members of the Berkeley group were planning a seder, Langer's comment surfaced. They felt it didn't match their reality and that lesbianism was much more problematic and "transgressive" in a Jewish context than Langers' comment sugested. So, they chose that year not simply to eat bread during Passover but to place a crust of bread on the seder plate in solidarity with lesbians who were trying to find a place in Jewish life.

Early 1980s: The idea of "crust of bread on the seder plate" is a midrash that becomes incorporated into Jewish lesbian haggadot around the US. The drash becomes, the "Febrente Rebbe" declared "there is as much place for lesbians in Judaism as for leavened bread on the seder table."

Some Jewish feminists didn't feel comfortable with the symbolism of bread on the seder plate, so they substituted an orange to symbolize lesbians and later gay men in Judaism.

But over the years, the legend changed. The story began to be told about a Jewish feminist who was speaking in Florida. She was "upbraided" by a man who said that women rabbis had as much of a role in Judaism as an orange on the seder plate. The tale is also told that the man said, "women had as much place on the bimah as oranges on the seder plate. " Somewhere along the line, the "Jewish feminist" was named as Susannah Heschel but she denies either changing the symbolism from bread to orange nor of having been the feminist who had this experience in Florida.

But, interesting enough, some version of the orange on the seder plate story does appear in "On Being a Jewish Feminist" edited by Susannah Heschel (PB, 288pp, Schocken Books, 1983, repr. 1995, ISBN: 0805210369 link to

Alpert concludes: "Putting an orange on the seder plate to represent women's roles in Judaism seemed to appeal to many people, and the practice has been incorporated into seders....

And so a contemporary legend was born. Like any evocative story, it was not often told the same way twice. The complex variations of this story resonate with the complicated ways in which Jewish lesbians have been dealt with by the Jewish community. This process of transmission also made it clear that Jewish lesbians saw our treatment in the Jewish community quite differently from the way others, from the Habad rebbitzin to the Jewish feminist, saw it."

One other point that Alpert makes is that the change from "bread on the seder plate to represent lesbians" to "orange of the seder plate to represent women" minimizes and standardizes difference. As she writes, "group members do their best to protect the status quo, to incorporate change in the way that will least radically alter the nature of the group as it exists."

Having gotten this far, Susannah Heschel e-mailed me in 2000, with her own explanation:

I started placing an orange on our family Seder plate in the early 1980s (and still do). Sections of the orange were passed around the table, each person took a piece, recited the blessing over fruit, and ate it. I presented this as an act in solidarity with Jewish lesbians and gay men, and others marginalized in the Jewish community (I always mentioned windows and orphans). I started including mention of this ritual during lectures on Jewish feminism, and after a while it caught on.

I read the Oberlin student Haggadah about the crust of bread on the Seder plate, and usually included mention of that, plus the story that was told about the feminister rebbe (a great story!). Still, I felt that bread on the Seder plate was transgressive, and being a lesbian or gay man is not transgressive, but perfectly normal.

What amazes me is that the story emerged that a MAN said to me, after one of my lectures, that a woman belongs on the bimah like an orange on the Seder plate. It is disturbing that a ritual I developed would be credited to a man, and that my intention, to confront homophobia, was entirely erased.

We continue to celebrate the seder with an orange on our sederplate. For me, it is a counter to the extra matzo which we placed on seder plates starting in the late Sixties, to remind us of those who wished to participate, but were prevented by antisemitic governments, such as that of the former USSR. Today, we also look around us and consider those who are not allowed to participate--starting, of course, with gays and lesbians, but continuing, as Professor Heschel notes, much further. In this way, as we retell the story of our exodus from Egypt, we also consider the narrow waters--the mei tzarim of our own time.


footnote to "Orange on the Seder Plate
A friend wrote in February (1998): "... I don't recall when exactly we spoke, but around that time S.K. and I had a conversation I thought you'd find especially interesting. Sometime in the Fall, she met Susannah Heschel and asked her about the story concerning the orange on the seder plate…. At any rate, this is an account from S.K. of her conversation with Susannah:

"At some point in the past, Susannah was speaking at Oberlin College (in Ohio) and a person from Oberlin Hillel gave Susannah a haggadah. (S. didn't remember the name but said the artwork was by Claire Cotts.)

"The haggadah had revised the Four Questions; turning them into apocryphal stories about women. The story concerning the orange was included. As part of Susannah's Oberlin talk, she repeated the story.

"Here's my account of S's account of Susannah's account" (This is my friend imagining what happened, from the perspective of what we knew in 1998):

"Three generations of women were preparing for Pesach, a grandmother, her daughter, and her granddaughter. As they were nearing the seder and almost finished with their tasks, the granddaughter realized she had an important question to ask the rabbi. Her mother and grandmother encouraged her to go talk to him.

"When the granddaughter arrived at the rabbis's, he was also thrilled, thinking she had a question about kashrut. Instead, the granddaughter asked, 'What is the place of a lesbian in Judaism?'

"(Susannah didn't, apparently, describe the rabbi's reaction, but ...) He responded: 'A lesbian in Judaism is like an orange on the seder plate.'

"There you have it."

… and those who know the original Rebecca Alpert story can see the direct parallels and return of the original (rebetzin to Alpert) punch line. [back to main text]

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This page is maintained by Ari Davidow, Last revised 03 April, 2023.