Jewish Journal


April 10, 2008

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. Eybeshitz didn't write a specific commentary on the haggadah, but Hammer compiled this from his writings and other sources. This is the first time his work appears in English. This edition includes additional commentary by Hammer, an American-born teacher, radio commentator and lecturer, who lives in Israel.

"Haggadah for Jews & Buddhists: A Passover Ritual" (Modern Haggadah Distribution Co.) guides readers through the rituals of the seder in English, with some Hebrew prayers in transliteration. Rather than four sons, this haggadah speaks of four types of Jews who may be sharing in the seder: traditionalist, humanist, Buddhist and friend, a non-Jewish person.

From the Buddhist's perspective, "This seder is about sharing and reinforcing the essential truths that come from all spiritual paths. Every human being desires freedom from suffering. Having learned that it is possible to escape from suffering, we are called to participate in the healing and transformation of all humanity."

The Maggid section includes a teaching from the Dalai Lama on anger.

"The JPS Commentary on the Haggadah: Historical Introduction, Translation and Commentary," edited by Joseph Tabory (Jewish Publication Society), is a scholarly commentary tracing the historical development of the seder and haggadah. Although it's more a reading book than one to be used at the seder table, it does include the full haggadah text, with a new translation. Also included are illustrated pages reproduced from historical editions of the haggadah.

"Rejoice in Your Festivals: Penetrating Insights Into Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot," by Rabbi Zvi Dov Kanotopsky and edited by David A. Zomick (Urim), features previously unpublished sermons by a disciple of Rabbi Soloveitchik, which were written at historic moments in the 1940s and 1950s. His accessible and inspiring style makes these teachings valuable in preparing for conversation around the seder table.

To bring the stories of the women of the Exodus to the table, "Moses' Women," by Shera Aranoff Tuchman and Sandra E. Rapoport (Ktav), offers much wisdom drawn from traditional midrashic and rabbinic sources. The authors bring depth to the personalities of Moses' mother, Yocheved; his sister, Miriam; Batya, Pharaoh's daughter who found him in the Nile; his wife, Zipporah; and a mysterious Kushite woman.

While these biblical women rarely speak in the text, the authors tease out their key roles in Moses' life as prophet, leader and lawgiver. Tuchman, a practicing dermatologist, has been teaching weekly courses at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan for the last 15 years. She met her co-author, Rapoport, a lawyer turned writer, in the class.

For the youngest at the seder, "Let My People Go," by Tina Balsey, illustrated in color by Ilene Richard (Kar-Ben), is a charming, rhyming retelling of the Passover story, which can be read as a theater script with five roles.


"Cuisine connects us to our past, and encoded in our recipes are our family stories and history, a reminder of those who we have lost and traditions that remain fragile," Jayne Cohen writes in "Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lover's Treasury of Classics and Improvisations" (Wiley).

Cohen, the author of two previous books on Jewish cooking and celebrations, offers traditional foods, updated versions and many imaginative and elegant dishes, with helpful suggestions, explanations of Jewish tradition and stories drawn from the author's culinary adventures.

Among the almost 300 recipes are six variations on matzah brie, along with nine different Passover menus. Her Passover recipes, filled with the color and fragrance of springtime, include artichoke soup with herbed matzah balls, snapper filets in pistachio-matzah crust, braised brisket with 36 cloves of garlic, salad of bitter herbs and oranges, wild mushroom potato kugel and upside-down apricot hazelnut torte.

In the fifth in her "Kosher by Design" cookbook series, Susie Fishbein features contemporary recipes, artfully presented. Illustrated with full-color photographs, "Passover by Design: Picture-Perfect Kosher by Design Recipes for the Holiday" (Artscroll/Sha'ar Press) includes more than 130 recipes from Fishbein's other books, adjusted for Passover use, along with 30 new recipes and suggestions for inventive ways of serving at the seder.

For an alternative to gefilte fish, she offers salmon tataki, salmon wrapped in a collar of daikon radish and topped with mashed cauliflower. Instead of stuffed cabbage, steamed sea bass in savoy cabbage might be a choice.

She also prepares chicken livers with caramelized onions and red wine, spinach matzah balls, chardonnay poached salmon and white chocolate mousse in chocolate boxes.

Sandee Brawarsky is book critic for The Jewish Week.

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