Passover Haggadah - Pesach Haggadah
The word "Haggadah" in the Pesach / Passover Haggadah has many English transliterations from Hebrew. Alternate spellings of "Haggadah" include: Hagadah, Hagada, Haggada, hagaddah, haggaddah, hagadda, and haggadda. The plural form of "Haggadah" in Hebrew is: "Haggadot". What does the word "Haggadah" mean? "Haggadah" means "narration", "telling", or "recital" in Hebrew. You might be wondering what its function is in the Pesach / Passover Seder. The following paragraph explains its function in the Pesach / Passover Seder. Note: Regarding all dates on this Passover Haggadah web page, see the footnote near the bottom of this web page.
What is the Passover Haggadah?
The Passover Haggadah is the 'instruction manual' of the Passover Seder (a festive meal that opens the Passover festival). The Passover Haggadah describes the order of events and rituals in the Passover Seder using a rabbinically-formulated and highly structured order of instructions that are organized into 15-steps. The Passover Haggadah is not a book in the classic sense of the term. Instead, it is a collection of literary works from many time periods. It consists of biblical passages, psalms or hymns, benedictions or rituals, prayers, explanations of the Passover Seder rituals, blessings, stories, short dialogues, and rabbinic literature: (1) Midrashic comments taken from the Midrash, which is a rabbinic commentary on the Hebrew Bible. Midrash means "exposition" in Hebrew, and refers to 'exposing' or clarifying legal issues in the Hebrew Bible and 'exposing' or deriving lessons using literary devices such as stories, legends, and parables. There is a vast amount of literature that is referred to as "Midrashic" literature; and (2) excerpts from the Mishnah, which comprises the "Oral Law" in written form, and is part of the Talmud. The Passover / Pesach rituals are performed at various points in amongst all these literary works. For instance, the Passover rituals concerning the Kiddush, Grace After Meals, and Hallel all derived from the Bible, Mishnah, and Midrash. Later on, psalms, songs, and stories were added to the Passover Haggadah. The Passover Haggadah is divided up according to literary works as shown just below here, and according to a 15-step system of Passover Seder rituals that reflect the literary components and are described on our Passover Seder page.
What does the word "Haggadah" in Passover Haggadah mean?
The word "Haggadah" in Passover Haggadah means either "narration" or "telling" or "recital" in Hebrew. The Passover Haggadah is a "narration" or "telling" or "recital" of the instructions on how to conduct a Passover Seder as well as a "narration" or "telling" or "recital" of the Passover story contained in the Passover Haggadah.
What is the connection between the Passover Haggadah and the Passover Seder in terms of the word "Haggadah" and the word "Seder"?
In a sense, the Passover Haggadah both contains and is the Passover Seder. The Passover Haggadah describes how to conduct the Passover Seder from start to finish. The word "Seder" means "order" in Hebrew, and the Passover Haggadah "narrarates" or "tells" or "recites" the 15-step "Seder" or order of events conducted at specific points during the Passover Seder.
Is there only one kind of Passover Haggadah?
In short, no. In fact, there are over 3,000 different types of Passover Haggadahs in existence today. While the basic Passover story remains the same throughout all Passover Haggadahs, rabbis have encouraged the re-interpretation of the meanings of the events in the Passover story to both adapt to changing times and to reflect various political and religious philosophies within Judaism and to reach out to as many Jewish people as possible based on those reasons. So for instance, today you will find an Orthodox Jewish Passover Haggadah, a Conservative Jewish Passover Haggadah, a Reform Jewish Passover Haggadah, a Reconstructionist Jewish Passover Haggadah, and a Humanistic Jewish Passover Haggadah where these Passover Haggadahs are based on different Jewish denominational philosophies. You can also find a Passover Haggadah for Jews in the Israeli military, for Jews in the American military, and so on. You can also find variations of a Passover Haggadah for Jews who live on kibbutzim (socialistic-type collective farms in Israel). There are Passover Haggadah variations for Zionist Jews, be it political Zionists or Religious Zionists. Even within a Jewish denomination, there are variations of a Passover Haggadah based on the particular rabbi one follows. There have even been claims that one has seen an Atheist Passover Haggadah that does not mention G-d in its content! In fact, you can create your own Passover Haggadah if you want!
