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On the Bookshelf

Beyond Maxwell House: A haggadah roundup

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A seder for refugee orphans, France, 1947. (Courtesy of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee Archives)

Passover haggadot are the sort of potential cash cows publishers dream about: Short pamphlets that can be cheaply reproduced and that market themselves on a predictable annual schedule, they tend to be snapped up in batches of eight or 12 at a time, with additional purchases necessary as families expand or after a bored toddler has mercilessly ripped a copy to shreds. The only problem: the brilliant marketing executive Joseph Jacobs, who intuited that a free haggadah giveaway could efficiently introduce the name of a brand into just about every Jewish home in America—and, as it has turned out, into one very important non-Jewish house, too—and, to this end, created the ubiquitous Maxwell House Haggadah. To grab a slice of what’s left of this market, publishers must offer something Maxwell House does not: that is, more than just the bare bones Hebrew text of a traditional seder along with occasionally wonky English translations.

* * *

Some haggadot supplement the traditional narrative of slavery and freedom with references to resonant recent events. The Koren Journey to Freedom Haggada: An Ethiopian Haggada (Koren, March), for one example, focuses on a modern exodus from North Africa, in which some 20,000 Jews left their homes in Ethiopia, southeast of Egypt, and journeyed to Israel during operations in the mid-1980s and in 1991. The haggadah, edited by Rabbi Menachem Waldman, introduces Amharic versions of the Exodus story in Hebrew translations, along with photographs and descriptions of Ethiopian Jewish rituals alongside the traditional texts.

In Every Generation

In Every Generation (Devora Publishing, March) takes a similar approach. Drawing upon the archives of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the slim book includes pictures and anecdotes from humanitarian missions run by the Joint in postwar Europe, Yemen, Ethiopia, Morocco, Lithuania, Iran, and elsewhere. If that’s not enough food for your thought, the book also includes a foreword by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin lauding the Joint, and running commentary by former New York Times religion reporter Ari L. Goldman.

* * *

The Generations Haggadah

Another strategy is to distinguish a haggadah with an inventive format or design, as the creators of The Generations Haggadah (Matan Arts, March) have done. Folded accordion-style like a roadmap and printed in full color, this haggadah runs an unbroken timeline of a few millennia of Jewish history along the bottom of its pages, underneath the traditional holiday texts and a handful of apposite illustrations. In this booklet, Jewish history ends smack in 1948, with the establishment of the State of Israel—meaning that this haggadah would pair nicely with one of those mentioned above, which update the story a little.

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The Royal Table: A Passover Haggadah

Rabbi Norman Lamm, chancellor of Yeshiva University, is perhaps the leading contemporary exponent of the Modern Orthodox movement headquartered at that university, a deeply learned scholar and former congregational rabbi unafraid of ruffling a few feathers among the less steadfastly traditional: He has told the Jerusalem Post that “with a heavy heart we will soon say kaddish on the Reform and Conservative Movements” and that he objects to the ordination of female rabbis on a “social, not religious” basis. Admirers of Lamm’s piety and perspicacity can now bring his wisdom to their festive dinner with The Royal Table: A Passover Haggadah (Orthodox Union, March), which collects the rabbi’s commentary on the holiday traditions.

Season of Renewal: A Family Haggadah

Season of Renewal: A Family Haggadah (Behrman House, January) also embodies the spirit of a respected community leader: in this case, Rabbi Dr. John Levi, the first Australian-born Jew to be rabbinically ordained and the author of several historical volumes about Jewish settlement on that continent. For better or worse, the haggadah, illustrated by Australian graphic designer and puppeteer Naomi Tippett, isn’t particularly Aussie-themed—no kangaroos hiding the afikomen in their pouches, no didgeridoo tunes for Adir Hu—but interested parties are invited to download audio files in which the children of Melbourne’s King David School sing seder classics to bouncy synthesizer tunes.

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Behold the Lamb: A Scripture-Based, Modern, Messianic Passover Memorial

Kevin Geofferey grew up attending traditional seders—“the fancy china, the matzah ball soup, the brisket, the gefilte fish”—but his problem with the nauseating Messianic Passover Haggadah isn’t that it features Jesus Christ too prominently. On the contrary, Geoffrey, a fervent believer in Yeshua—that is, Jesus Christ—and the leader of Perfect Word Ministries of Phoenix, Arizona (“A Messianic Jewish Equipping Ministry”), intends his new Behold the Lamb: A Scripture-Based, Modern, Messianic Passover Memorial ‘Avodah (Perfect Word Publishing, January) to lead his Messianic coreligionists in a Passover commemoration that stays faithful to the textual sources: the texts in this case being mostly Luke, Matthew, Mark, and John. Don’t expect Geofferey’s pseudo-seders to be much fun, though: By Geofferey’s own admission his book does not attempt “to make the service more lively, more entertaining, more meaningful, more Jewish, more Messianic, or anything else.” In those respects, at least, it is a remarkable success.

