When you open up most haggadahs, you are likely to read something in the introduction about how the story of Passover is one of the most widely known — and widely told — stories of Jewish history. It’ll be followed by something about how there are more variations of the haggadah than any other Jewish text.
Such assertions don’t seem to be wrong. An Amazon search for “haggadah” returns more than 2,000 results. Art Scroll, a leading seller for the Orthodox Jewish community, has 40 options. One Pittsburgh Judaica site, judaica.com — affiliated with the Pinskers store in Squirrel Hill — has nearly 100. A quick walk through a local bookstore, Amazing Books, reveals five different options published from the 1970s to ’90s.
Each version of the classic book strives to answer the question: How is this haggadah different from all others?
Still others draw connections between the story of Passover and current events, linking to social justice causes or pushing a political agenda. (Amazon lists a political parody about President Trump as one of its best sellers.)
Lastly, some haggadahs focus on the fun — notably, there’s a Harry Potter-themed Hogwarts haggadah and “Haggadah in Another Dimension,” which celebrates the holiday through the use of 3-D images.
I have used the same haggadah each year, a beautifully illustrated version from the Central Conference of American Rabbis that my grandparents seem to have in never-ending supply. A colleague of mine said his family still uses the same version that his great-grandparents used around their seder table.
After researching all the available options to choose from, I regret to report that I did not discover the secret to choosing the right haggadah. What I did find, though, is that despite all the differences, they all have a common goal: to tell the story of Passover in a way that is meaningful to its readers, whether that’s through connections to feminist issues and the Black Lives Matter movement or to Israel or to a beloved world of wizards.
“In each generation, every individual should feel personally redeemed from Egypt. Therefore, each of us must tell about the personal Exodus in a language that we understand, in the metaphors we use and with the knowledge we have acquired,” reads the foreword of the “Metsudah Linear Passover Haggadah,” published in 1993. “This haggadah seeks to enable this generation of Jews to tell about the Exodus.”
So when deciding which haggadah to use, after spending countless hours looking at all the available options of course, focus on one question — and one follow-up — for yourself as well: How is this seder and the people that are celebrating with me different from all others? What message do I want them to take away and how can my haggadah help get that message across? PJC
Lauren Rosenblatt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.