politics, pop culture, art, history, QR codes and more – J.
Over the centuries, the Passover seder — and the reading of its guidebook, the haggadah — has proven to be one of the most malleable rituals of the Jewish people. In the hands of scholars, artists, writers and all types of Jews, the haggadah has been reframed, reworked and recombined again in countless permutations reflecting different issues and inclinations that speak to countless communities. different Jews in countless different times and places.
And this is still the case in 2022.
In this year’s roundup of new haggadahs, we look at strident politics, engaging art, and texts that take us to particular moments in history not typically examined by the haggadah.
“Night of Beginnings: A Passover Haggadah” by Marcia Falk
From the famous poet, liturgist and artist from Berkeley, it is a haggadah of art, recomposed Hebrew prayers and an unusual presentation of Maggid (the section that tells the Passover story). Although the structure is traditional, Falk has composed new prayers that replace the formula with sweetness and poetry. She prefers to start with, say, the most active kelp (“let us be blessed”) rather than the passive, traditional baruch (“blessed is”), and to address God as feminine Shechinah rather than the masculine Adonai.
At one point, Falk offers a brief blessing for parents to say to their children, a version for sons and one for daughters. Today, with groups like the Nonbinary Hebrew Project working on gender-neutral liturgical formulations and many parents having children to bless who identify as non-binary, something seems to be missing here. Other sections, such as the four questions, are presented in their traditional text.
Falk’s most interesting choice is the decision to present large chunks of the biblical text of the Passover story, rather than the traditional twists and turns of the haggadah, an abbreviated version. This allows Falk to focus our attention on characters from biblical history, such as Moses (who is notoriously absent from the standard haggadah) and female characters such as Miriam and the midwives Shifra and Puah. All of the artwork is by Falk herself, with lovely flower designs that reinforce the springtime theme of the Passover revival.
“The Rational Passover Haggadah” by Dennis Prager
The best-selling new haggadah on Amazon is also the most objectionable new haggadah of the year. “The Rational Pessover Haggadah,” by prominent right-wing pseudo-intellectual pundit Dennis Prager, author of “The Rational Bible” in 2018, was published by Salem Books, a conservative Christian brand. Is this haggadah itself Christian? Only in that it seems eager to appeal to followers of the Christian right.
For years, Prager has provided his Jewish good faith to the Christian right like a fig leaf for their bigotry. As for this haggadah, much of it is a mundane seder commentary. But it often veers into outright racism and historical counterfactuals, such as an essay that declares: “Nearly all the moral good of the modern age has been achieved in the West, civilization rooted in the Bible, in Jewish-Jewish values. Christians. Later in the same essay, he praises Christianity as the foundation of America with this completely debunked rhetorical question: “One thing is certain: When Christianity died in Europe, Fascism, Nazism and Communism took its square. If Christianity dies in America, what will replace it? Rational indeed.
“Israel’s Black Panther Haggadah”
Available in translation for the first time, in a sleek new volume published by the leftist magazine Jewish Currents, this haggadah, originally written in 1971, is stunning to behold. Once considered lost in time, it was published through a team effort involving journalists, haggadah collectors, activists and some of its original publishers.
The Israeli Black Panther movement was an anguished outcry from impoverished and culturally marginalized Israelis in Arab countries in the 1970s. Members of the movement composed this haggadah in a tin shack on a typewriter stolen from the headquarters of a wealthy party Politics. Then they printed copies on a polycograph, also stolen.
This new edition includes stark contemporary graphics, archival photos and historical notes that help today’s reader understand the context of the original, whose text falls somewhere between political manifesto and religious ritual. In their version of Ha Lakhma Anya (the Bread of our affliction), the Panthers write: “It is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Morocco and Egypt. We did not know that we would have even less in Jerusalem. During My Nishtana (Why is this night different?), they write:
Every other night we barely eat bread and water,
And that night, we don’t even have matzah and water…
They want to make us slaves in Israel.
But the Black Panthers will eliminate us with God’s help…
This 50th anniversary edition of “The Haggadah of the Israeli Black Panthers” can be shocking and radical reading. I don’t know if this will help you around your seder table. But it’s an amazing artifact that shines a light on a slice of Israeli culture and history that they didn’t teach you in Hebrew school.
