Jew­ish Text

The Medieval Hag­gadah Anthol­o­gy with the Com­men­tary of Rab­bi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

David Holz­er
  • Review
By – April 1, 2014

The Medieval Hag­gadah Anthol­o­gy is a unique and glo­ri­ous hag­gadah. A hand­some over­sized vol­ume, it is illus­trat­ed with dig­i­tal­ly remas­tered art from thir­ty-five out­stand­ing medieval man­u­scripts select­ed by David Holz­er to illus­trate prepa­ra­tions for the seder and for every step of the text. Holz­er was a stu­dent and shamash (atten­dant) of Rab­bi Joseph Soloveitchik, known as the Rav, who many con­sid­er the out­stand­ing rab­bi of Ortho­doxy in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, and thus had many con­ver­sa­tions with him. Draw­ing on years of con­ver­sa­tions with Rab­bi Soloveitchik, Holz­er has assem­bled a kind of archive, The Rav Think­ing Aloud Series,” of which the hag­gadah is the fifth vol­ume. It includes many pre­vi­ous­ly unpub­lished tran­scripts which are pre­sent­ed here in mod­i­fied ver­ba­tim form.

Pag­ing through The Medieval Hag­gadah Anthol­o­gy is a visu­al and lit­er­ary delight. The illus­tra­tions, each thought­ful­ly iden­ti­fied in small type by its side, are stun­ning and charm­ing­ly doc­u­ment Pesach cus­toms from the thir­teenth through six­teenth cen­turies. Each page has a brief sec­tion of the hag­gadah in a hand­some Hebrew type­face and then has the Rav’s com­men­tary. His obser­va­tions, offered in an appeal­ing con­ver­sa­tion­al style, are steeped in cen­turies of rab­binic inter­pre­ta­tion and inti­mate knowl­edge of the texts, and they cast an extra­or­di­nary light on a rich array of details and points of dis­agree­ment among the rab­bis. Bring­ing to bear his own pas­sions for medieval man­u­scripts and the teach­ings of the Rav, Holz­er adds knowl­edge­able com­ments on the art and, where nec­es­sary, clar­i­fi­ca­tions of the Rav’s comments.

This hag­gadah, with its glossy out­sized pages and bril­liant art, does not seem meant for the seder table. How­ev­er, for read­ers who enjoy Tal­mu­dic dis­cus­sion and absorb­ing art­work, it will pro­vide hours of plea­sure and many fresh insights. Holzer’s inter­est­ing intro­duc­tion describes step-by-step prepa­ra­tions for the seder illus­trat­ed with con­tem­po­rary pho­tographs side by side with medieval illus­tra­tions. A brief chap­ter at the end of the book has insights on the seder from the Rav. A brac­ing pro­logue to the seder. Full Hebrew hag­gadah test with no translit­er­a­tion; all com­men­tary in English. 

Relat­ed Content:

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