What is the Haggadah?

Niki Foster

The Haggadah is a text that people of the Jewish faith read during the Passover Seder, a ritual meal commemorating God's deliverance of the Jews from their slavery in Egypt. The word Haggadah literally means "telling" and is related to a biblical verse, Exodus 13:8, instructing Jews to tell their children about the flight from Egypt. The Haggadah contains prayers, readings from the Torah, instructions for the Seder, old and new commentary on the Exodus, and sometimes songs.

The Haggadah includes readings from the Torah.
The Haggadah includes readings from the Torah.

Jewish tradition holds that the Haggadah was written during the same time as the Talmud, a record of Jewish law, history, and commentary dating from roughly the 2nd through 5th centuries CE. The oldest complete Haggadah dates from the 10th century, and Haggadot were first printed in the 15th century. Around the same time, a few Passover songs and additional text were appended to the Haggadah, though the rest of the text did not undergo much change. It is still common to see these songs at the end of a Haggadah.

Some Haggadot are made specifically for children.
Some Haggadot are made specifically for children.

For many centuries, handwritten Haggadah manuscripts were more common and popular than printed versions, a trend which began to reverse in the 19th century. There were many beautifully illuminated Haggadot produced in the medieval period. The Prague Haggadah of 1556 was the first printed version with extensive illustrations, featuring over 60 detailed woodcuts.

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While many Jews still read the traditional Haggadah to commemorate Passover, though often in translation, altered or updated versions have become more popular in recent years. Many Haggadot are abbreviated, as the original Haggadah with its additional songs and poems can take well over an hour to complete. Others contain modern commentary by scholars and theologians.

Some Haggadot are made for specific audiences, such as children. It has also become a trend to update the language of the Haggadah to appeal more to modern Jews, such as by making the language more gender neutral. An extreme and controversial version, know as the "Godless Haggadah," attempted to appeal to secular Jews by removing all references to God.

In Judaism, some Haggadah texts are geared toward children.
In Judaism, some Haggadah texts are geared toward children.

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