My Peo­ple’s Passover Hag­gadah: Tra­di­tion­al Texts, Mod­ern Com­men­taries Vol­ume 2

Lawrence A. Hoff­man and David Arnow, eds.
  • Review
By – April 23, 2012
If Passover is a night for telling and retelling the sto­ry of the Exo­dus, My People’s Hag­gadah is an almost bot­tom­less trea­sury of knowl­edge for enrich­ing any seder. In the Tal­mud-style for­mat of Rab­bi Lawrence A. Hoffman’s series My People’s Prayer­book,” the cen­ter­piece of each page is the tra­di­tion­al seder text in Hebrew and Eng­lish, in this case the high­ly regard­ed ver­sion of E. D. Gold­schmidt (1960); it is framed by widerang­ing com­ments from ten lead­ing schol­ars across the spec­trum of Jew­ish prac­tice. Each schol­ar writes from a dif­fer­ent view­point— Neil Gill­man on the­ol­o­gy, Arthur Green on per­son­al spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, Hoff­man on his­to­ry, Daniel Lan­des on halakhah, Alyssa Gray on medieval com­men­ta­tors, and so on. This allows read­ers to select a pas­sage or rit­u­al and study it from many points — Cha­sidic, spir­i­tu­al, midrashic, fem­i­nist — or to fol­low one thread through sev­er­al pas­sages.

This brief descrip­tion only sug­gests the breadth and depth of infor­ma­tion in these vol­umes. My People’s Hag­gadah is an ency­clo­pe­dia on hag­gadot, to be con­sult­ed on any sub­ject con­nect­ed to the seder, not a hag­gadah for the seder table. The essays that open Vol­ume 1 cut a wide swath, look­ing at the hag­gadah from the Bible through con­tem­po­rary fem­i­nism, explor­ing the Passover- East­er nexus, sur­vey­ing the Amer­i­can influ­ence on the hag­gadah through the var­i­ous move­ments and, need­less to say, Maxwell House. The appen­dix­es include trans­la­tions of the seder instruc­tions in the Mish­nah and Tosef­ta, with a fac­sim­i­le of the sec­tion of the 13th cen­tu­ry Kauf­mann Mish­nah that deals with the seder, as well as a trans­la­tion of a hag­gadah from the Cairo Geniza that reflects prac­tice in Eretz Yis­rael rather than the medieval Baby­lon­ian hag­gadot that are the basis of all con­tem­po­rary ver­sions. The com­pre­hen­sive glos­sary is anoth­er excel­lent fea­ture. High­ly read­able, thor­ough­ly engag­ing, use­ful and infor­ma­tive, My People’s Hag­gadah is tru­ly a people’s book. Appen­dix­es, bib­li­og­ra­phy, con­trib­u­tors’ list, glos­sary, illus­tra­tions, index, notes.

Addi­tion­al Title Fea­tured in Review

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