New haggadahs bring fresh approaches to celebration


On Passover, teachers become students and students take on the role of teachers; old and young teach each other.

“The learning is thoroughly democratic, as befits the experience of freedom,” Neil Gillman writes in “The Haggadah Is a Textbook,” an essay in “My People’s Passover Haggadah” (Jewish Lights)

This season, several new haggadahs raise new questions. New interpretations bring new approaches to the seder, enabling readers and participants to bring new layers of meaning to their own celebrations of the holiday.

A fine resource for preparing for the seder and for use at the table, “My People’s Passover Haggadah: Traditional Texts, Modern Commentaries, Volumes 1 and 2,” edited by Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman and David Arnow, bring together a community of scholars and teachers to reflect anew on the haggadah.

The 12 contributors or commentators come from all denominations, including professor Gillman of the Jewish Theological Seminary; Rabbi Daniel Landes, Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem; Wendy Zierler, Hebrew-Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR); and Rabbi Arthur Green, Hebrew College.

The two volumes offer a new translation of the haggadah text and essays about the historical roots of the holiday and development of the haggadah. Commentary is presented in Talmud-style pages, with the different voices framing the text.

Co-editor Hoffman, a professor of liturgy at HUC-JIR, is editor of the “My People’s Prayer Book Series,” which recently received a National Jewish Book Award. Arnow, a psychologist and community leader, is author of “Creating Lively Passover Seders.”

Rabbi Yosef Adler was a student of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, known as the Rav, and served as his personal assistant for two years. Adler attended the Rav’s weekly shiurim, or public lectures, for 13 years, with four sessions each year devoted to Passover. In “Haggadah for Passover With Commentary Based on the Shiurim of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik” (Urim Publishers), Adler presents the profound insights of the Rav, as they relate to the seder and observance of the holiday, along with his own commentary.

Adler is the spiritual leader of Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck, N.J., and heads the Torah Academy of Bergen County.

In the Maggid section, Adler explains the Rav’s interpretations of issues of time: “The seder itself is reliving the past. Without a historical experience, this type of time experience is lost. Memory is more than a storehouse; it is a reliving of what is remembered. In exploration; we move from reminiscing to anticipation…. The haggadah starts with hindsight and concludes with foresight.”

“Richard Codor’s Joyous Haggadah: The Illuminated Story of Passover,” as told by Richard and Liora Codor (Loose Line Productions), is a concise retelling of the story, with colorful, funny, attention-grabbing illustrations. The pages vary from graphic stories to Chad Gadya told as a pictogram (where pictures stand in for words in the text) to scenes chock full of witty details. Meant for all ages, this is an imaginative and joyous haggadah.

“The Kol Menachem Haggadah,” compiled and adapted by Rabbi Chaim Miller (Kol Menachem), is commentary and insights anthologized from more than 100 classic rabbinic texts and the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Enclosed in a hand-tooled binding, the well-designed pages include the Hebrew text and English translation, with commentary at the bottom.

As Miller points out, the Rebbe’s thinking integrates intellectual, detailed analysis with a more mystical approach, uncovering deeper themes and suggestions for life enhancement. The table of contents includes brief abstracts of each of the Rebbe’s insights as they relate to aspects of the seder. He also explains some particular Lubavitch traditions, like the custom of the Rebbe pouring the wine from Elijah’s cup back into the bottle.

“The Lovell Haggadah,” with illuminations, translation and commentary by Rabbi Matthew L. Berkowitz (Nirtzah Editions), is a beautifully designed edition, with Hebrew text, an egalitarian translation, discussion guides, activities and 27 original color paintings. Berkowitz explains that he retains the text of the traditional haggadah, “with a questioning consciousness,” sometimes wrestling with the text.

He identifies an essential quality, like incompleteness, curiosity, awe and knowledge, associated with each of the 15 steps of the seder. Included are quotes from Ahad Ha’am, Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Kotzker Rebbe, Talmud and Midrash and Isabel Allende introducing the Maggid section (the retelling), which he links with the theme of generosity (“You have only what you give. It’s by spending yourself that you become rich.”).

The artwork, or illuminations, incorporate letters and imagery with decorative borders in the style of manuscript painting. Berkowitz, who is formally trained in scribal arts, is the senior rabbinic fellow in the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Kollot: Voices and Learning Program.

He also includes a powerful quote from Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg, “Language is the very means by which the imprisoned heart gains freedom.”

“A Mystical Haggadah: Passover Meditations, Teaching, and Tales,” by Rabbi Eliahu Klein (North Atlantic Books), offers the possibility of bringing new readings and new understanding of the haggadah’s hidden symbolism to the seder table.

For Klein, the seder’s 15 rites are “15 steps toward illumination.” He includes mystical reflections and Chasidic stories, alternating between two worlds that are dear to him, “the passionate heart traditions of Chasidism and the possibility of achieving cosmic consciousness through Kabbalah meditation and visualization.”

Before Kiddush is recited, he notes a tradition of Jewish mystics of adding a drop of water to the vessel of wine “in order to symbolically dissolve the wrath of crimson with the kindness of the white water.” Klein has taught Kabbalah, Jewish meditation and Chasidism for more than 30 years in Israel, Great Britain and the United States. He now serves as Jewish chaplain for the California Department of Rehabilitation.

“The Eybeshitz Haggadah: Experiencing Redemption,” by Rabbi Shalom Hammer (Devora Publishing), introduces English-speaking readers to the work of Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeshitz. A prolific author, Eybeshitz was an 18th-century scholar of the Talmud, Kabbalah and Jewish law, as well as science and philosophy.

He served the Jewish community in Prague and later in Hamburg, Germany. Hammer describes his subject’s unusual abilities to integrate different approaches, linking and juxtaposing various texts in creative ways.

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