Book Review: The Passover Haggadah

The Passover Haggadah, by E.D. Goldschmidt, edited by Nahum Norbert Glatzer

This book is a good work to read if one wants to find out what exactly a Haggadah is and what it covers. As far as its organization goes, it has a lot to offer, and one thing the book does well is explain its context. One get the feeling that this is a Haggadah that is aimed at people who take their faith seriously but who may not understand all of the history behind the Haggadah. And if one wants to see the Haggadah in both English and Hebrew, this book is a diglot edition that manages to provide plenty of useful information while also remaining in a somewhat short form that is less than 150 pages even including both its Hebrew and English materials, which makes it suitable or use in the Seder given the time constraints of that night. One of the aspects of this book that seems a bit puzzling is that it is labeled as a Passover Haggadah, which seems a bit redundant given that Passover is the main time when the Haggadah is referred to or thought of, even if the word itself has a broader potential meaning at least.

One thing that this book does not have in its organization that would be helpful is a table of contents. Instead, this book jumps right from the title page materials to a preface/introductory section that explains and defines the Haggadah and its history. After that the book then discusses the four cups of the seder and the materials that are discussed in each one. Included is the Kaddish, the search for leavening, the four questions and their answers, various stories, as well as a discussion of the Exodus as well as the materials of Psalms 113-118. The materials of this book are both in English and in Hebrew, and there are also supplementary materials that can be added later on to flesh out a Seder if one has time and people who are willing to have it take many hours. This is by no means a bad thing, but one’s enjoyment of this book and its contents will be greatly increased the more highly one thinks of the Mishnah, which is admittedly an area that I tend to lack compared with this book’s target audience. Still, there is a lot here to appreciate in reading about the Exodus and how it is viewed.

In many ways it was easy to like this book for what it was. That does not mean that as a reader I am not critical of its contents, but my criticism is less directed at this book in particular and more at the tropes and cliches of the Haggadah in general. Speaking personally, I have a high degree of respect for the midrashic approach towards scripture (as it is an approach that I personally take) and far less interest in the mishnaic approach, which this book also demonstrates. I could not care less about what some rabbi thought about the Passover, and this book (and a great many Haggadahs I have read) all refer to the same tired and trite story about the celebration of the Passover all the days of one’s life from ancient rabbis, which detracts from my interest, as do the songs that are clearly non-biblical in nature. It would be nice to see more focus on the Exodus and on the psalms and less on songs that mimic the twelve days of Christmas, which is not a song that deserves to be imitated. At any rate, this book is an instructive one and sometimes enjoyable.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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