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.
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.