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Haggadah Revisions Wanted

Posted on the 07 April 2012 by M0derngirl @M0DDERNGIRL
Haggadah Revisions Wanted
 I just got back from the first seder this year. I'm torn.
I love the atmosphere of Passover. It's cheery, there's good food, and good company. I understand that it's supposed to be a child-friendly holiday to teach kids about the story of Exodus. I'm fine with all of that. I understand that most of the songs and stories are meant for people who are Jewish and who believe in God. Since I'm neither, I understand that a lot won't apply to me or my beliefs. I'm relatively ok with that (or at least indifferent).
But I get really hung up on the strong language used in the Haggadah. Maybe there's better and newer ones out there. The only one I've been exposed to thus far is the one pictured above. The "New Revised Edition" by Rabbi Nathan Goldberg. I honestly think this needs some more revision. I mean, the copyright is from 1949 (though republished in 1993).
In the songs and set prayers, I almost am complacent. I sing Christmas songs that have religious and traditional phrases and ideas that don't match my beliefs. But I do it because they're damn catchy.
But in the story of Exodus, there's just so much that clashes with my personal beliefs, and so much that likely clashes with modern liberal Jews. Of course, that's if they read it closely and over analyze it like I do.
So here's my laundry list:
First of all, the story of Rabbi Elazar and why the story of Exodus should be told at night is not clear at all. It's not offensive, it's just not clear. The wording should be a bit more straightforward.
Second, why is so much focus on the 5 Rabbis who once long ago discussed the story of Exodus? What did Haggadahs look like before that year? My fiance thought maybe the year they sat around and talked what the first Passover, but that doesn't make sense to me. What historical time period did this 5 Rabbi discussion happen? What it recently before this "New Revised Haggadah" was first written? And why is so much of the Exodus story told through Rabbi Nathan Goldberg telling of them telling of the story? It makes it really unclear.
I understand the importance of the 4 questions, and I understand that it's traditional to talk about the 4 types of children. But they way the Haggadah teaches you to treat the children is a bit disturbing. Particulary the contrary child. Because the contrary child challenges the holiday and asks what the holiday means to you, you are supposed to use exclusive language towards the child to hint that when God saved the rest of the Hebrews, he would not have saved him. This reflects extremely strict and authoritarian parenting of the early 1900s. Also, it explicitly pushes away room for critical thinking.
On page 11, it reads, "And He said to Abram, 'Know you that your descendants will be strangers in a land not their own, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will exercise judgment against the nation they will serve." If God knows this is going to happen, and he's going to interfere and "exercise judgment against the nation" then why doesn't he interfere to prevent it?
On page 12, it continues to read, "This is the promise that has sustained our ancestors and us. For it was not one enemy alone who rose up against us to destroy us; in every generation there are those who rise up against us and seek to destroy us." This really gives me the vibe of a varsity sports team. Us against them. Everyone is out to destroy us, so we need to tackle them, and thankfully god is on our side. I understand that (especially) if this was written in the 1940s, it certainly has a lot of truth. But such a defensive attitude is just not good in a modern world with international diplomatic efforts. It attempts to create a prophecy that there will be an enemy of Israel in every single future generation. Why build such hype?
On page 13, "And the Egyptians did evil unto us and tormented us, and set upon us hard labor. And the Egyptians did evil unto us - as it is written. Come, let us deal craftily with them, lest they multiply and if war breaks out they will join our enemies and fight against us, and go up out of the land." You really could not demonize Egyptians any more than this. For one, it's a huge, bigoted, blanket statement against all Egyptians. I'm sure there were some nice ones. Even if Egyptians were largely accepting of slavery and approved of Israelite slaves (must like Black slavery in the USA in the early 1800s), it was really only a selected minority of Egyptians who held power and could enforce such slavery. So, saying that all Egyptians were evil is grossly exaggerating things. Moreover, that statement is extremely dehumanizing. To be clear, I am find with retelling the Exodus story, and mentioning the wrongdoings that were done against the ancient Israelites. But those sentences could really be rewritten as to not be so - racist - while still getting the point across.
On page 14, "And the Lord brought us forth from Egypt - not by a ministering angel, not by a fiery angel, and not by a messenger, but by Himself, in His glory, did the Holy One blessed be He, do so, as it is written. And I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast, and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment. I am the Lord." then further it reads, "The hand of the Lord will strike your livestock in the field - the horses, donkeys, and camels, the oxen and the sheep - with a very severe pestilence." This is clearly hateful thoughts and hateful writing. I understand that by attacking the livestock, the Egyptians' resources are depleted, but seriously, why would God want to attack innocent animals? And why would all Egyptians' families be attacked? It is highly unlikely that all Egyptians were guilty in doing something terrible to the ancient Israelites. And let's not forget the that this is really promoting a Holy War and using the "God picked our team" argument, which is the same argument George W. Bush used to invade two countries. If there was a God, I honestly don't think he'd operate like this, picking one group of people over another. Because I don't think it's right. Enslavement and torture is not right, but brutal retaliation is not right. And celebrating a holiday by celebrating that brutal retaliation is not right. There must be someway to celebrate the freedom of the Israelites without celebrating the death and destruction of the Egyptians.
Of course, that's exactly what happens next. Pages 15-17 are the retelling of the plagues that happened to the Egyptians in God's name. Then page 18 is a discussion by those 5 rabbis (from who knows when) trying to interpret the statement, "He sent the Egyptians in his burning anger, wrath, indignation, trouble, and the messengers of evil," to figure out exactly how many plagues there were (because 10 was not enough). The argument essentially goes, "There were 50 plagues! No, 200! No, 250!"
Next, there's a break from the story, for the song Dayenu. The way it's written in the book is not the way it's sung, and it's sung in Hebrew. In Hebrew, it's very catchy and fun. In English, it's pretty much an attempt by Jews to state that they didn't enjoy the fact that the Egyptians had judgment executed against them, had their idols destroyed, had their first-born slain, had to give up their possessions, and were drowned in the red sea. In fact, all the ancient Israelites wanted was to be brought out of Egypt. It's interesting. There's 9 verses on what God did for the Israelites, and 5 verses on what God did against the Egyptians.
This is followed by a few pages of "positiveness" of rejoicing and being happy  for what God did for the Israelites (that did not include smiting another nation). There's interpretations of the elements of Passover, and some wine blessings and whatnot.
After the meal, on page 29 of the Haggadah, there's some blessings. I find it interesting that it reads, "Blessed are you, Lord, our God, Ruler of the universe, who provides food for the whole world in His goodness, with grace, loving kindness, and mercy. He gives good to all,  for His mercy endures forever. In His great goodness He has never failed us with sustenance and may He never fail us, forever and ever, for the sake of His great name. It is He who provides for all, sustains all, and is beneficent to all, preparing food for all His creatures whom He has created. Blessed are You oh Lord, who provides food for all." Isn't is interesting that on pages 11-18, God did not show mercy and did not provide for all, yet on page 29, it's claimed that he does? How can God be vengeful, hateful, and spiteful towards the Egyptians while being merciful and loving to all? Perhaps the "all" on page 29 really refers to all his chosen people. Or perhaps this (happily inclusive) blessing is from a different time period than the story in the early section of the Haggadah.Of course, this positive and exclusive part is usually said in Hebrew and somewhat muttered. The earlier, very pro-vengeance sections are read slowly and out loud in English.
Of course, on page 33 right after the 3rd cup of wine is drunk, it says, "Pour out Your wrath upon the nations that know You not, and upon the kingdoms that call not upon You name; for they have consumed Jacob and laid waste his habitation. Pour out Your rage upon them and let Your fury over take them. Pursue them in anger and destroy them from under the heavens of the Lord." Not only is this condemning nations which have enslaved Jews, but it's condemning all non-Jewish nations. It's blatantly, and explicitly anti-interfaith, and anti-pluralism, and anti-tolerant. It's dramatically hatefilled and terrible. If this paragraph existed in an Islamic holiday text, it would be all over the news. It's disgustingly bigoted and really strongly makes me want to put a large disclaimer over the entire Haggadah, because I don't want my future kids to learn this. And to put this into context, this is what is being asked of the Prophet Elijah. You open your back door to "let the spirit out," then say this passage, and then shut the door.
And then 2 pages later on page 35 it reads, "Praise the Lord, all nations, Extol Him, all peoples, For great is His mercy towards us." Really? I don't have a problem with this passage, but it contradicts almost everything else in the Haggadah.
This contradiction gets really interesting on page 37. It's prayer/poem/psalm in which every second line is "his mercy endures forever" but some of the alternating phrases describe particularly un-merciful things. "To Him who smote Egypt through their first-born; For His mercy endures forever." "Who swept away Pharoh and his host in the Red Sea; For His mercy endures forever." "To Him who smote great kinds; For His mercy endures forever."
And on page 38, "God of all creatures [...] Who leads the world with loving kindness."
On pages 39-40 there's a huge list of vengeful acts that God did to help out the Jewish people Some of the references I don't get, but there's celebration of not only the Egyptians being smoted, but also the Sodomites being consumed by fire, Jericho falling, Babylon meeting its doom and the King of Babylon being slain, and the Assyrian armies being stricken.

