How is This Haggadah Different?

There are numerous versions of the Haggadah now in print, each bringing a new perspective to the holiday of Passover.


The Passover Haggadah has, for centuries, been the text through which Jews have engaged in the retelling of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Fulfilling the injunction to "Remember this day that you came forth from Egypt" (Exodus 13:3), and to recount this story to future generations ("Ve-higadeta le-vinkha"– "And you shall tell thy son," Exodus 13:8), Jews across the globe read the Haggadah during the Passover seder as a way of recapturing the spirit of freedom held by the Israelites following Moses out of Egypt, and celebrating the eternal notion of redemption and liberation. 

The Haggadah–a collected work of blessings, prayers, and excerpts from the Bible, Mishnah, and Midrash–was not written by one particular author, and was gradually supplemented by psalms and songs. The first printed version of the Haggadah was published in Guadalajara in 1482, ten years prior to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. By the 16th century, there were approximately 25 printed versions; 300 years later, there were more than 1,000. These Haggadot (plural of Haggadah) vary in geographical origin, denominational orientation, political and social focus, and historical emphasis.

Various Haggadah manuscripts emerged around the world throughout the centuries (Darmstadt, ca. 1430; Venice, 1609; Amsterdam, 1737). The most famous is perhaps the Birds’ Head Haggadah, copied in Germany in the late 13th century. The unique nature of this Haggadah lies in the fact that most human figures are not depicted in realistic human form; they have birds’ heads, reflecting a popular medieval artistic style. Printed editions of the Haggadah, produced around the world, began appearing in the 15th century–each generation and region recreating the Haggadah in its own image.

The Holocaust and Israel

Two monumental events that have reshaped the traditional Haggadah were the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel. In the waning days of the Holocaust, survivors created A Survivor’s Haggadah, a remarkable illustrated Haggadah anticipating the first Passover after liberation from the Nazis. In this Haggadah, the traditional Passover liturgy, presenting the story of the Israelites’ liberation from Pharaoh in Egypt, was interwoven with the story of the Holocaust, and of the Jews who survived Hitler. The Survivor’s Haggadah, compiled by Yosef Dov Shenison, and decorated with poignant woodcuts created by fellow-survivor Miklos Adler, was reissued by the Jewish Publication Society in 2000. The Wolloch Haggadah in Memory of the Holocaust, published in Haifa in 1988, juxtaposes images from the Holocaust with the text of the traditional Haggadah, thereby linking the memory of the destruction of European Jewry with that of the Israelites’ enslavement and emancipation from Egypt.

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Sharonne Cohen is an Israeli-Canadian writer, editor, translator, and teacher. She currently lives in Montreal.

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