The Passover Haggadah

On Passover night we read the Haggadah. The Haggadah sets forth the order of the Passover Seder and tells the story of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt.  Haggadah comes from the Hebrew word le-hagid (“to tell”); we are commanded in the Bible to “tell” over the story of Exodus from Egypt. The Haggadah is the most popular Jewish book. There are more than 3,000 Haggadot to date and every year there are between 6 and 10 new ones, not to mention all the reprinted ones. The Haggadah has been written in many languages, including Hebrew, German, Yiddish, Spanish and Ladino. We at Touro College are fortunate to have in our collection 249 Haggadot. Most of them are located in the Women’s building (where I work), and we have some in Kew Garden Hills and at the Lander College for Men. 

The Haggadah started as part of the prayer book (Mishna time, circa 170 CE). Only in the 13th century do we have it for the first time as a separate volume. The first illuminated Haggadah is called The Bird’s Head Haggadah. Instead of human heads for the people depicted on the drawings, the manuscript famously depicts their heads as those of birds. There is even a children’s pop-up version of this Haggadah; see this video about it on YouTube. The oldest Sephardic Haggadah is named the Golden Haggadah. One of the most beautiful illuminated Haggadot is from circa 1350 CE and is called The Sarajevo Haggadah.

Haggadah illuminations
Haggadah illustrations by Arthur Syzk

The first Haggadah to be printed with commentary is that of Don Isaac Abravanel (Abarbanel), circa 1505 CE, which has been translated into English. The first Haggadah was printed in the U.S. in 1837. The first Haggadah to be printed as advertising was The Maxwell House Haggadah in 1932, and it is still distributed for free in supermarkets across the USA. Huge collections of Haggadahs are located in the National Library of Israel, or closer to home, the New York Public Library.

A copy of the Maxwell House Haggadah
A copy of the Maxwell House Haggadah

Contributed by Tova Friedman, Library Assistant, Lander College for Women

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