I have a friend who collects haggadot (the plural of haggadah). She’s always looking for new and interesting ones for her collection. That means finding those with either beautiful illustrations, contemporary readings or new commentary. I don’t think of myself as a collector and have turned down offers of review copies of new haggadot because most of them didn’t look as if they contained anything interesting or different enough for me to write about.
However, I made an exception for “The Passover Haggadah: An Ancient Story for Modern Times Brought to You By Tablet Magazine” with drawings by Israeli artist Shai Azoulay (Artison). Why? I recently read two books published by Tablet editors that I loved: “The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia” and “The 100 Most Jewish Foods: A Highly Debatable List.” Both those works were such fun to read that I couldn’t resist seeing what the writers and editors of Tablet would do with a haggadah.
I was not disappointed. Some parts resemble a traditional haggadah – for example, it includes the traditional text and an English translation. The editors note they chose to keep gendered language in the translation, meaning the pronoun used when referring to God is he. One major difference from many of the haggadot I’ve seen is that all the Hebrew is transliterated. This makes it easier to conduct a seder in Hebrew while also allowing guests or family who don’t know the Hebrew alphabet to not feel left out.
The haggadah includes easy-to-follow instructions and short explanations about the different seder customs. Questions are offered that can be used to encourage discussion. The work includes both the four sons found in the traditional haggadah and four daughters, which gives the book a contemporary spin. For those who prefer to concentrate on seder highlights, there are boxes labeled “leap frog,” which tell readers the page number of “the next big moment” (at least, from the point of view of the editors).
The special Tablet touches are what’s really fun, though. For example, I love the table of contents, which offers such sections as “The Pre-Game: Everything Before the Big Night,” “Showtime: The Seder Begins,” “Some Food. Not a Lot. Mostly Matzah,” “The Home Stretch” and “The After-Party.” You can also “Drink Your Plagues: 10 Deadly Cocktails” and learn about “Charosets of the World” (and a website address is listed where you can find the recipes for both). The drawings throughout the book also add to the delights.
The work includes short essays that offer contemporary looks at the seder. For example, Liz Gallet’s “Passover’s Kitchen Revelation: Cutting Down on Food Waste” asks readers to consider how the themes of the holiday can help us both cut down on waste and become closer to the Divine. There are “Five Commandments for doing it just right” under the title “How to Host a Seder” that give helpful suggestions for those who have never before hosted a seder. The last section of the haggadah features three essays: Howard Jacobson’s humorous take on the song “Dayenu,” Anne Roiphe’s disturbing portrait of “Elijah” and singer Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell’s moving look at how Yiddish helped him connect to Negro spirituals.
The Tablet “The Passover Haggadah” will not appeal to everyone. However, if you are looking for a new haggadah to use at your seder, or suggestions that might jazz up your evening, it’s definitely worth checking out.