* * *

Passover: Celebrating Now, Remembering Then

Passover-themed books for children treat the holiday in surprisingly complex ways. Sure, some of them, like Harriet Ziefert’s Passover: Celebrating Now, Remembering Then (Blue Apple, February, 4-8) simply provide overviews of history and ritual with charming illustrations. But Leslie Kimmelman’s The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah emphasizes, with the indefatigable spirit of a Yiddish-speaking grandmother, what an enormous effort it takes to put together a proper holiday celebration (Holiday House, March, 4-8)—a message sure to appeal, at least, to many harried hosts and hostesses. Mindy Avra Portnoy’s Tale of Two Seders (Kar-Ben/Lerner, January, 4-8), meanwhile, despite its title is neither an homage to Dickens nor an examination of yom tov sheni shel galuyot, but rather an upbeat exploration of the challenges faced by children of divorce when the holidays arrive. As the book concludes, in a message that all of us might bear in mind as we sit down with our friends and relatives next week: “Families are like charoset. … Some have more ingredients than others, some stick together better than others, some are sweeter than others. But each one is tasty in its own way.”

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Thank you for the review. Actually, “Behold the Lamb” is primarily Tanakh — about 85% — not “mostly Luke, Matthew, Mark, and John.”

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to correct that statement.

Steven Low says:

It is inappropriate to list the Behold the Lamb publication. Messianic Jews are not Jews at all. They are Christians who employ “stealth” tactics to prey upon Jews and convert them to Christianity. This “Haggadah” is a good example of their tactics. By including it in the listing you play right into their hands and assist their cause by implying that they are simply another Jewish denomination. One can no more be a Jew for Jesus than one can be a vegetarian for beef or a creationist for Darwin.

Sharon Baumgold says:

I am DISGUSTED that the reviewer chose to include a “messianic” tract in the review of haggadahs. I had hoped to be enlightened and informed by, perhaps, a new haggadah; instead, included in the list of real haggadahs is a Christian book. That is fine in a review of Christian books, but NOT in a review of Pesach haggadot!

bruce says:

I agree with Steven: Messianic Jews should not be featured in the light of observant Jews, but rather only in connection with scholarly analysis. Including the Behold the Lamb publication in his list is wholly inappropriate.

I love the “Behold the Lamb” Haggadah. It’s been a great tool to use in the mitzvah of celebrating the Pesach Seder. Thanks Perfect Word for writing a Scriptural Haggadah that focuses the reader on the wonders and miracles of our G-d of Redemption!

Jay A Friedman says:

Regarding Behold the lamb — Who cares? My personal message to Messianic “Jews” this Pesach eve: Go where you wish…do what you do… So what?

In the words of the famed Scottish liturgy “You take (what is for you) the high road and I’ll take (what is for you) the low road and you’ll get to wherever you want to get before me — because I’m not coming!

Dear Friends,

If you want WITHOUT COST to create or edit your own modern Haggadah available in various lengths and in reader-friendly English, Hebrew and Transliteration, or secure a copy of the World’s Largest Seder Songbook, or multiple Seder Supplements of meaningful readings, or enjoy a Haroset activity – my website awaits you:

One of the reasons I have been making this available on-line is to deter people from purchasing agenda-driven missionary seder books, all too often deceptive and very inexpensive compared to Jewish publications.

FREE. Millions over the more recent years annually downloaded. No cookies. No registration. No password. Truly no strings attached. My gift to the Jewish world.

Hag Kasher v’Sameah. A kosher, sweet meaningful Passover to all.

Rabbi Dov Lerner

Why do people feel the need to assert they’re not Messianic Jews? No-one’s asking you to be.

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Moshe Manheim says:

Why oh why would TM include anything about a “Messianic” publication as it does about it’s so called hagaddah. Inclusion of such non Jewish content leaves our forefathers and foremothers spinning, wretching and k’vetching in their graves.

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Naomi Tippett says:

The ‘Season of Renewal Haggadah’ was illustrated by THE CHILDREN of The King David School, not Naomi Tippett. Naomi coordinated the project and producedthe Haggadah. The Berman House edition has been considerably modified and abridged from the original very attractive Australian edition


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On the Bookshelf

Beyond Maxwell House: A haggadah roundup

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