Diaries Magazine

Haggadah Choices

Posted on the 08 April 2012 by M0derngirl @M0DDERNGIRL
Haggadah ChoicesDuring tonight's second seder, we used the same Haggadah, but the 1984 rather that the 1993 version. I was shocked at the subjective differences. Synonyms for various adjectives, nouns, and verbs were replaced in various places.
There were some additions. For example, in the 1993 version, a psalm says, "And made the childless woman a joyful mother" but the 1984 version says "And made the childless woman dwell in her home as a joyful mother of children"
There were also somethings that were missing in this earlier edition. PARTICULARLY, the inclusive language in the sections I outlined in this blog post. That stuff on page 29, 35 and 38 about being the provider of all was gone, and the statement about loving kindness was gone too.
That lack of inclusivity in the 1984 version was encouraging, because it showed that these things can (and do) change, even in 9 years. We also had one copy of the Maxwell House Haggadah, which was even older, and stranger. It paraphrased sentences in a completely different way. So that tells me that as long as the main point is expressed, the hatefilled language CAN be toned down.
Then, I came across this article on Jewlicious in which they review several different Haggadahs. Yes, ok, the interfaith ones are probably not widely accepted in Jewish circles. But others like the Holistic Haggadah sound appealing to me, because the Contrary child is actually the Angry child, and the book recommends using compassion to address the child, not exclusivity.
I checked out some different Haggadahs on Amazon, found some artisy and some flakey ones, and lots that proclaimed to be gender neutral. Then I also stumbled across a picture of the cover of "A Passover Haggadah" by Elie Wiesel. And that's when I remembered that I actually owned a copy of it. I bought it 4 years ago at Chapters, but put it aside when it looked nothing like my fiance's Haggadahs.
It's not a flaky one, and it very traditional. However, it's mainly in English, and only has Hebrew in select parts. And, it's really difficult to follow. The "traditional" Haggadah text is in black, but commentary by Elie Wiesel is in red. If you attempted to use this at a shared-reading Haggadah like we do, it would be mass confusion.
There's a lot I don't like about Wiesel's Haggadah in terms of format, but also content. For starters the Contrary child is called the Wicked child. Wicked! And then in red, the commentary goes off to rattle against this child even more. However, the red commentary gives a background story regarding those 5 rabbis, and explains their discussion took place during the Talmudic period.
Much of the same language is used as in the 1993 Goldberg Haggadah. At a quick glance through, I'd say it was just about identical save a few pronouns and adjectives.
I did note that the Egyptians did not "do evil unto us" but instead "The Egyptians  dealt harshly with us and they made us suffer, and they forced upon us hard labor." I like that a lot  better.
When it gets to the part about God offering to smite down and slain the first born of man and beast and to execute judgment against all the Gods of Egypt, this phrase is included and also identical to the one in Goldberg's Haggadah. However, the extra statement about all the various types of livestock that will be attacked is completely omitted, and there's red commentary immediately below which says, "What a curious passage. Why does  God boast of killing innocent children, be they Egyptian? Why does he mention it so often? Is he proud of it? One may study the Midrashic and the Talmud sources in search of an explanation. In vain. And yet there must be one. Is he teaching us an essential lesson?That He alone may kill? And that no one has the right to imitate Him?" While I feel the last 2 sentences here are an illogical explanation, I do greatly admire the author's attempt to address and criticize this passage and the ethos promoted in this passage.
In the part when the rabbis are discussing if there was really 10, 50, 200, or 250 plagues, the red commentary reads as follows, "Why this discussion? Does it indicate a spirit of vindictiveness on the part of our sages?Or were they simply emphasizing the love that the God of Israel showed His people by punishing their enemies? Thus are we to conclude that the more He punished the Egyptians, the more He loved their victims?" While I disagree that hate can be used as evidence of love, and therefore disagree with the conclusion here, I do admire the ability to ask questions about this. Suggesting that perhaps the sages were vindictive sounds so much like treason I wouldn't do it, so I'm glad this author did.
The inclusive, cozy stuff after the meal is heightened to call God compassionate in addition to merciful.
However, that prayer to Elijah is still as terrible. Probably because that's one of those things where the exact wording does matter. The red commentary reads, "A solemn prayer, it calls for harsh punishment of the enemies. Why such vindictive words? Why do we say them in the presence of the prophet of consolation, and why do we do this with the door open? To show the world that we have nothing to hide? To let the wicked know that we mean them? Perhaps." Again, I don't like the conclusion, but I strongly agree with the spirit of critically questioning this prayer. It is quite harsh.
The second seder tonight was pretty casual at times. Because we were using various different editions of the Goldberg Haggadah, plus one Maxwell House Haggadah, we got to talking a bit about word choice and differences. Someone else brought up the fact that newer Haggadahs have gender neutral language and include Miriam's cup and the Orange on the seder plate - not me. I did bring up the article that is on Jewlicious regarding different haggadahs.
But, when we got to the part of nasty, violent, prayer for Elijah, and someone ran to open the backdoor and "welcome the spirit" someone said, "He's just like Santa Claus." I couldn't help it, I sarcastically, and lightly had to add, "Yeah, except he pours thy wrath upon -" and everyone  took to laughing. Several people made comments about the gruesome prayer, and then the Santa/Elijah comparison was mocked, "I was a pony, and a Barbie, and for you to pour your wrath upon my enemies. What was that last one? Um, a pony."
So, mission of expressing my views without being an offensive shit disturber was accomplished. And, I got people thinking about it, if only for momentarily. At least, until the gruesomeness was validated by saying something along the lines of "It's ok if we imagine they are talking about Iran." Sorry but I heartily disagree. The ruler of Iran might be insane and not nice, but the people of Iran don't deserve to have wrath poured upon them. Neither does Syria, and wow are things getting bad there! I wish there was someway for Passover to address the fact that slavery and torture is not ok no matter who it is happening to, and we should feel compassion for the people in Syria who are in a lot of danger right now.
But that's a tangent. Back to Haggadahs. So what did I learn this Passover? Basically, the "red & yellow" Nathan Goldberg Haggadah is probably the most common, but not the only option. That slight differences in word choice are not radical and offensive, except when in songs or select particular prayers.
So, it is possible that there's a traditional, yet inclusive Haggadah already out there, waiting for me to find it.
Got any suggestions?

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