Cre­at­ing Live­ly Passover Seders: A Source­book of Engag­ing Tales, Texts and Activ­i­ties, Sec­ond Edition

David Arnow
  • Review
By – January 16, 2012

Who­ev­er elab­o­rates on the sto­ry of the Exo­dus deserves praise.” David Arnow, psy­chol­o­gist and co-edi­tor of My People’s Hag­gadah, deserves much praise for com­pil­ing a trea­sury of Passover mate­r­i­al to enrich any seder. The first edi­tion, pub­lished in 2004, grew out of sup­ple­ments Arnow com­posed for his family’s seders. This expand­ed edi­tion, with new chap­ters, con­tin­ues Arnow’s explo­ration of every aspect of the seder. The chap­ter on Dayenu lifts it from a rous­ing song to a sum­ma­ry of the Exo­dus, built around the num­ber fif­teen and its sig­nif­i­cance in Jew­ish tra­di­tion. Sim­i­lar­ly, Arnow brings both medieval schol­ars and Shmuel Agnon and Yehu­da Amichai to com­ment on Chad Gadya. A chap­ter on the seder plate opens up the ques­tion of where to place what, and Arnow finds Moses in the Hag­gadah despite the fact that he is not named. The chap­ters from the first edi­tion are equal­ly expan­sive, notably the con­tro­ver­sial pour out your wrath” and the fig­ure of Eli­jah; the arche­o­log­ic evi­dence for the Exo­dus and how it could have entered Jew­ish tra­di­tion; and midrashim that bring women into the sto­ry.

This is a book to be con­sult­ed, not read from cov­er to cov­er. Tak­ing his direc­tions from the Mishnah’s brief chap­ter on the sparse rit­u­al require­ments of the seder and its stress on instruct­ing chil­dren, Arnow encour­ages dis­cus­sion as a means to bet­ter under­stand the fes­ti­val. He sug­gests elab­o­rat­ing on one top­ic a year and out­lines for­mats that encour­age dis­cus­sion, such as dis­trib­ut­ing pas­sages to par­tic­i­pants ahead of time and gath­er­ing before the seder for an activ­i­ty or a con­ver­sa­tion about a pas­sage.

How­ev­er read­ers choose to use the mate­r­i­al, there is enough here for a life­time of thought-filled seders. As I read the book, I found myself mark­ing pas­sages that I might insert into a seder or that were per­son­al­ly valu­able and infor­ma­tive. The great range of mate­r­i­al, from the rab­bis through medieval schol­ars to con­tem­po­rary com­men­ta­tors, not only pro­vides these oppor­tu­ni­ties but also under­lines the remold­ing of the Exo­dus sto­ry to fit the time and place of its retelling. If you do not have the first edi­tion, you will be reward­ed with this expand­ed ver­sion; if you own the ear­li­er edi­tion, you know the pos­si­bil­i­ties that Arnow’s research pro­vides. Appen­dix­es, index, notes, select bibliography. 

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions