Leavening

So, finally, I’m jumping on the “Jewish bloggers blogging about Pesach” bandwagon.

I know, I know–I’m late to the party. I can live with that. I’ve always been a bit of an outlier and, in the spirit of the festival, mah nishtanah.

And, like many, I’ve been seeing or receiving the various Haggadah supplements that are going around. I’m going to be a bit of a contrarian about Haggadahs for a moment. Specifically, I’m going to complain about text.

As in so many other things, Judaism has largely developed to have a “fixed” text for the Seder. A script, with stage directions. Many of these are important, of course–if you don’t know the Kiddush, you need the text, assuming that doing the Kiddush “right” is something you want to do.

But what if it isn’t? Or, put another way: should it be?

Yes, yes, I know, there’s a way these things are done. Now, go look at the top of this page. It says “Secular Jew.” I probably should change it to humanistic Jew, which is for me more accurate. (I’m much more tied to older ways of doing things than many other secular Jews). If you’re looking for a blog that says, “TRADITION!!!!!!” or wants to “stand athwart history” in the manner of a latter-day Jewish William F. Buckley? I’m not the droid you’re looking for.

As a humanistic Jew, I look at history and say, the Jewish people–all of them–have always defined Jewish practice and what it means to be Jewish. So, do I think we need the Kiddush as-is? See the prior paragraph.

So, where am I going with this?

I would love to see synagogues of all stripes make available to their congregations–and Jewish organizations of all stripes make available to their communities–a range of options for Haggadot. Some people will want the traditional text, script and all, because it works for them. Some people will want a shorter one–there has been a proliferation of shorter Haggadot (a thirty-minute one, a sixty-minute one, longer ones with pull-outs to allow quicker access to key texts), and there’s no reason not to satisfy those needs. Some will want more visually striking texts, like the New American Haggadah; some will want texts with specific foci, like Artscroll’s From Bondage to Freedom version, with commentary focused on substance abuse issues.

But I would love, too, to see ones that aren’t intended to be used as a script, but as guideposts. They would have the text of blessings–as much as is needed, but no more–and provide a visual layout that the Seder’s leader could use to navigate an oral experience. It would be short, easily and cheaply produced–and it could be given away for free. (The irony of the script-not-guidepost thing is that, of course, the traditional text was largely supposed to be just that–guidepost, not script.)

I think back on the Seders I grew up with. We had the ubiquitous, wine-and-brisket-stained blue-and-white-covered Maxwell House Haggadah at home, and another, relatively traditional one (the Goldberg, brown-and-yellow-covered one) at our synagogue’s model Seders. And we went through the text, skipping things often (particularly at home). It was not particularly engaging–because I’m very much an oral learner.

I know, of course, that in observant families (and in families that have a history of taking Pesach “seriously”) there are often discussions that happen. Seder leaders plan points of discussion, and enjoy talking into the night on these things. These are often the best parts of a Seder.

But I fear they don’t happen often in most Jewish homes–and studies have shown that most Jews do something for Pesach–because The Text is there and demands our attention. What if we restored the Seder to what it was intended to be–that free-ranging conversation–by making the text smaller? You know, a “less is more” kind of thing? Many Haggadot actually have this anyway, after all, in a small way, by providing that little “visual schedule” early on of the various parts of the Seder, and sometimes the picture of the Ten Plagues.

Tell you what. I’ll do this. Actually, I kind of already am working in that direction, because Secular Jew, Jr., has a small attention span and lots of sensory needs, and this will be his first Seder.

Will it be halakhically compliant? No. But that’s not what many are looking for; they’re looking for something to make Pesach interesting. Those of us concerned with Jewish education have an obligation to figure out how to do that for all our audiences–not just those who love text.

So, I leave you with that thought. And keep a lookout; I’m sure that, once I get something I really like, I’ll post some version of it here.

With that, Shabbat Shalom. I don’t imagine I’ll be posting again here before Pesach, so, in advance, Chag Sameach.

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