What are the literary parts or sections of the Passover Haggadah?
The Passover Haggadah consists of many parts, all not necessarily in a chronological or other logical order, which is understandable considering each part comes from a different time period and the fact that the Passover Haggadah is traditionally a compilation of literary works. Excerpts taken from these literary works have been adapted to meet the needs of the Passover Seder service.
Literary Composition of the Passover Haggadah:
As time went on, the Passover Haggadah gradually added hymns and roundelays (a roundelay is a simple song or poem with a refrain, meaning a regularly recurring verse or phrase particularly at the end of each division or stanza of a song or poem, similar to a chorus).
Some of the prayers in the Passover Haggadah include the phrase "Who Has Sanctified Us By His Commandments" ("Asher Kideshanu Bemitzvotav" in Hebrew). In general, this sanctification phrase is only recited when there is a biblical commandment from G-d to perform an activity. For instance, in the case of Passover, the Hebrew bible states that G-d commanded the Hebrews to eat matzah (Deuteronomy 16:3), and so the traditional blessing over the matzah has the phrase "Who Has Sanctified Us By His Commandments" added on to the blessing. Examples of exceptions to this rule are found with lighting candles for the Sabbath and the holiday of Chanukah where although there is a biblical commandment to observe the Sabbath, there is no biblical commandment to light candles for the Sabbath or to observe Chanukah which is a post-biblical holiday. However, rabbinic opinions stated in the Talmud deemed the activities involved in observing the Sabbath and Chanukah to be highly important, and so the sanctification phrase "Who Has Sanctified Us By His Commandments" was added to the prayers for both the Sabbath and Chanukah.
Both the Passover Haggadah literary works and Passover Seder rituals follow the practices of the Pumbedita and Sura rabbinic academies in Babylonia. The Babylonian practices concerning the Passover Haggadah literary components and Passover Seder rituals were adopted by all Jewish communities outside of Israel. This meant that the practices of the Israeli academies regarding the Passover Seder rituals and Passover Haggadah literary components were superceded by the Babylonian academies. The Israeli academies differed from the Babylonian academies by omitting Passover Haggadah components #4 through #7 as outlined above.
In order to make the order and content of the Passover Haggadah memorable to those who did not have a Passover Haggadah, a system of 'signs of the Seder' ("Simane Ha-Seder" in Hebrew) was described in detail by Samuel Ben Salomon of Falaise (in France), in the late 13th century. Many such systems were developed with each varying in the number of steps or elements and the terminology used, but the 15-step system devised by Samuel Ben Salomon of Falaise (see our Passover Seder page) is the most popular and most widely known system for remembering the order and contents of the Passover Haggadah. Nevertheless, the common goal of all these systems was to use assonance and rhyme to make it easier to recall both the order and contents of the Passover Haggadah.
What is the Origin of the Term "Haggadah"?
