Sunday, April 30, 2017

Haggadot 2017 update

Haggadot Shel Pesah 2017 update

”As many of you know, I collect Haggadot shel Pesah[1].”  That is how I started my last update on my Haggadah collection in April 2003.  In 1998 I reported that I owned 75 and in 2003 I reported that I own more than 100 Haggadot. My original goal was to get just enough to equal one for each year of my life.  I now own about 187 Haggadot.  In the past few weeks I added 6, making the number added since last Pesah at 12.   While some have a monetary value of more than $10, I bought very few from booksellers.  The previous owners were glad for me to take them.  Many came from closed libraries.

As one looks through the shelves you will see a size variance from less than 14 cm (5 inches) to more than 41 cm (16 inches.)  Some of thin and have fewer than 60 pages while others are hardcover volumes with more than 200 pages.  Some were giveaways from food companies and others are works of art valued at several hundred dollars.  Most are ordinary paper or hardcover bindings, but one is bound in leather with an artistic metal plate on the front cover. Some are plain text and some are works of art.  Not all of them have the full traditional text.

The origin of the Haggadah comes from the book of Shemot 13:8  "וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר..."   We are required to tell our children the story of what God did to take us out of Egypt. The word הגדה means to retell. This Biblical text is connected directly to the ritual of the seder night on the 15th of Nisan.  The rest of our daily and Shabbat prayers have a smaller connection to Torah texts.  Much of the Haggadah text is from Mishnah in the 9th chapter of Pesahim.  The hallel is from the book of Tehilim (Psalms), goes back to Biblical times and is a direct connection to the service in the Temple. The earliest compilation of the Haggadah is not exactly known.[2]  It is possible it was written in mishnaic times.  Saadia Gaon (882-942) has a version in his siddur that differs our traditional text. There are a few manuscript Haggadot from the Middle Ages[3].  There are only a few editions of the Haggadah printed before the 17th century.

A few weeks ago, I overheard a conversation about the large number of Haggadah editions in the Library of Congress.  The discussion said that Library of Congress (LOC) has the largest collection of Haggadot in the world.  They thought LOC has a copy of every Haggadah ever printed. I had to step in and tell them they were mistaken.  I own Haggadot that are not in the LOC collection. LOC receives the copyright depository copy of every book published in the United States.  They do not get every book published in other countries and they don’t get Haggadot that were not submitted as a copyright deposition copy.  Not every Haggadah is commercially printed.  Some are ephemeral i.e. mimeographed or photocopied for one time use.  There is no exact way to know how many editions have been produced because the definition of “edition” is a moving target.  Sometimes publishers call a new printing a new edition.  A new printing in the bibliographic world (i.e. libraries) is not a new edition. Significant changes are required to call it a new edition. Sometimes a publisher makes very minor corrections and calls the next printing a new edition.  A publisher could publish the same text in several bindings.  No other book presents this kind of challenge to collectors and bibliographers.

Yosef Hayim Yerushlami in his 1975 book[4] claims there were 3500 editions in 1975. In 1960 Abraham Yaari[5] published a bibliography of all the editions of the Haggadah that he found.  I did a library search of Library of Congress, Jewish Theological Seminary, Harvard University, Jewish National Library, and Yeshiva University libraries with the term “Haggadah” in the title. Now in all fairness this would also match a Haggadah that is not for Pesah.  I did not weed out those non-Passover books.  I did select only books.  Harvard’s numbers may be bigger because they have a huge number of electronic texts and I did not differentiate between physical and electronic books.  I have no exact idea as to why the Jewish National Library numbers are so much higher than the other libraries.