And then it finishes up with some benign songs such as a counting song and something about a goat.
Aside from the fact that I'm agnostic and there's a lot of over the top "Praise the Lord!" and "Trust in the Lord more than you trust in man" (which is kinda the opposite of agnostic Humanism), there's a lot I just can't agree with in this Haggadah.
I'm not Jewish. I have no right to pick apart a tradition of a religion that is not mine. I'm sure lots of ultra-Orthodox people will flag me for sounding anti-Semitic. But here's the thing, if I'm going to raise my kids within the Jewish culture, I'm sure as heck not going to teach them to hate, stereotype, and prejudge everyone from a nation who had a conflict against Israel or Jews. That's so incredibly against everything I stand for. 
I'm ok with teaching my kids to observe Passover. I'm ok with eating the matzah, doing without bread for a week, and telling the stories of the exodus. But this Haggadah is greatly problematic for me. It's intolerant and hateful, there's a lack of clarity in some parts, and there's a serious inconsistency in the tone.
I've looked at various Secular and Interfaith Haggadahs, and I haven't quite found anything satisfactory. All of them have been too dramatically different to the point that they wouldn't reflect my fiance's belief systems. But there must be something in the middle!
Does anyone know of very Jewish, very theistic Haggadahs that are just a twinge more modern and not so bigoted?

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