The term "Haggadah" is derived from biblical scripture. As mentioned, "Haggadah" means "narration", "telling", or "recital" in Hebrew, and derives from the biblical commandment in Exodus 13:8 by G-d to Moses and the Hebrews: "You shall tell your son on that day: it is because of what the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt...". This is the purpose of the Passover Haggadah: to "tell" the story of Passover. There are also three other passages in the Hebrew bible that stress the commandment to bring to life the historical events of Passover to children in the Passover Seder each and every year: (1) Exodus 12:26-27 (Exodus 12:26 - "Your children may [then] ask you, 'What is this service to you?'"; Exodus 12:27 - "You must answer, 'It is the Passover service to G-d. He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians, sparing our homes.' The people bent their heads and prostrated themselves".); (2) Exodus 13:14 - "Your child may later ask you, 'What is this?' You must answer him, 'With a show of power, G-d brought us out of Egypt, the place of slavery'", and (3) Deuteronomy 6:20-25 - (Deuteronomy 6:20 - "In the future, your child may ask you, 'What are the rituals, rules and laws that G-d our Lord has commanded you?'"; Deuteronomy 6:21 - "You must tell him, 'We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but G-d brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.'"; Deuteronomy 6:22 - "G-d directed great and terrible miracles against Pharaoh and all his household before our very eyes."; Deuteronomy 6:23 - "We are the ones He brought out of there, to bring us to the land He promised our fathers, and give it to us."; Deuteronomy 6:24 - "G-d commanded us to keep all these rules, so that [we] would remain in awe of G-d for all time, so that we would survive, even as [we are] today."; Deuteronomy 6:25 - "It is our privilege to safeguard and keep this entire mandate before G-d our Lord, as He commanded us.").
What is the Passover Haggadah based on? (Origin of the Passover Haggadah)
The Passover Haggadah is based on the Passover Seder as outlined in Pesachim 10 of the Talmud. This Passover Seder is a description of the Seder conducted in Bnai Berak (or Bnei Brak) during the time of the Roman occupation of Israel where Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaryah, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon were reclining and discussing the Exodus from Egypt. The order of this Seder was a Rabbinic version of 1st-century C.E. Greco-Roman ritualized meals called "Symposia". The original Rabbinic version of the Seder began with serving and eating the meal, followed by spontaneous questions among the Seder participants to prompt discussion, a Midrashic recounting of the Exodus from Egypt told in Exodus 13:8, and finally, a recitation of the ten plagues. By 200 C.E., the Seder meal was postponed until after the liturgy was recited and set questions I.E. the "Ma Nishtanah" ("The Four Questions" in Hebrew) replaced the spontaneous questions. The narrative to the Seder meal - the Haggadah - means "to tell" in Hebrew and refers to telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt as told in Exodus 13:8 which accompanies the ritual meal called the "Seder" ("Seder" means "order" in Hebrew). Over time, the narrative to the meal - the Haggadah - grew larger and more varied, reflecting different rabbinical streams of thought and cultural influences in the Jewish religion. For instance, in Morocco, the Seder evening is referred to as "Layl al-rass" ("Night of the Heads" in Arabic) because it was customary among Moroccan Jews to eat the heads of sheep in commemoration of the paschal offering in the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem in biblical times.
The word "Talmud" means "teaching" in Hebrew, and refers to two compilations: the Israeli (or Jerusalem) Talmud, and the Babylonian Talmud. The Talmud consists of: (1) the Mishnah, and (2) the Gemara. (1) The Mishnah: Mishnah means "Oral Instruction" or "teaching by oral transmission" in Hebrew, and is from the Hebrew word "Shanah", meaning "to repeat". The Mishnah refers to the "Oral Law" or "Oral Torah", which consists of 613 commandments along with practical and detailed explanations of the 613 commandments as outlined orally by G-d to Moses on Mount Sinai which were verbally passed on from master to disciple from the time of the prophet Moses receiving the Oral Torah in an oral explanation from G-d on Mount Sinai through many generations. This claim is referenced in Pirke Avot ("Pirke Avot" means "Ethics of the Fathers" in Hebrew and refers to a small tractate in the Mishnah Talmud containing these ethics and sayings of the Talmudic Sages): "Moses received the Torah from G-d on Mount Sinai. He transmitted it to Joshua, Joshua to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets to the members of the Great Assembly". The Mishnah is the written and codified version of the Oral Law or Oral Torah along with scholarly oral commentaries on the Oral Law or Oral Torah. (2) The Gemara: Gemara means "completion" in Hebrew, and refers to rabbinic commentaries on the Mishnah from both Israeli and Babylonian Jewish Sages. As a result, the Gemara is actually comprised of two works: those of the Israeli Sages and those of the Babylonian Sages. These commentaries were added to prevent Jewish tradition from becoming static and to maintain and enhance a religious dynamism in the Jewish tradition. The Mishnah and Gemara are compilations of the teachings of the Tannaim and Amoraim respectively, meaning the Jewish sages who flourished in Babylonia and Israel from about the beginning of the Common Era to about 500 C.E. The Tannaitic period was anywhere from 400 B.C.E. or later depending on the scholarly source one follows up to and including either 200 C.E. or 220 C.E. (some sources say from either 10 C.E. or 70 C.E. or 165 C.E. to either 200 C.E. or 220 C.E.), and the Amoraic period was from about 200 C.E. or 220 C.E. to 500 C.E.
