Thursday, March 29, 2007

My Fantasy Haggadah

My family always used a traditional Haggadah. We have a set of cheap Haggadot without commentary (the red and yellow ones) to use at the seder so that everyone can be on the same page. We also have a collection of Haggadot with various commentaries, which are used to spark discussion. The traditional Haggadah is a complex book -- too complex, really, to be properly utilized by anyone without an extensive Jewish education -- but over the years, I've come to really like it. For me, that appreciation derived in a large measure from learning Mishnah Tractate Pesachim, which outlines the structure of the Seder and allowed me to discern the order behind the chaos. It also came from the questions and ideas raised by many years of discussing the Haggadah and reading various commentaries. I've often wished that I could shed more light on the Haggadah for other people at the Seder, for many of whom I think it is still a random collection of obscure texts, strung together in no particular order. But that would be too complicated for Seder night. People want to get to the meal eventually, and I'm not even sure that everyone would be interested.

After I got married, I began to attend Seders at my in-laws', where I was introduced to the Rabbinical Assembly Haggadah, which is almost traditional. It follows the sequence outlined in m. Pesachim (and explains it in the commentary more clearly than any other Haggadah that I've seen). There are some subtle differences, however. Where the mishnah prescribes that one expound on Deuteronomy 26:5-8, the composers of the traditional Haggadah settled on a particular set of midrashim from Sifre Deuteronomy. The Rabbinical Assembly includes a slightly different set of midrashim, some from Sifre and some from other sources, such as Tanchuma. I generally like the midrashim in the RA Haggadah, and for the most part, I understand why they were chosen over the few that the committee decided to omit. Still, I like the traditional Haggadah, and I miss the parts that aren't there.

A few years ago, I was discussing this with a friend, and I said that if DH and I were ever to make our own Seder, I wouldn't know which haggadah to use. He immediately responded, "you should make your own!" Since then, I've had a fantasy of creating my own Haggadah (with DH, of course, and whoever else wanted to participate). Early on, I realized that "my" Haggadah would be about twice as long as any other, and everyone using it would hate me. Then it occured to me that, thanks to miracle of technology, I could reformulate it slightly each year, including a different selection of readings and commentaries each time, keeping it fresh. I could expand on anything I wanted to, and whatever was omitted, I could always bring back another time. Wouldn't that be fun?

Maybe some day. . .

7 comments:

Haggadah said...

"The Rabbinical Assembly includes a slightly different set of midrashim, some from Sifre and some from other sources, such as Tanchuma. I generally like the midrashim in the RA Haggadah, and for the most part, I understand why they were chosen over the few that the committee decided to omit."

Can you please elaborate on why the originals were replaced and how the replacements are better?

Rachel said...

If you do ever wind up rolling your own haggadah, I hope you'll share it -- I would love to see what your ideal seder would include. (For what it's worth, boy can I identify with the desire to include twice as many texts and explanations as anyone else at the table might remotely be interested in hearing...!) :-)

elf said...

haggadah: I decided to answer your question in a separate post.

rachel: If I ever do, I would certainly like to share it with you. (Not sure about the rest of my readers, given the blog's pseudonymy. But that's something to worry about later.) I like having your Haggadah to look at for inspiration, even though it's much too radical for me to use. (Have I mentioned that I love that you included a Denise Levertov poem?)

fleurdelis28 said...

I think the increased length of your haggadah would be compensated for somewhat by the fact that the people reading it would actually have some clue why its contents were relevant to them or to the holiday, thus eliminating the time spent going "Hunh?".

The Elf Haggadah, favored by discriminating geeky Jews everywhere -- I can see it. It could be distributed as part of a companion set with the latest edition of DH's Purim kiddush.

elf said...

Thanks, fleurdelis28. We'll ask you to write a blurb.

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