Deviant Passover rites

A follow-up to my posting of the 28th, “Deviant Last Suppers”, about queer travesties of Leonardo’s Last Supper, a painting of the communal meal (celebrated on Maundy Thursday, yesterday this year) that Christians understand as the origin of the eucharist, or communion, ritual (take, eat, this is my body; take, drink, this is my blood). Now after sunset today, the Jewish ritual communal meal, the Passover seder, with its symbolic retelling of the Jews’ liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt. So, Bill Stewart wondered in a comment on this blog, what about a queer seder?

Well, sort of.

From Wikipedia on the seder:

The Passover Seder (Hebrew: סֵדֶר ‘order, arrangement’; Yiddish: סדר‎ seyder) is a Jewish ritual feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover.

… The Seder is a ritual performed by a community or by multiple generations of a family, involving a retelling of the story of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. This story is in the Book of Exodus (Shemot) in The Hebrew Bible. The Seder itself is based on the Biblical verse commanding Jews to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt

… Traditionally, families and friends gather in the evening to read the text of the Haggadah, an ancient work derived from the Mishnah … The Haggadah contains the narrative of the Israelite exodus from Egypt, special blessings and rituals, commentaries from the Talmud, and special Passover songs.

Seder customs include telling the story, discussing the story, drinking four cups of wine, eating [matzo (unleavened bread)], partaking of symbolic foods placed on the Passover Seder Plate, and reclining in celebration of freedom.

Both the Haggadah text and the parts of the meal are prescribed by custom. On the ritual of the meal, see my 4/3/15 posting “Lamb ham and the seder plate”. On the text, from Wikipedia:

The Haggadah (Hebrew “telling”; plural: Haggadot) is a Jewish text that sets forth the order of the Passover Seder. Reading the Haggadah at the Seder table is a fulfillment of the Scriptural commandment to each Jew to “tell your son” of the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt as described in the Book of Exodus in the Torah (“And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.” Ex. 13:8).

… Reform Judaism holds that there are no normative texts, and allowed individuals to create their own haggadahs. Reform Jews take pride in their community’s resumption of liturgical creativity outside a halakhic framework; although the significant differences they introduced make their texts incompatible with Jews who wish to follow a seder according to Jewish tradition.

Let’s regroup.

The Last Supper in the Christian bible. From 1 Corinthians 11 (KJV):

23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed [by Judas Iscariot] took bread: 24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

This becomes the ritual of the eucharist, a church rite conducted by a priest. With its offers of the body and blood, it lends itself to gay carnal travesties (the penis as the body, semen as symbolic blood, the substance of life), and the celebrants worshiping on their knees can easily be folded into the sexual scene.

The seder is quite different in tone. It’s a cultural observance (of Jewish identity) as well as a religious ritual; it’s a meal (heavily symbolic, but with real food); and it’s conducted among family and friends at home (not in a house of worship), without the authority of a rabbi. Not so easily made sacrilegiously carnal — the cerenony is serious, but warm and homey, like Thanksgiving celebrated according to a formula thousands of years old — though Bill Stewart mused about how to find the afikoman and what the prize is for finding it.

From Wikipedia:

Afikoman (Hebrew: אֲפִיקוֹמָן, based on Greek epikomon[ἐπὶ κῶμον] or epikomion[ἐπικώμιον], meaning “that which comes after” or “dessert”) is a half-piece of matzo which is broken in two during the early stages of the Passover Seder and set aside to be eaten as a dessert after the meal.

Based on the Mishnah in Pesahim 119b, the afikoman is a substitute for the Passover sacrifice, which was the last thing eaten at the Passover Seder during the eras of the First and Second Temples and during the period of the Tabernacle. The Talmud states that it is forbidden to have any other food after the afikoman, so that the taste of the matzo that was eaten after the meal remains in the participants’ mouths. Since the destruction of the Temple and the discontinuation of the Korban Pesach, Jews eat a piece of matzo now known as afikomen to finish the Passover Seder meal.

Customs around the afikoman vary, though they often share the common purpose of keeping children awake and alert during the Seder until the afikoman is eaten. Following Ashkenazi customs, the head of household may hide the afikoman for the children to find, or alternatively, the children may steal the afikoman and ransom it back.

I suppose this could be made into a booty search, but I see no evidence tht anyone’s done it.

What has been done, at least in Reform Judaism, is the creation of lgbt Haggadot, which put queer spins on the traditional Haggadah. There are sites for making your own Haggadah. One big one crows:

Let’s Make Your Passover Haggadah Together

Our simple platform allows you to create a custom Passover Seder, with access to unique content contributed by our community. Find readings, artwork and video clips in our library, to enliven your Seder experience. Join our 37,000 users and create your own free Haggadah this Passover.

There you can find the GLBT Seder Plate from JQ International:


The JQ GLBT seder plate includes some special symbolic items including:

An Orange which carries the seeds of rebirth and represents the diversity of the Jewish community as we increase inclusion.

A Coconut for the LGBT still in the closet and their struggle in coming out

Sour Vegetables for the flavor of hatred and bigotry

Fruit Salad for our collective potential and recognition

Flowers, Sticks and Stones for the path all of us as LGBT and Allies are on as we move through life and play our role in the development of our culture and commemoration of our history.