Jewish Theological Seminary                    3802
Harvard University                                         6077
Library of Congress                                   2642
Yeshiva University                                         1673
Jewish National Library                             8765
There are so many haggadah versions for several reasons – 1) The Haggadah is a small book that is used in home.  Every home needs a Haggadah that fits the needs of that family. Every sedar participant needs a copy; 2) Since everyone is required to tell the story of the leaving from Egypt, there are many commentaries.  Many editors wanted to tell their interpretation of the events; 3) The Haggadah presents an opportunity for artistic expression.  From the very first illustrated Haggadah to the editions produced by great artists, the pictures tell the story with an interpretation or the artist; 4) The Haggadah itself tells us “In every generation it is one’s duty to regard himself as if he personally left Egypt.”  What better was to express this duty than to produce one’s own Haggadah.[6]

I collect Haggadot for all the reasons editors and publishers create them.  They are a window into the history of the time; they present a wide variety of points of view, and yet they are all published to enable us to retell the story of freedom and the exodus from Egypt.  Because of my position as a librarian[7], I obtain Haggadot for little cost.  I fully catalog them in order to keep a record of exactly what I own.  I am not interested in having a comprehensive collection or in gathering rare and costly editions.  I just want a large variety that have commentaries, art, or a purpose that reflects a time, place or idea.

Selected Items from My Collections


These two items are the oldest and most recent of the Maxwell House Haggadot in my collection.  Originally produced as a way to advertise that Maxwell House coffees are indeed kosher for Passover, they have become a standard for many families. The first Maxwell House Haggadah was produced 1932.  The company claims to have printed more than 50 million copies over the years. Perhaps because they are free, perhaps because they are available in the grocery story, or perhaps because getting them is a “no brainer” they have become a defacto Passover tradition. However, in homes with parents and children who are more involved, the Maxwell House Haggadah is looked down upon.  Those homes want haggadot with commentaries or a presentation aimed at children and families.

The early one, published in 1936, is small and contains the Hebrew text with English translation in parallel columns.  The print is hard to read, yet the editor writes in the introduction, “… presenting this new, up-to-date edition of the Hagadah, arranged in a simplified and attractive form.”  There are black and while woodcuts illustrating the text by an unnamed artist.

The 2017 edition has a bright color cover and has few illustrations.  The size is 22 cm. vs 14 cm. for the 1936 edition, making the print bigger and more legible.  Other than a date change, it looks like the 2016 edition.  The Hebrew and English are on facing pages.  The translation has none of the archaic words (such as canst, thou, or art) that appear in the 1936 edition.  It is a very usable Haggadah if you don’t want commentaries or explanations.

For a fuller story of Maxwell House marketing and history of their haggadah see, “101 Years of the Maxwell House Haggadah” by Anne Cohen.[8]     

The Prince of Egypt Family Haggadah[9] with illustrations from the movie, The Prince of Egypt, is the most impressively illustrated Haggadah in my collection.  The editors did a beautiful job of selection and integrating scenes from the movie with the traditional text.  There are also questions for family discussion.  The illustration of the actual exodus is a two page illustration of the splitting of the sea opening to a four page fold out of the Children of Israel marching on dry land.  The colors are brilliant and are sure to make a lasting impression on the children. 

[1] The Haggadah is the book used on the first nights of Passover for the family seder.  This book has all the prayers and ritual instructions for this special night.

[2]  Since Rav and Shmuel argued about the compilation of the Haggadah, we conclude it had not been completed as of then. Based on a Talmudic statement, it was completed by the time of Rav Nachman (mentioned in Pesachim 116a). There is a dispute, however, to which Rav Nachman, the Talmud refers--  Rav Nachman bar Yaakov[circa 280 CE) or Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak (360 CE). 

[3] A example is the Golden Haggadah.  See my 2011 blog article on this haggadah , Golden Haggadah  Kol Safran December 2011.

[4] Yerushalmi, Yosef Hayim. Haggadah and history: a panorama in facsimile of five centuries of printed Haggadah from the collections of Harvard University and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1975

[5] Yaari, Abraham. Bibliography of the Passover Haggadah: From the Earliest Printed Edition to 1960. Jerusalem: Bamberger and Wahrman, 1960.  The Yaari number is a standard way to identify pre-1960 editions.

[6] As you can see my collection is tiny compared to these major collections, but that does not mean I don’t have some unique or special items.  For example, I have the Haggadot that my children produced in early elementary school.

[7] People know I collect books and frequently they let me see books they want to give away.

[9] Full citation:   The Prince of Egypt family haggadah = hagadah shel pesah / Design and supplemental art work by Michael S. Schwartz.  Notes by Reuvan Frank.  New York : CIRCA Press, 1999.  This book is out of print.  The only one listed on Amazon costs $106.  If you find one under $25, grab it.