Jew­ish Text

The Bronf­man Haggadah

Edgar M. Bronf­man; Jan Aron­son, illus.
  • Review
By – February 6, 2013

For many years, Edgar Bronf­man, the phil­an­thropist, and his wife, Jan Aron­son, the artist known for her land­scapes and por­traits, sought to make their seders not only a time to cel­e­brate but also to teach young peo­ple about Judaism and the impor­tance of Jew­ish pride and com­mit­ment. Each year they drew their hag­gadah from var­i­ous sources, but they were nev­er tru­ly sat­is­fied with the result. Final­ly Edgar Bronf­man decid­ed to com­pose his own hag­gadah, and he asked Jan Aron­son to illus­trate it. Togeth­er they have cre­at­ed a dis­tinc­tive and high­ly per­son­al haggadah.

For Bronf­man the main fig­ure in the hag­gadah is Moses, who demon­strates the qual­i­ties that lead to lib­er­a­tion. The hag­gadah cen­ters on Moses and the Exo­dus and tells their sto­ry all the way to Sinai — past Passover, through the count­ing of the omer, to Shavuot and the receiv­ing of the Ten Com­mand­ments. For mod­ern sen­si­bil­i­ties the Exo­dus is read as metaphor, and God is con­strued as ener­gy, a force beyond us and with­in us. The tra­di­tion­al sec­tions of the seder — the four cups of wine, the four ques­tions, the sym­bol­ic items on the seder plate, the open­ing of the door for Eli­jah, the four types of Jews, the chant­i­ng of Dayenu — are recast here in ways that broad­en their rel­e­vance and bring them up to date. Through­out, the hag­gadah empha­sizes the uni­ver­sal val­ues of Judaism and their influ­ence on world civilization.

The Bronf­man Hag­gadah tru­ly bears the sig­na­tures of its author and illus­tra­tor in its orig­i­nal reorder­ing and revi­sion of the text and its bold and col­or­ful paint­ings. Those seek­ing the famil­iar words and rit­u­al of the seder will not find them here. The text is entire­ly in Eng­lish although it indi­cates where the leader can recite the tradi­tional bless­ings. This is a hag­gadah that puts today’s strug­gles, as well as the painful twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry strug­gles of the Jews, on the table even as it cel­e­brates the arrival of spring and the hope that next year we will all live in the spir­i­tu­al Jerusalem, a place of jus­tice, com­pas­sion, and free­dom for all.”

Read Jan Aron­son’s Posts for the Vis­it­ing Scribe

Book Trail­er

The Bronf­man Hag­gadah from The Bronf­man Hag­gadah on Vimeo.

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