"Today, the range of plates, as with all Jewish ceremonial art, isamazing."

The extraordinary range of contemporary Seder plates noted byGrossman was evident in a 1996 Seder plate design contest sponsored byChicago's Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies. The catalogue for thatcompetition, featuring the leading entries, makes clear that today'splates are limited only by artistic imagination.

Many of the plates also showed support for the heightened role womenhave assumed in Judaism's more liberal movements in recent years. Theydid so by reserving space on their plates for an orange and "Miriam'scup," both of which are recent feminist innovations.

The orange symbolizes the "fruitfulness" of all Jews -- women aswell as homosexuals and others seen as having been marginalized bytraditional Judaism. Miriam's cup, likewise, is meant as a femalecounterpart to the traditional "Elijah's cup" placed on the Seder table.The prophet Elijah symbolizes the eventual redemption that will comewith the Messiah. Miriam's cup is named after the sister of Moses.Tradition holds that it was Miriam who led the Israelites into theparted Red Sea as they fled Pharaoh's advancing army. Instead of wine,water is put into Miriam's cup.

Terry Heller, owner of Artistic Judaic Productions, a Web-baseddealer of Jewish ceremonial art, said she sells more feminist-themedSeder plates than any others. "People are into more egalitarian Judaism,and they want items that reflect that view," said Heller, whoseEnglewood, Colo., company is among the largest of the Web Judaicaoutlets.

Yet for all their popularity, Seder plates have never becomecollectors' items, as have other Jewish ceremonial art objects. "Peoplecollect Seder plates as part of general Judaica collections, but I'venever come across a collection of just Seder plates," said Mann.

Perhaps, she said, that's because the plates are relatively large,or because their utilitarian purpose traditionally requires they be keptunder wraps for most of the year to keep them ritually pure for Passoveruse.

Or perhaps, she added, the reason is simply that Seder plates aremost often made of glass, ceramic or other breakable materials and don'tsurvive very long. "Unfortunately, it's the cheap plastic ones that willoutlast all the others," she added. "But of course if a cheap plasticplate has meaning to a family, ultimately that means more. Doesn't it?"

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