Pesachim 10 of the Talmud outlines the Passover Seder rituals and instructions concerning eating matzah, the drinking of four cups of wine, the eating of the paschal sacrifice, the eating of marror, and the reciting of the Passover story. The Passover Haggadah book incorporates and organizes these rituals into a cohesive written and orderly form. During the times when the first and second Temples stood in Jerusalem, the Passover Seder was conducted in the form of a banquet. In those times, the original intent of the Passover Haggadah was to recall the events of Passover and to give thanks to G-d for redemption from slavery and to give thanks for acquiring the Land of Israel. However, after the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. by the Romans, the focus shifted from being thankful for receiving the Land of Israel to hoping and praying for the ultimate redemption for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel and for all humankind. Wishing for the ultimate redemption as opposed to being thankful for granting the Land of Israel to the Jewish people represented a shift from focussing on the past to focussing on the future.
When is the Passover Haggadah read during the Passover festival?
Reform Jews and Jews in Israel observe the Passover festival for 7 days and celebrate the Passover Seder only on the first evening of Passover. All other Jews worldwide observe the Passover festival for 8 days, and celebrate the Passover Seder on each of the first two evenings of Passover. Therefore, the Passover Haggadah is read at the Passover Seder only on the first night of Passover for Reform Jews and Jews in Israel while for all other Jews, the Passover Haggadah is read at the Passover Seder on the first two evenings of the Passover festival.
When was the first Passover Haggadah compiled and created?
Oy, the questions are getting harder! All right, the Tannaim in the Mishnah standardized much of the Passover Haggadah content and provided the order of instructions or framework for it. This is stated in Pesachim 10 of the Mishnah. However, it is interesting to note that "reciting the Passover Haggadah" is only mentioned later on in the Pesachim tractate of the Talmud (Pesachim 116). Who were the Tannaim? "Tannaim" is the plural form of "Tanna" which means "one who studies" or "one who teaches" in Hebrew, and is from an Aramaic verb meaning "to study" or "repeat". The text of the Mishnah is quoting rabbis who lived from about 400 B.C.E. or later to either 200 C.E. or 220 C.E. These rabbis, as previously mentioned, are called the Tannaim, "teachers." In this group are included such greats as Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Rabbi Akiva, and of course Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi. (In the Gemara, they all have the title Rebbe before their first name.) The Tannaim were a group of scholars and teachers who were authorities of the "Oral Law" or "Oral Torah", which actually preceded the "Written Law" or "Written Torah" by 40 years. The "Written Law" or "Written Torah" consists of 613 commandments from G-d contained in the five biblical books that were written by Moses prior to his death and the Jewish people's entering the Land of Israel. These books were named, in the order they appear in the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Oral Law or Oral Torah was explained orally to Moses by G-d on Mount Sinai and consisted of outlining the 613 commandments plus a detailed and practical explanation of what they meant. The Oral Law or Oral Torah was originally meant to cover the infinite number of cases which would arise in the course of time regarding interpreting the 613 commandments. Therefore, it could never have been written in its entirety. Since the Oral Torah can never be completed because there is an infinite number of cases in which to interpret the Oral Torah, G-d therefore gave Moses a set of rules through which the Torah could be applied to every possible case.