“Pictures Tell: A Passover Haggadah” by Zion Ozeri
While there are running commentaries by a number of renowned scholars and Jewish leaders, the real draw here is the photography of Zion Ozeri, who has traveled the world for decades documenting various communities. Jewish. On the handwashing page, there is a black and white photo of a woman washing her hands at a Jewish soup kitchen in Buenos Aires. AT Arami Oved Avi (My Father Was a Wandering Aramean), a color photo of camel-riding tourists in Israel. In the middle of the maggid, a young man holds up a Torah during services at an American Jewish summer camp. The haggadah is used in one form or another by Jews around the world, and the breadth of global Jewry represented in this haggadah is a wonderful reminder of that.
A cool additional feature: QR codes that direct readers to additional online resources, such as melodies and discussion questions. Makes a good coffee table book, too.
“Haggadah Collage” by Emily Marbach
A less traditional version of the artistic haggadah, this one features the contemporary and avant-garde works of art by collagist artist Emily Marbach. You can see the layers of material in each collage so clearly, reproduced in full-bleed color, that it almost seems as if you could touch them and feel the texture: hand-drawn elements mingle with old photos and Hebrew type cut pieces. It’s sometimes literal, sometimes a little cheeky, but always evocative.
“The seder is not formal, it is prescribed – and that is why I have decided to leave the text as it was codified in the year 1000 CE,” writes Marbach in his introduction. “This haggadah has no agenda. The collages are there to keep your eyes on the page as you browse the story of the exodus from Egypt.
2022 Asufa Haggadah
The Israeli artist collective Asufa publishes a new haggadah every year, each page lavishly illustrated by a different artist. Here’s how much I love it: This is the fourth time I’ve included it in my annual haggadah roundup. I always know I’ll see new offbeat art, visually reinterpreting the full traditional Hebrew text of the haggadah to stunning effect. (See the main image at the top of this article for a particularly exuberant example.) It’s great every year. I didn’t even need to see any preview images to know I was going to be ordering one again this year. Note: Everything is in Hebrew — no translation. So, it may or may not be particularly helpful to you around the seder table. But it is a great work of art to have.
“Curb Your Haggadah” by Dave Cowen
Yeah, it’s a haggadah on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Author Dave Cowen is also the man behind other recent pop culture haggadahs, such as “The Yada Yada Haggadah” and “The Biden-Harris Haggadah.” This one is written like the script for an episode of “Curb,” requiring seder attendees to play the roles of the main and recurring characters in Larry David’s HBO hit Endless Comedy. If you really, really like the show, this might be the haggadah for you. If you don’t, it’s not.
“The Hitlerian Haggadah” by Nissim ben Shimon. This one was posted last year and somehow escaped my notice. In fact, it was first published in Judeo-Arabic in Rabat, Morocco in 1943, but this is a new edition that includes an English translation and historical context. It tells the story of Passover from the perspective of the Jewish victims of Nazi Germany’s North African campaigns. The four sons are recast as major players in the war: Hitler (the naughty son), Great Britain (the wise son), America (“the honest one”) and Mussolini (“who is not worthy of our words”). Whatever you make of this analogy, it’s an eye-opening look at World War II through the eyes of Jews who aren’t usually included in the Holocaust narrative that sometimes intrudes on contemporary seders.
“The Four Cups: A Salvage Haggadah” edited by Rabbi Shais Taub. It’s an intriguing idea: a haggadah for people struggling with addictions, especially alcohol. The seder, organized around four cups of wine, must be a difficult and triggering experience for many alcoholics. A haggadah designed to help this population is a welcome concept.
“Freeing Your Passover Seder: An Anthology Beyond the Seder of Freedom” edited by Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow and Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman. It is not a haggadah. But if you’ve read this roundup so far, you might find it interesting. This collection looks back on decades of “freedom seders,” since the first in 1969, which radically reimagined the seder as something more than just Jewish liberation. In the hands of the original freedom seder organizer, Waskow himself, the seder became a chance to tie Jewish and black histories of liberation together. This volume discusses the myriad of feminist seders, queer seders, environmentalist seders, Israeli-Palestinian peace seders and others for which it has paved the way.
“Heroes Haggadah” from haggadot.com. Haggadot.com is a great resource. It’s packed with readings that let you create and share your own haggadah online with a fairly easy-to-use interface. This year they have a new block of material that uses superheroes and other pop culture protagonists as a lens to examine Passover themes, much of it written by J. TV critic Esther D Kustanowitz. I will be participating in a virtual event with Esther and Rabba Yaffa Epstein to talk about heroes and haggadahs and the “Haggadah of Heroes” on March 31 at 10 a.m. Register here !