The Passover seder is the most widely observed Jewish ritual, by Jews and non-Jews alike. That fact alone makes the haggadah, the guidebook to the seder, one of the most important Jewish texts.
This year, as every year, the haggadah has been reimagined, augmented and illustrated anew, with dozens of new editions published, and likely thousands more tossed together and photocopied by families and communities around the world.
Here are seven of the most interesting new entries (and one new history of the haggadah).
Have you ever wondered what Tablet Magazine would look like if it were a haggadah? Here’s your answer. In this new haggadah from the editors of Tablet, much of the commentary is written by people Tablet’s readers — literate, educated Jewish insiders — will recognize, such as writer and erstwhile Bloomberg presidential campaign staffer Abigail Pogrebin, Tablet political columnist Liel Leibovitz and Jewish writer and activist Shais Rishon (aka “MaNishtana”), who is known for his sharp commentary about the black Jewish experience. It also includes a couple pages that might as well be food articles on the Tablet website: “Charosets of the World” and “Drink Your Plagues: 10 Deadly Cocktails.” (Indeed, readers can go to tabletmag.com/haggadah for full recipes.) Among its many small touches of web journalism snark, “Chad Gadya” is subtitled “A Fun Song About Murder.” If you’re fan of Tablet the magazine, you’ll probably like Tablet the haggadah.
The Israeli art and design collective Asufa mostly works on slickly designed consumer gadgets as well as poster art and T-shirts. But Asufa has also become known for its annual art haggadah, which features the work of dozens of individual artists, each contributing a two-page spread. I look forward to it every year. Clashing visual styles mimic the riot of voices and generations reflected in the text, which itself is part of the art in its placement, shape and fonts.
One standout page in this year’s edition shows the heroes and villains of the Passover story in the style of a poster for a contemporary Hollywood blockbuster, recalling recent imagery of “Star Wars” and “The Avengers” — Moses’ staff glows like a lightsaber. Most pages are much more abstract, but all are dynamic and modern. The Asufa haggadah is a stunning mishmash of artistic sensibilities, each spread a feast for the eyes. But Anglophones beware: This is the classic Hebrew text alone with no translation.
3. “The Promise of the Land: A Passover Haggadah” by Rabbi Ellen Bernstein
“On Passover we celebrate the Jewish people’s journey from slavery to freedom and the coming of spring,” Bernstein writes in the introduction to her environment-focused haggadah. What a blessing to read a haggadah that acknowledges the changing of the season as one of the central themes of the seder. Why is there an egg on the seder plate? Why fresh leafy greens? Because Passover is a spring festival celebrating rebirth — both ecological and national. “The Promise of the Land” includes most of the traditional text, but much of it only in translation, augmenting it with questions for discussion (“Might the earth and its creatures actually sense our oppression?”) and commentary from leading lights (next to a passage that mentions idolatry, an excerpt from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the U.K.: “Affluence, no less than slavery, can make us forget who we are and why”).
4. “The Unbound Haggadah” by Eli Kaplan-Wildmann
I’ve never seen anything like it. “The Unbound Haggadah” is somehow both an interactive handmade art piece and an actual haggadah that you can use around the table. It consists of 10 thick cards tied together with a red string. Untie it and pass the cards out around the table. Each card is printed in full color, front and back, with text and engaging artwork. Some even have moving parts! The text about each of the Four Children is arranged around a circular spinner with four evocative images that could represent any of the Four Children. Spin it to line the images up with descriptions of the different children. It’s expensive, but you’ll only need one for the whole table.
5. “From Ancient Egypt to Modern Israel: The 3,000-Year Journey of the Jewish People” from StandWithUs
Brought to you by the pro-Israel group StandWithUs, here is the perfect haggadah for those who read the story of the Exodus and the whole of our covenant with God as a real-estate contract, a holy deed and title to the land of Israel. Not content to tell the story of the Exodus, “This haggadah takes us on the Jewish journey from slavery and oppression in Egypt … to the story of modern Israel.” The juxtaposition between ancient and modern can be jarring; among several painterly illustrations of Jews being oppressed (slavery in Egypt, destruction of the Temple, Auschwitz), it includes an image of masked Palestinians lobbing rocks. Only one of the Four Children is singled out for Israel-related commentary, and it perfectly encapsulates this haggadah’s hasbara attitude: The Wicked Child “may wonder why Israel is so important to the Jewish people,” “might be missing basic information” and “It is our job to invite him or her to join our greater Jewish family though inspiring celebrations like tonight’s seder and, if possible, a visit to Israel.” It should be obvious if this is the exact right haggadah for you — or the exact wrong one.
6. “The Other Side of the River, the Other Side of the Sea” from T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
The left-wing political haggadah is nothing new, but this is an especially nice one. It is the opposite of the StandWithUs haggadah; where that one focuses on Passover’s particularist lessons, this one emphasizes the universal. Its primary themes are racial justice, immigration, gender and workers’ rights, which are brought into the haggadah through commentary and personal stories from activists and rabbis. One page features a vibrant illustration of a quetzal, a bird that symbolizes spring and freedom in Central American cultures, drawn by a migrant child while being held by U.S. authorities at a tent city in Texas in 2018. And that’s this haggadah in a nutshell: the themes of Passover seen through contemporary injustices.
7. “The Koren Youth Haggada” by Daniel Rose
The world does not want for children’s haggadahs, but this new edition from Koren is a fine addition in that expansive category. It manages to be accessible without skipping any of the traditional text and without talking down. In one striking example, commentary on the karpas page (where we dip a vegetable in salt water and eat it) quotes from Talmud: “Since the day the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed the gates of prayer have been locked and prayer is not accepted as it once was. But the gates of tears will always be open.” This haggadah then asks its young reader to reflect: “Why do you think God accepts our tears more readily than our prayers?”
Koren’s signature elegant fonts are there, of course, and bright, friendly illustrations by Rinat Gilboa adorn the pages. If you’ve got an inquisitive child who is receiving a thorough, fairly traditional Jewish education, this haggadah will be a terrific accompaniment to their seder experience.
8. “The Passover Haggadah: A Biography” by Vanessa L. Ochs
“The haggadah has grown into a commonplace book chronicling generations of verbal, illustrative, and ritual strategies that were considered, in their times and in their places, suitable for the task of transmission,” writes Vanessa L. Ochs in this excellent new book. If you can buy only one new haggadah this year — honestly, don’t. Buy this accessible and thorough history of the haggadah instead. It’ll do more to enhance your understanding and experience of the seder than any of the haggadahs above. (And it’ll help you understand how we came to the point where the mixed bag of haggadahs above exists at all.)