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Haggadah: The Passover Guide and Storybook
Return to the Guide to Passover for Interfaith Families
The Haggadah is the guide book everyone uses at a seder. Haggadah is Hebrew for "the telling," which makes sense because the Haggadah tells the Exodus story. The plural of the Hebrew word, Haggadah, is Haggadot, with a long “o” in the last syllable.
- pre-Passover instructions for preparing one’s home for the holiday
- a listing of the order of the ritualized sections of the seder
- instructions for each of the prayers, blessings, and ritual actions that are to be done in each of the 15 sections of the seder
- a retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, with additional commentaries on different parts of the story
- well-loved Hebrew prayers and songs associated with the holiday
More liberal or alternative Haggadot will generally have all of the above, although:
- they may replace certain traditional prayers with more contemporary or liberal Jewish content expressing the same core themes
- they may include different biblical or ancient rabbinic versions of the Exodus story
- they may modify some of the ancient rabbis’ rituals to reflect changing social values
- they may add new rituals or ritual items to express liberal Jewish values on contemporary issues connected to the themes of oppression, liberation and justice (we’ll see a couple examples of this later)
- they may abbreviate the traditional Haggadah texts in order to make the length of the seder more do-able for parents with young children
- they may expand on the traditional Haggadah texts by adding contemporary questions for discussion, or by adding readings that describe the struggles for justice that other people have gone through or are currently going through
Most of the traditional Haggadah is written in Hebrew or Aramaic, the ancient languages of Jewish life and prayer in the Middle East, usually with an English translation on the facing page. Some modern or alternative Haggadot have a retelling of the story without much Hebrew or Aramaic, and may include readings and songs from other traditions and parts of history that fit with Passover themes.
Haggadot will often have song lyrics and musical notation to help new singers learn fun Passover song melodies. There are so many different varieties of Haggadot available nowadays, and some of them come with an accompanying CD to help the non-singers at the table, or for seders in which there are a lot of newcomers to the experience. Some publishers have included transliteration of the Hebrew into English letters (affectionately known as “Heblish”), so that everyone can join in with the Hebrew singing and chanting at the meal.
If you are a first-time guest at the seder, your hosts will provide a Haggadah for you to use, and you can follow the lead of your hosts about how to participate. If you are planning a seder at your house for the first time, we have a list of suggested Haggadot that you can purchase or download (see below). If you live near a Judaica shop, synagogue gift shop or Jewish bookstore, you can also go browse through the choices there.
The Guide to Passover for Interfaith Families is also available in PDF
Hebrew for "order," refers to the traditional course of events, or service, surrounding the Passover and Tu Bishvat meals.