So, is the "Oral Law" or "Oral Torah" just a more detailed explanation of the "Written Law" or "Written Torah?" The answer is yes, the "Oral Law" or "Oral Torah" is indeed a more detailed explanation by G-d to Moses of the "Written Law" or "Written Torah". The "Written Law" or "Written Torah" was meant to cover only the basics, so that one may have a starting point from which to understand the vast amount of teachings of the Oral Law or Oral Torah. Furthermore, the Oral Law or Oral Torah was originally meant to be memorized and transmitted orally from master to disciple so that one could avoid misinterpretations by being able to ask the master about any issues, because a Torah in written form may be subject to many different interpretations and misunderstandings, resulting in potential conflicts among those who followed different interpretations of the Torah.
So, why isn't the entire Torah just in oral form? The answer is that the written Torah is needed to provide the basics plus a reference point to start from in which to understand the Oral Torah.
So, why isn't the entire Torah just in written form? Why is it just the basics in written form? If the entire Torah had been in written form, then it would most likely have resulted in various interpretations and disputes among the Hebrews, causing discord and weakening unity among them. On the other hand, the Oral Law or Oral Torah would require a central authority to preserve it, thus assuring the unity of the Hebrews and their subsequent descendants, the Jewish people. Furthermore, information in written form is, by its very nature, limited in scope. This is why the Oral Torah is 50 times bigger than the Written Torah! But in actuality, the Oral Torah is infinite, and contains the entire Torah. How can the Oral Torah be infinite? Since the Oral Torah is the word of G-d, it, by definition, is infinite.
The Oral Law or Oral Torah was originally communicated and explained by G-d to Moses on Mount Sinai which in turn was then explained by Moses to Joshua, then to the Elders, the Prophets, and the men of the Great Assembly, which was led by Ezra at the beginning of the Second Temple period (either 516 B.C.E. or 515 B.C.E.). Ezra codified much of the Oral Torah into a form that could be memorized by the students. This codification was known as the "Mishnah". This Mishnah was required to be handed down word for word exactly as it had been taught. The Oral Law was meant to be transmitted from teacher to student in such a way so that if there were any questions by the student, he would be able to ask the teacher and hence avoid misinterpretations and ambiguity. As successive generations followed, the Mishnah was expanded by new legislation and case law. Eventually, controversies that followed this expansion of the Mishnah led to the appearance of various interpretations of the Mishnah by the teachers that taught it. Around the same time, the order of the Mishnah was improved, particularly by Rabbi Akiba (or Akiva). The Tannaim sifted and recorded the earlier body of case law and legislation concerning the Oral Law or Oral Torah starting from the time of Ezra into a newer version of the Mishnah that comprised of 6 volumes. In other words, the Mishnah is the code of Jewish law in rabbinic literature that is primarily based upon rabbinic interpretations of the Oral Torah, which consists of detailed and practical explanations by G-d to Moses of the 613 commandments contained in the five biblical books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy plus the 613 commandments themselves. The Tannaim taught in the academies and synagogues from the time of Hillel until the time when the Mishnah was compiled in its final version (from about 10 C.E. - 220 C.E.). In 188 C.E., the Mishnah was compiled in its final version by a Tannaitic scholar named Judah Ha-Nasi ("Judah the Prince" in Hebrew) in the 2nd century C.E. so as to end the disputes among the Tannaim regarding the oral interpretations of the Oral Law or Oral Torah. In compiling his work, Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi made use of the earlier Mishnah codified by Ezra, condensing it and deciding among various disputed questions. The sages of his time all concurred with his decisions and ratified his edition. However, even rejected opinions were included in the text so that they would be recognized and not revived in later generations. Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi divided the oral interpretations of the Oral Law or Oral Torah which comprised the Mishnah into six orders and subdivided these orders into tractates, with a total of 63 tractates among the six orders. The Tannaim were the first group of scholars to record the Oral Law or Oral Torah in writing in the following books: (1) the Mishnah (the Mishnah is one of two parts of the Talmud, along with the Gemara); (2) the Tosefta (Tosefta means "addition" in Hebrew, and refers to additional teachings that supplement those in the Mishnah. Many of its teachings do not appear in the Mishnah; others are merely elucidations or alternative versions of Mishnaic material. The Tosefta is an independent work.); (3) the Midrash Halachah [alternate spelling: Midrash Halakhah. "Midrash" means either "to examine" or "to investigate", and refers to a verse by verse interpretation of Hebrew Scriptures, consisting of homily and exegesis (the latter refers to an explanation or critical interpretation of a text), by Jewish teachers since about 400 B.C.E.]. Midrash Halachah refers to the Tannaitic Midrashim (commentaries of the Tannaim) or scholarly Midrashic (investigative) teachings related to the final four books of Moses - Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy); and (4) the Baraita (Baraita means "external" in Aramaic, but specifically, it means "external teaching" in the context of Jewish law; plural form: "Baraitot" in Aramaic). Baraita is simply any Tannaitic or scholarly statement I.E. legal opinion that is not found in the Mishnah. Baraita statements appear in the Tosefta and Midrash Halachah. Some of the laws stated in the Talmud have been taken from Baraita statements. Baraita also means any Amoraic statement that explains the Mishnah. An Amoraic statement is a statement that derives from "Amoraim" or an "Amora". "Amora" means "speaker" or "expounder" in Hebrew (plural form: "Amoraim"), and refers to both Israeli and Babylonian sages whose period of activity ranged from 200 C.E. or 220 C.E. until about 500 C.E. The Amoraim succeeded the Tannaim, and one of the two parts of the Talmud, the Gemara, consist of commentaries by the Amoraim. The text of the Gemara is quoting the rabbis who lived from about 200 C.E. or 220 C.E. to about 500 C.E. As mentioned, these rabbis are called, Amoraim, "explainers" or "interpreters." In this group are included Rav Ashi, Rav Yochanan, etc. (Names of the Amoraim are not so famous, but they all begin with Rav.). The surrounding text of today's Talmud also quotes Rishonim, literally "the first ones," in Hebrew, rabbinic authorities who predated Rabbi Joseph Caro, the 16th century author of the code of Jewish law known as the Shulchan Aruch. Among the most prominent Rishonim are "Rashi" (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki) (1040 - 1105, born in Troyes, France), his students and descendants who were the chief authors of the Tosaphos (or Tosafos) (the Tosafos is the great 12th century commentary on the Talmud), Maimonidies [1135-1204, the "Rambam", Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, born in Córdova (or Córdoba), Spain], and Nachmanides [1194 - 1270, the "Ramban", Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, born in Girona (or Gerona), Spain].
Although the Passover Haggadah was assembled in Talmudic times, its content continued to be fluid. It was only in the period of the great rabbis (or "Geonim" in Hebrew) who studied in the Sura and Pumbedita academies in Babylonia in the 9th and 10th centuries C.E., that a stable form of the Passover Haggadah text was established. The Passover Haggadah was first mentioned in manuscripts starting in the 9th century C.E. The earliest completed Passover Haggadah text appeared in the prayer book of Saadiah Ben Joseph (also known as Saadiah Gaon) of the Sura academy in Babylonia in the 10th century C.E. An earlier and almost completed Passover Haggadah compilation of text appeared in the Seder of Amram Gaon (Amram Gaon was a leading rabbinic scholar of the Sura academy in Babylonia in the 9th century C.E. In this sense, Amram Gaon's 'Seder' is meant to refer to his 'Siddur' or 'prayer book' in Hebrew. Amram Gaon's Seder is the oldest order of Jewish prayers in existence.). Other than Amram Gaon's Passover Haggadah text being the oldest compilation in existence, the earliest written forms of the Passover Haggadah text are from 8th or 9th-century Israel and appear and are preserved only as fragments. These fragments are mostly found in the Cairo Genizah ("Genizah" means "a hiding place" in Hebrew, and refers to a storage area or depository for valuable items. The Cairo Genizah was a depository amassed mainly between the 10th and 13th centuries in Cairo, Egypt, and its contents have helped to provide an understanding of Oriental Jewish life in medieval times.).
