See This

I’m tempted to do no more than link to an article, because it’s almost a case of res ipsa loquitur–the thing speaking for itself. But I think it’s important to talk about this issue a little more: making your own Haggadah.

The prompt for this post? This article at Tablet Magazine. (The link will open in a new window.)

Take a close look at that Haggadah. What do you see in its language?

It’s hard to tell, but it’s in German. Not Yiddish. Not Hebrew.


It is, in other words, in Regina Honigman’s vernacular language.

In the page opening shown by Tablet, the Hebrew (really, just the word dayyenu) is transliterated into the vernacular alphabet; you can see it offset to the right of each line. The text of the Haggadah is greatly modified; for example, the Dayyenu text shown on Tablet’s website speaks of it being enough to get through one day and make it to the next.

This is not your great-grandparents’ Haggadah. It openly acknowledges a return to slavery–in Honigman’s case, the Gabersdorf labor/concentration camp in what was then Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Texts are changed, and bitterness is evident, coupled with an expectation of eventual release.

Even–perhaps especially–in extremis, what we say and do changes with the times in which we find ourselves. Our challenge is to be genuine in our encounter with those changes. If the Hebrew of the Haggadah doesn’t suit because you don’t know or don’t especially value Hebrew? Well, neither did it suit many Jewish secularists in the early 1900s. You don’t have to use it. If the text doesn’t suit because you don’t believe in a redemption made manifest by any hands other than those of your fellow persons? Change the text.

There is a constant tension in trying both to be sincere to ourselves and authentic to what we perceive as “truly” Jewish. But Honigman’s Haggadah–and so many other products of more than 2,500 years of Jewish history–tell us that what is Jewish is measured not by fealty to what was, but by the identities and intents and cultural engagements of those who produced Jewish culture in all its varieties.

Consider now–consider always–what you can accomplish in your own Jewish life in light of your beliefs and your understanding. It’s hard work. But it’s hard work that will help make Jewish culture meaningful for you and those who come after.

You don’t have to start–or stop–with the Haggadah. And if someone tells you that you can’t do it?

Well, one suspects Regina Honigman might have begged to differ.

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