The Exodus story is easily transformed into a coming-out narrative. And from the Davidson College Hillel site:

The ritual of breaking the middle matzah has become a time in seders today, to break social structures excluding the LGBTQ community as well as other marginal groups, because by breaking the matzah, we create space to include all

And so on. You can tailor a full Haggadah for your queer purposes (at least if you’re Reform; other Jews have to stick very close to the traditional wording).

Custom-made Haggadahs are sometimes moving, sometimes embarrassingly earnest, occasionally silly. (It’s a bit like writing your own wedding vows; I have a friend who maintains that some people should absolutely be prevented from doing that.) But, as Bill Stewart noted to me, they’re demure, not salacious.

On the other hand, what you do before Passover is entirely open for play. An opportunity that, at least in NYC, has been fully utilized. From the Logo site on 4/3/15, “As The Manischewitz Flows, Gay Jewish Boys Passover Pre-Party At Sederlicious” by Dan Avery:

(#2) Yes, Sederlicious and Hebro: playful libfix and brocabulary (the puns, plus the play on Let my people go!)

Nearly 500 gay Jews and their friends hit Sederlicious, Hebro’s annual pre-Passover party Saturday night at Manhattan’s Hudson Terrace.

As DJ Steven Sidewalk manned the booth, everyone got down with hosts Adam Werner and Omar Sharif, Hebro founder Jayson Littman and go-go boys dressed like pharaohs.

“The Jewish community is one that wants to get to know each other — I don’t look at it as self-segregation, I look at it as bringing more people together. There are a lot of non-Jews that come to our parties. We call them ‘bagel chasers.’”  [Note the X chaser snowclonelet, and the bagel as symbol of Jewishness, and possibly the anus as well.] Littman told Next magazine. “Passover is a time when people come home. It’s akin to Thanksgiving — all the mothers are going to ask, ‘Have you met a husband?’

Littman schedules Sederlicious the weekend before Passover, “with hopes that these boys will be able to find a boy to bring home to Seder.”

Two celebrants from 2015:

(#3) Timoteo meets the Star of David, and finds his pharaoh

And the invitation for this year’s event (last Saturday), on the Hebro site:

Join over 500 gay Jews as we party the night away as if we just left Egypt yesterday!

Find a boy to bring home for seder and enjoy this night before you spend a week ordering your bacon cheeseburgers without the bun!

(Little gay Jewish joke. A bacon cheeseburger is as treif, as non-kosher, as could be, on any day of the year, so tossing the bun — leavened bread! — would hardly be enough to honor Passover, but if you crave some meat (maybe with a whiff of cheese), you pig, …)

Carnal and sweet at the same time. Hot go-go boys and (maybe) a guy to bring home to Mama.

9 Responses to “Deviant Passover rites”

  1. Bill Stewart Says:

    When my Presbyterian ancestors founded Davidson, I doubt they had Hillel or an LGBTQ Seder in mind. Thanks for a nice article… “Next year in Key West”???

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      A mutual friend of ours, celebrating Passover in Israel some years ago (not entirely happily): Next year in Los Angeles!

      • Bill Stewart Says:

        I am told there was hash oil in the knedlich dough.

      • arnold zwicky Says:

        Hmm… One rabbi has now declared that medical marijuana is kosher for Passover, but hash for recreational use? Well, one bends the rules.

        The dumplings were, of course, made with matzo meal, not bread. There are lines you don’t cross.

  2. Chris Hansen Says:

    Two comments. Our former Rector at St Matthew’s at the Elephant insisted on having a Seder each year. There were no Jews present, and he himself led the service. I refused to go as I (and many others) feel that having a Jewish service composed entirely of Gentiles is akin to a Hindu temple putting on a Christian communion service. His contention was that the Jews are the “forerunners” of Christians so it would be entirely appropriate for a Christian community to put on a Seder. I think that the weight of Christian theological opinion these days is against a totally-Christian Seder. I was delighted to discover that our new parish priest is also totally against Christian “Seders”.

    Second, on eating forbidden foods. One Friday a Roman Catholic man went into a restaurant and told the waiter, “I’d like a sharkburger.” The waiter replied, “Sir, we don’t have sharkburgers.” The man looked up to Heaven and said, “God knows I asked for fish. I’ll have a steak.”

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      As you know, it’s a core belief for many Christians that the Hebrew bible is nothing but a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ, a statement of the promises that were fulfilled by His coming. Oi.

      Even so, a totally Christian Seder strikes me as deeply icky: religious ritual framed as an empty stage performance. It’s like putting living people in zoos as spectacles. (This has been done, and not just in Kurt Vonnegut’s fiction.)

      • Joel B Levin Says:

        A reform/reconstructionist rabbi I knew was talking about children’s biblical books, e.g. “The Golden Book of the Bible” or something. He evaluated them basically by looking at the chapter on the prophets or on Isaiah; if it was mainly about the prediction of a coming messiah with or without mention of a “virgin” birth, his recommendation was that the book was OK for kids if you glued the Isaiah pages together.

  3. Robert Coren Says:

    As to the bacon cheeseburger without the bun: I had a colleague years ago who would sometimes order a Reuben on matzoh during Passover. When I pointed out that a Reuben was inherently non-kosher, he replied that the restriction against leavened bread during Passover was in memory of a specific set of events, and was logically separable from the general rules of kashrut (which he mostly or entirely disregarded).

  4. arnold zwicky Says:

    Pilpul is always with us.

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