Jew­ish Text

The New Union Hag­gadah, Revised Edition

Rab­bi Howard A. Berman and Rab­bi Ben­jamin Zeidman
  • Review
By – April 1, 2014

The Clas­si­cal Reform revised edi­tion of The New Union Hag­gadah is for­mal and ele­gant as it brings to the seder a mes­sage of uni­ver­sal­ism told in ele­vat­ed lan­guage. First pub­lished in 1923, The New Union Hag­gadah was Reform’s response to a chang­ing world and life in the Unit­ed States — the use of Eng­lish in wor­ship, a ratio­nal approach that reject­ed super­sti­tion and parochial­ism,” sparse rab­binic com­men­tary, and strik­ing­ly mod­ern Art Deco illus­tra­tions and dec­o­ra­tions. The Reform move­ment has in sub­se­quent hag­gadot moved toward more tra­di­tion­al prac­tice and away from the Clas­sic roots and lit­er­ary lan­guage, lead­ing to the for­ma­tion in 2008 of the Soci­ety for Clas­si­cal Reform Judaism, ded­i­cat­ed to renew­ing the his­toric high-mind­ed Clas­sic litur­gy and restor­ing its uni­ver­sal out­look. In recog­ni­tion, how­ev­er, that some new rit­u­al enhances the seder, this revised edi­tion brings the hag­gadah up to date with gen­der-neu­tral lan­guage, Miriam’s cup, and an orange on the seder plate. At the same time, acknowl­edg­ing that cer­tain tra­di­tion­al rit­u­al is deeply root­ed in all Jew­ish prac­tice, the edi­tors restore tra­di­tion­al sec­tions of the hag­gadah pre­vi­ous­ly omit­ted because they ran counter to the ratio­nal and uni­ver­sal aims of the move­ment — thus, the Ten Plagues, here with a con­tem­po­rary equiv­a­lent for each, and an expan­sive cer­e­mo­ny to wel­come Eli­jah and explain who he is and why he comes. Four thought­ful schol­ar­ly essays — on the Exo­dus and the his­to­ry of the hag­gadah — fol­low the con­clu­sion of the service.

This is a seder con­duct­ed with great dig­ni­ty of lan­guage and pur­pose. The evening opens, Now, in the pres­ence of loved ones and friends,/Before us the emblems of fes­tive rejoicing,/We gath­er for our sacred cel­e­bra­tion.” There is more expla­na­tion and there are more songs than in many hag­gadot as well as empha­sis on Amer­i­can val­ues and lib­er­a­tion for all peo­ples. The seder clos­es, Lashanah habaah birusha­lay­im! Next year…in a world of peace…for Jerusalem and for all peo­ple!” Eng­lish ser­vice with Hebrew and translit­er­a­tion for all bless­ings and songs.

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