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Why do some people include an orange on the seder plate?

Many have incorporated new rituals as part of the Passover  seder. Many seder plates include an orange, which is attributed to Susannah Heschel, professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College. Heschel included an orange in recognition of gay and lesbian Jews, and others who are marginalized in the Jewish community. In her ritual, each person takes a segment of the orange, and before eating it, says a blessing over the fruit. The seeds are spit out as a rejection of homophobia.

Urban legend, while including Heschel in the story, has radically altered it. The story that many have heard is that Heschel, while lecturing in Florida, was denounced by a man who said a woman belongs on the bimah as much as an orange belongs on the seder plate. 

Not only had the ritual been attributed to a man, but the inclusion of gays and lesbians was erased from the story. While there are now many female rabbis, and Reform Judaism has made inclusion of the LGBTQ community a priority, this story reminds us that there is still much work to be done so that the stories of both women and gays and lesbians are told and heard. Indeed, an orange still belongs on a seder plate.


How did the custom of the Purim carnival develop?

"Though Purim is a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar, it is widely observed and a favorite of children," explains Rabbi Victor Appel (HUC-JIR/NY '99). Read more >


How do I celebrate Tu BiSh'vat at home?

Tu BiSh’vat is the 'New Year of the Trees.' It is a wonderful holiday to celebrate at home. Rabbi Victor Appel (HUC-JIR/NY '99) suggests creative ways to celebrate Tu BiSh'vat at home. Read more >


Are resolutions a Jewish concept?

Rabbi Victor Appel (HUC-JIR/NY '99) writes, "It is always appropriate to commit to resolutions that will improve our lives, the lives of those around us, and the larger world." Read more >


How do I light the candles for Hanukkah?

Cantorial Certification student Lori Shapiro and Rabbi Dan Levin (HUC-JIR/NY '96), both of Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, FL, show us how to light the Hanukkiyah. Watch >


Is Thanksgiving a Jewish Holiday?

Rabbi Jessica Locketz (HUC-JIR/CN '99), Associate Rabbi and Director of Education at Temple Emanuel of South Hills, Pittsburgh, PA, explains:

Setting aside the feasting and football, we discover that there is a way to bring our Judaism into our observance of this sacred American holiday. We can even use it as a means of teaching our children one of our most important values: thankfulness. The idea of giving thanks is a familiar theme in our tradition. Judaism views every day as a day of thanksgiving; every day is a chance to say "thank you" to God for the many blessings we have. Read more >


Why is the Sabbath considered a day of rest?

Rabbi Mark Washofsky, Ph.D., Solomon B. Freehof Professor of Jewish Law and Practice at HUC-JIR/Cincinnati, explains:

The requirement that we rest on Shabbat is explained by the Torah according to two broad themes. First, God "rested" from the work of Creation on the seventh day; therefore, we rest on that day to acknowledge God as the Creator of the universe. Second, we rest on Shabbat as a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt, our redemption from slavery. Read more >


How do I shake the Lulav on Sukkot?

Rabbi Wendi Geffen (HUC-JIR/NY '02), North Shore Hebrew Congregation in Glencoe, IL, shows us how to shake the Lulav on Sukkot. Watch >


Do Reform Jews celebrate two days of Rosh HaShanah?

Rabbi Mark Washofsky, Ph.D., Solomon B. Freehof Professor of Jewish Law and Practice at HUC-JIR/Cincinnati, explains:

The answer is: no, mostly. That is, most Reform congregations in North America celebrate Rosh HaShanah for one day. On the other hand, some North American Reform congregations, along with Progressive Jews in Israel and elsewhere, follow the traditional two-day observance of the New Year.  Read more >


What day of the week does a Jewish wedding normally take place? Historically, what day of the week did a Hebrew wedding occur?

Rabbi Nancy H. Wiener, D.Min., Dr. Paul and Trudy Steinberg Chair in Human Relations and Founding Director of the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Center for Pastoral Counseling at HUC-JIR/New York, explains:

In reviewing Jewish wedding contracts from different centuries and different locations, one can see that Jewish weddings have taken place on every day of the week.  Custom dictated that weddings not occur on the Sabbath, holidays, or mourning periods (personal and collective).  Is some localities, it was common for weddings to take place on Sundays or Wednesdays, so if there was a legal issue it could be brought to the rabbinic court which met on Mondays and Thursdays.  Some chose Tuesdays, because it was seen as a particularly auspicious or "lucky" day, because in the Genesis story it was the one day which God described as good twice.