My People's Passover Haggadah
Traditional Texts, Modern Commentaries, Volume 2
Edited by Rabbi L. A. Hoffman and Dr. David Arnow
Jewish Lights Publishing, 2008, 297 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - March 14, 2011
This is the second volume of a delightful, very detailed, informative addition to the traditional Haggadah, a book that anyone who wants to really understand the Haggadah cannot do without. Readers of this review are encouraged to read my review of the editors' first volume. It explains the meaning of words such as "Haggadah" and "Seder." It also tells about the extensive introduction and the many different kinds of commentaries that are given in these two books. As stated in that review, the editors offer so much information about Passover, the Seder, and the Haggadah that they had to divide their presentation into two volumes of 267 and 297 pages, a total of 564 pages, even though an average unannotated Haggadah would have no more than 35 pages.
An example of the kinds of commentaries in this second volume is the discussions on the medieval additions to the Haggadah. One well-known, somewhat curious practice is the "Welcoming of the Prophet Elijah." The Hebrew is only nine lines, but this volume devotes seventeen pages to discuss it. There are four illustrations from ancient Haggadot. The comments address questions such as: when was this section added to the Haggadah? Why was it added? Why does it include a prayer that God should "Pour out Your wrath on the nations who do not know you"? Is this proper? Is it moral? What does it mean? Who are these nations? Should these words be changed to "Pour out Your spirit on all flesh so all peoples will come to serve You"? Why is the practice to place a cup for the prophet Elijah when it is clear that he will not come and will not drink the wine? Is this a fifth cup added to the traditional four? Why? What is the significance of thinking about Elijah on Passover? Why is part of this ceremony to open the door? Should we also put out a pitcher of water to recall Moses' sister Miriam? Should we accept the practice of the Orthodox rabbi, the great scholar Menachem M. Kasher (1895-1983) that we should drink a fifth cup of wine at the Seder to note that the State of Israel has been reestablished?
The second volume includes in appendixes three text of ancient and medieval versions of the Haggadah, from the Mishnah and Tosefta, composed about the second or third century, and one found in the Cairo Geniza, which is dated no later than the tenth or eleventh century. These are in Hebrew with an English translation. Each has an introduction and the Cairo Geniza Haggadah has commentaries.