What Is In the Passover Haggadah?

Between now and Passover (1st Seder Monday night April 18, 2011) we’ll have plenty of help hear at MJ Musings for your Passover celebration. Articles will include history, commentary, and practical help for having a not-at-all-boring Seder this year.

And, there will be a Printable PDF File before Passover with helps and commentary on the haggadah to help you make Passover a sacred occasion.

It’s weird. It’s poorly understood. It’s not a long book, but it has more versions than any other book in publishing history. Some have pictures and some don’t. Some use fancy lettering and experiment with fonts. Some are simply traditional and others add special readings and meditations focused on things as diverse as Zionism, ecology, or spirituality. See last week’s post, “Where Did the Haggadah Come From?” and now we turn to the question: “What is in the haggadah?”

There are weird things in the haggadah. This list is partial, but should be enough to convince you: a poem about a goat that gets eaten by a cat, a midrash saying that Laban the Aramean tried to destroy Israel, a Hillel sandwich, a story about five rabbis with insomnia, a breakdown of children into four types including the less-than-bright variety, a tradition of sprinkling drops of wine, a contest between rabbis to exaggerate to plagues story to the greatest extent possible, and more.

Remember, the haggadah developed over 800 years. It’s a mixture of traditions of different eras.

And remember, the haggadah is, as Lawrence Hoffman puts it in My People’s Passover Haggadah, Vol. 1, a “sacred drama.” It has parts for various people to play and things for everyone to do to enter into the story.

The haggadah is, as Louis Finkelstein says in his 1942 haggadah “the oldest and probably the most effective pedagogic instrument ever devised.”

One thing not in the haggadah (with one minor exception)? Moses. That’s right. I’ll explain why in coming installments of The Concise MJ Musings Guide the Haggadah.

What is in the haggadah?

-It contains a sacred drama with parts designed over 800 years of history and with echoes throughout Jewish history.

-It contains a ritual meal with symbolic foods and actions that connect us modern Jews and non-Jews to the ceremonies of the Temple that used to be.

-It is an evening of unusual storytelling (the “Maggid” section, which I recommend you abridge each year with different emphases and about which I will provide some guidance for creative Seder scripts).

-It is a midrashic unfolding of Deuteronomy 26:5-10 and other sacred scripts contained in the Torah (Exodus 12:25-27; 13:14-15; and Deuteronomy 6:20-25).

-It is four cups of wine symbolizing God’s acts of redemption for Israel from Exodus 6:6-8.

-It is an evening of stories, symbols, foods, songs, and prayers.

-It is a book that invites you to experience God and, if handled poorly, will bore everyone to tears.

-It is a book that invites you to experience God and, if handled wisely, will create each year a memorable sense of covenant renewal with God.

Haggadahs to Buy
My two favorite haggadahs are listed below:

The Vine of David Haggadah (Messianic/Judeo-Christian). Fully traditional but with additions from the perspective of faith in Yeshua. It is not currently available but they should make it available any week now for this Passover. I will announce it as soon as I know it is available for order (last year they sold out in a few weeks and their popularity was overwhelming). Check here for availability.

A Passover Haggadah: As Commented on by Elie Wiesel (Traditional). For availability, beauty of fonts and drawings, and beauty of commentary, this is my favorite traditional haggadah. See it here on amazon.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Holidays, Passover. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What Is In the Passover Haggadah?

  1. Jeff Allen says:

    Hello Derek,

    I’m fascinated by changes in Jewish tradition over time. I was first introduced to the idea of changes in the traditional Haggadah by the The Jewish Book of Why where it documents an interesting change: apparently the fourth question—that in all other nights some eat sitting and others reclining, on this night, we are all reclining—is a change instituted after the destruction of the Second Temple. Apparently the fourth question was originally about the Passover Sacrifice (Korban Pesach). I’m sure there are other examples of this kind change elsewhere in Jewish tradition, especially as it relates to the loss of the Temple.

    Also, yes, I’m looking forward to FFOZ’s Passover Haggadah as well. I intended to buy one last year, but I waited too long and they ran out. I don’t intend to make the same mistake twice, I’m going to get my hands on one as soon as they become available.

  2. Pingback: The 2011 Passover Palooza of Information! | Messianic Jewish Musings

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