The "Seder Rav Amram", by Amram Ga'on of Babylonia, contained a relatively small, after-dinner liturgy, which was expanded considerably following the Crusades in Europe. Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon or Maimonides (1135-1204, born in Cï¿½rdoba, Spain), in his "Mishneh Torah", has text of the Haggadah which is essentially the same as the Haggadah that is in current use with the exception of a number of hymns that were later added by Polish Jews and German Jews in medieval times. Some of these hymns are sung during the Seder and the rest are sung at the conclusion of the Seder.
The first printed Passover Haggadahs or Haggadot originated in Guadalajara, Spain circa 1482 and Italy in 1505, respectively. The earliest known separate editions of the Passover Haggadah appeared in the 13th century, and the first illuminated Passover Haggadah manuscripts also appeared at the same time. The earliest illuminated Ashkenazic Passover Haggadah to have survived as a separate book was the Bird's Head Haggadah from Franconia, now a region in the state of Bavaria in southeastern Germany. The Bird's Head Haggadah is dated circa 1300. Its illustrations mostly depict humans with the heads of birds complete with long beaks in scenes from the Passover story, in ritualistic observances during the Passover Seder, and in eschatological scenes. Other humans in the Bird's Head Haggadah have short, pointed animal ears. There were also other methods of distorting human faces in this Haggadah: blank faces, heads covered by helmets, and a bulbous nose. All men in the Bird's Head Haggadah wear the conical "Jew's Hat" which was compulsory for Jewish men in Germany since the time of the Lateran Council in 1215. Human heads were replaced by those of birds because the Torah stated that there should be no graven images of human likenesses. At first this was taken seriously, hence the creation of the Bird's Head Haggadah. This rule was then relaxed later on in time since the Passover Haggadah was not as sacred a literary work as the Hebrew Bible. To see an image of the Bird's Head Haggadah, click the following link: Passover Haggadah : Bird's Head Haggadah. A smaller window will open. Illuminated Passover Haggadah manuscripts were produced from the 13th century until the time when printed Passover Haggadahs were first made in the 15th century. Thereafter, printed Passover Haggadahs were often illuminated themselves. Since the Passover Haggadah text was relatively short, it was fairly inexpensive to produce even as it involved a scribe for the text and artist for the illustrations. As the financial situations of Jewish families in Spain, Germany, Italy, and France improved in the later Middle Ages, many could then afford to own a Passover Haggadah that contained illustrations. These illustrations usually contained motifs that were based on the Passover Haggadah itself. Both the illustrations and text were embellished with stylish designs and writing. The oldest surviving illustrated Passover Haggadah was an edition printed by Gershom Cohen in 1526 in Prague, which is now the capital city of the Czech Republic. The Mantua, Italy edition of the Passover Haggadah in 1560 reproduced the text of the 1526 Prague edition in facsimile. However, it introduced new illustrations and marginal decorations that were already were used by non-Jewish publications but were in conformity with Italian taste. To see an image of the Mantua Haggadah, click the following link: Passover Haggadah : Mantua Haggadah. A smaller window will open. The first printed Passover Haggadahs to be consistently and systematically illustrated were produced in Venice, Italy in 1599, 1601, 1603, and 1604. Basing its edition on the Mantua edition, the Venice edition was widely popular and imitated by Jews in southern Europe, notably the Spanish and Italian Jews. To this day, the Venice edition of the Passover Haggadah continues to be the prototype Passover Haggadah for Spanish and Italian Jews. In 1695, the Amsterdam (The Netherlands) edition followed the style of the Venice edition but with the addition of improved illustrations being engraved on copper. The Amsterdam edition and its subsequent imitations became the most popular edition among the Ashkenazim of Central and Eastern Europe from 1695 onward, notably in Germany and its neighboring countries. The earliest illuminated Sephardic Passover Haggadah is the opulent Golden Haggadah from Barcelona, Spain circa 1320. To see an image of the Golden Haggadah, click the following link: Passover Haggadah : The Golden Haggadah. A smaller window will open. The best known Hebrew Haggadah manuscript is the Sarajevo Haggadah, originally produced circa 1350 as a wedding gift to a young couple in Barcelona, Spain, but now residing in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. It reached the Sarajevo museum in 1894 when a child in the Sephardic community in Sarajevo brought it to school to be sold after his father died, which left the family destitute. It is now housed in the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo. To see an image of the Sarajevo Haggadah, click the following link: Passover Haggadah : Sarajevo Haggadah. A smaller window will open.
