Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Pessach wrap

Pesach 2005 may be long gone, but Haggadot are now probably on sale across the world. So for those of you who are interested in planning a year ahead, I'd like to give a very quick plug to three very different, suberb Haggadot which I used this year. All were published within the last couple of years.
  • The first needs little introduction: Studies on the Haggadah: From the teachings of Nechama Leibowitz. This Haggadah collects Nechama Leibowitz's questions on the text of the Haggadah, with 'Suggested Answers' provided by Rabbis Yitshak Reiner and Shmuel Peerless. Because a lot of the questions are based on midrashim or perushim relating to the Bibilical verses included in the Haggadah rather than on the text itself, and because the questions are collected from a cross-section of Nechama's writings/teachings over the years, its emphasis is often different to many of the broad themes which traditionally come up on Seder Night. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage.... More than any other, this Haggadah requires some advance preparation and cannot simply be picked up on the night.
  • Not sure if The Chief Rabbi's Haggadah by Jonathan Sacks is available in the US or in Israel, but if you can get your hands on it, it's well worth it. This Haggadah is divided into two: a translation of the text by Rabbi Riskin accompanied by Rabbi Sacks' commentary, and 20 or so essays by Rabbi Sacks on Pesach/Haggadah related topics. I preferred the essays to the commentary, as the thoughts were naturally more developed, but both had a mixture of philosophy and historical perspective and plenty of original material. I also like the fact that the commentary doesn't suddenly stop when he reaches Nirtzah.
  • My favorite Haggadah this year, by Rabbi Marc-Alain Ouaknin, a professor of comparative studies at Bar-Ilan and Director of the Aleph Center for Jewish Studies in Paris, was a chance discovery. This commentary is very philosophical and very, very French. Although the commentary appears as a number of short pieces, it is really an extended essay on the themes of order (seder), liberty, interpersonal ethics and language, amongst others. The Haggadah is accompanied by magnificent illustrations by Gerard Garouste, a leading French artist. Fabulous. My only complaint here is the terrible layout; all the commentary is in itals which makes it very hard to read.

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