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The Schocken Passover Haggadah

I think I'm becoming a haggadah collector. This weekend, at Hudson City Books, I picked up a copy of Nahum Glatzer's The Passover Haggadah (a 1989 fourth edition of a 1953 original from Schocken Books; now out-of-print, though there's a 1996 edition available.) I already have a couple dozen copies of the Silverman haggadah (the one I grew up on, which merits its own post at some point, if only for the marvelously dated illustrations), E.M. Broner's The Women's Haggadah, Jewish Lights' anthology The Women's Seder Sourcebook (to which I contributed a reading!), and five years' worth of bound copies of my own haggadah, but hey, one can't have too many prayerbooks, right? (What really pained me was stepping away from the hardback first edition of A Passover Haggadah with Leonard Baskin's watercolors in it. I've added a paperback version to my Judaica wish list, but that coffeetable-book-sized original was beautiful.) Anyway, Glatzer's haggadah is a fine addition to my library.

Glatzer opens with an introduction:

For thousands of years the people of Israel have not forgotten that their ancestors were slaves in the land of Egypt. The passage from slavery into freedom became the chief event of Israelite history. Classical Hebrew writings lay stress on the fact that the external liberation was not an end in itself but the necessary precondition for the receiving of the Law on Mount Sinai -- the sublime climax of Israel's liberation which took place thirty-two centuries ago...

The introduction explains the haggadah, how the structure of the seder relates to the dinners of antiquity, and a variety of seder customs and commentaries. Then, after a spread of illustrations, we move into the haggadah itself. The book contains the full text of the traditional Passover haggadah (drawn from traditional versions, the publisher's note tells us, with "a few minor changes based on the annotation by Rabbi Elijah, the Gaon of Vilna, and on ancient sources") with Hebrew text and English translation on facing pages.

The book is a beautiful artifact, even in this simple paperback edition. Throughout, important words (section headers, the beginnings of blessings, psalm refrains) are printed in red, and the book is peppered with illustrations from the earliest printed haggadot. The illustrations were drawn from the collection of the JTSA Library, and originated in Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Tunisia, Prague, and India. I love this illustration of the seder plate, captioned in Marathi, from a haggadah used by the Jews of Pune:

One oddity of the book is that one can open it like an English text (reading it left-to-right) or like a Hebrew one (right-to-left). Opening the book English-style, one finds the publisher's note and an appendix of readings related to Passover. Opening it Hebrew-style, one finds an introduction and then the text of the haggadah, which flows in that direction.

The appendix -- "Readings in Preparation for the Passover" -- is worth exploring. There's great stuff here. For instance, Franz Rosensweig's "Feast of Deliverance:"

The freedom of a society is always the freedom of everyone who belongs to it. Thus this meal is a symbol of the people's vocation for freedom. That this vocation is only a beginning, only the initial creation of the people, is shown in another aspect of the prominence of the youngest child. Since this youngest was permitted to speak for himself, the entire ceremony has, after all, to assume the form of instruction. The father of the family speaks, the household listens, and only in the further course of the evening is there more and more common independence until, in the songs of praise and the table songs of the second part of the meal, songs which float between divine mystery and the jesting mood begot by wine, the last shred of autocracy in the order of the meal dissolves into community.

The top-down, father-figure, autocratic model he describes is only one way of holding a seder in today's world. Many seders today are led by women; some are communally-organized, with participants taking turns to lead readings, in order to eschew precisely the hierarchy Rosensweig describes. But even given this cultural change, I think his words still resonate, and I love his description of how the seder moves us from hierarchy to community.

Here, too, are excerpts from Martin Buber's Tales of the Hasidim, snippets of Talmud relating to the Exodus and the liberation, and Philo of Alexandria's writings on what we can learn from the prohibition of leavened food at Passover-time. Perhaps the most fascinating thing in the appendix is Solomon Zeitlin's essay "Jesus and the Last Supper" (originally published in The Jewish Quarterly Review in April of 1948) which argues convincingly that the Last Supper chronicled in the gospels was a Passover seder. (Not a new notion to most of us today, but still interesting.)

I doubt I will ever have occasion to lead a seder drawn from Glatzer's haggadah. But it's a great resource, and one I'm really pleased to own.

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