The Passover Haggadah text of the Geonic period in Babylonia, except for variations in some popular folk songs and some local interpretations of the standarized text, was the standard Passover Haggadah text used by Jews from the 9th century up until radical political changes in Europe in the 19th century gave rise to new denominations such as Reform Judaism and others. These new denominations kept the Passover story intact but instituted changes in the form of reinterpreting the meaning of different rituals to fit their denominational philosophies. However, Orthodox Jews have continued to use the Passover Haggadah of Geonic times up to present times.
There are many ways of telling the Passover story that relate to the beliefs of a group. The passage from slavery to freedom can be related to the mission of any individual or group that seeks to rid themselves of oppression in any form. To that end, it has been estimated that there are over 3,000 editions of the Passover Haggadah in print today, from feminist Passover Haggadahs that relate freedom from slavery to women being free from discrimination, to kibbutz Passover Haggadahs first printed in the 1920's in Israel, which took out any references to prayers and religious statements and replaced them with the equivalent socialist messages. A kibbutz is a collective farm in Israel whose members operate according to the ideals of socialist political philosophies. There are even special Passover Haggadah editions written for the U.S. and Israeli armies that are different for each army and of course, there are different Passover Haggadah editions depending on the denomination of Judaism: be it Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, or Humanistic.
The artistic design of a Passover Haggadah book took on elaborate forms in the Middle Ages. Because each person at the Passover Seder table had to have their own copy of the Passover Haggadah, this encouraged wealthy Jews in the Middle Ages to have extravagantly illuminated Passover Haggadahs designed with great care. By displaying various eye-catching illustrations and text styles in Passover Haggadahs, it was hoped that women and children would be even more curious and would want to learn more about the Passover festival. The desire to design extravagant-looking Passover Haggadahs developed to a point where separate artistic traditions emerged in Spain, Germany, and Italy in the Middle Ages. Today, the illustrations and text of Passover Haggadahs are designed and written to reflect the beliefs of different denominations and interest groups in the Jewish faith.
In addition to viewing the above-mentioned Passover Haggadah images, if you want to see more illuminated Passover Haggadahs online, you can also take a tour of the following Illuminated Passover Haggadah Exhibits!
JewishBoston.com has created a free downloadable Haggadah which explores the Pesach / Passover story, encourages question-asking as well as sharing the experience with others. Their Haggadah combines the 7th and 8th Steps of the Seder (Motzi/Matzo, respectively) into one step so that there are 14 Steps rather than the traditional 15 Steps. However, the order of the Steps for this Haggadah remains the same as for all Haggadot or Haggadahs.
Footnote regarding the dates on this Passover Haggadah web page: all dates discussed on this website are based on the modern Gregorian calendar, however, these dates are but one secular scholarly deduction; there are many other secular scholarly deductions as well as traditional Jewish chronological dates in addition to modern Hebrew/Jewish calendar dates regarding the timeline of events in Jewish history. To see a table of some important events in Jewish history discussed on this website and their various dates deduced from traditional Jewish sources, the modern Hebrew/Jewish calendar, and secular historical timelines, check out our Jewish History Timeline web page.