Beginning with the command that you have to tell the story of the Exodus as if it happened to you, Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, author and director of the Ask the Rabbi feature for Chabad.org, has created a user-friendly totally traditional haggadah, complete with the classic commentaries, full Hebrew text, and standard translation of the liturgy, but has framed it in everyday idiomatic street language. So there’s a rap version of “Kadesh, urchatz…,” and tonight the rasha, here the chilled-out kid, asks, “Why do you guys do all this?” We’re introduced to the “embarrassing and shameful fact…. Originally our ancestors were idolators.” The leader tells us, “Stop and read this…. We’re about to do the matzo thing, and it ain’t simple,” followed shortly by the “totally awesome mitzvah eating ceremony.”
There surely is appeal in this I’m‑one-of-you approach, enhanced by lively full-color cartoons. For people unfamiliar with the seder or tired of the same old thing, The Hyper-Modern… might be a refreshing change, especially for communal seders, where there’s a wide range of knowledge and familiarity with the seder. Freeman is rather successful in making a traditional seder informal and comfortable while retaining its seriousness of purpose. He also offers a few practical tips on managing a well-paced evening. Freeman suggests that the language is so casual that guests at the seder might think you’re making it up as you go along; those leaders who like to bring themselves into the seder — Freeman’s goal — might prefer to use their own words. In all, a well-planned effort at outreach — accessible, hip, but totally traditional and instructive in all the basics. Full Hebrew text and English translation; minimal transliteration.
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.