Passover is one of the most important festivals of the Jews, which celebrates their escape from Egypt. The festival is marked with lavish meals and special prayers on the first and second night, known as Seder meal. On Passover, the meal, comprising of various traditional dishes, is prepared at every Jewish household. Every year, based on the directions of Haggadah, Seder meal is organized and enjoyed by family and friends together. Passover Haggadah is the text in which instruction for the Seder meal are given. Haggadah, which literally means, "telling" is a fulfillment of the scriptural commandment to each Jew to tell his son about the history of the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt, as described in the book of Exodus in the Torah. The text has a unique blend of brevity with tradition. There is controversy regarding the exact period of the compilation of the Haggadah. According to Jewish tradition, the Haggadah was compiled during the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods, although the exact date is unknown.
A Little About Its Origin
In the year 1486, the oldest confirmed printed Haggadah was printed in Soncino, Italy by the Soncino family. Even though the Jewish printing community immediately adopted the printing press as a means of producing texts, the general adoption rate of printed Haggadah was slow. Only twenty-five Haggadah editions had been printed by the end of the sixteenth century. Gradually with the passing time, this number increased, to 37 during the 17th century and 234 during the 18th century.
It was not until the nineteenth century, when 1,269 separate editions were produced, that an important change was seen toward printed Haggadah, as opposed to manuscripts. In the period lasting from 1900 to 1960 alone, over 1,100 Haggadahs were printed. According to some sources, the oldest complete, readable manuscript of the Haggadah was found, in the year 2006, in a prayer book compiled by Saadia Gaon in the tenth century.
The book of Haggadah features over sixty woodcut illustrations, picturing "scenes and symbols of the Passover custom; biblical and rabbinic fundamentals that actually appear in the Haggadah text; and scenes and figures from biblical or other sources that play no role in the Haggadah itself, but have either past or future redemptive associations". While the main portions of Haggadah text have remained mostly the same, since their original compilation, certain additions have been made in the past years, such as the cumulative songs.
Passover And Haggadah
Haggadah is the holy script of the Jews, which gives a detailed description of the different rituals that have to be observed during the Passover Seder, in a stepwise manner. A total of 15 steps have been structured in the book and the reading of each of these steps is considered as a spiritual commandment and directive for every Jew. In addition to the explanation of the Seder rituals, Haggadah also contains Biblical passages, prayers, hymns, blessings, benedictions, stories, dialogues and even rabbinic literature. Most important of all, the script contains extracts and comments from Midrash (meaning exposing), which deals with the clarification of the legal issues in the Hebrew Bible and gaining lessons with the aid of parables, stories and legends.
The Holy Haggadah
The historical evidence of the presence of the Haggadah dates back to the era of the Mishnaic and the Talmudic, somewhere around 200 CE to 500 CE. However, a stable version of the script was formed only during the 9th and the 10th centuries CE. One of the earliest, fully complete Pesach Haggadah texts was compiled in the 10th century CE, as found in the prayer book of Saadiah Ben Joseph of the Sura Academy. The scripts that were recovered earlier were either incomplete or found only in fragments, like the ones found in the Cairo Genizah (a hiding place). Towards the end of 16th century, 25 editions of the script had been printed. This number kept on increasing from 37 editions in the 17th century to a massive 1,269 editions towards the end of the 19th century.
The reading of the Holy Haggadah varies among the Jews of different areas. For the Israelis and the Reform Jews, the book is read only on the first night of the festival, as they celebrate the Passover Seder only on the first evening. On the other hand, the remaining Jewish community, across the world, observes the festival for a total of 8 days and celebrates Seder on each of the first two evenings of the Passover. Hence, they read the manuscript on the first two evenings of the festival. The rituals of the Passover festival are performed at different stages of the Seder meal, as per the instructions in the Haggadah manuscript.
A total of 20 steps or components have been mentioned in the Haggadah. This includes Kiddush, Ha Lahma Anya, Mah Nishtanah, Avadim Hayinu,Ma'aseh be-Rabbi Eli'ezer...Amar Rabbi Elazar, The Four Sons, Yakhol me-Rosh Hodesh, Mi-Tehillah Ovedei Avodah Zarah Hayu Avoteinu, Arami oved avi, Tannaitic commentaries on the "parting" or opening up of the "Sea of Reeds" and the 10 Plagues, Kammah Ma'alot Tovot la-Makom Aleinu, the Mishnah of Rabban Gamaliel, Be-Khol Dor va-Do, the first two chapters of Hallel are recited, Benediction for redemption - "Who Redeemed Us" is the benediction for redemption that is recited just before the beginning of reciting Hallel prayers, Shefokh Hamatkha, Final part of the Hallel is recited, Yehallelukha Adonai Eloheinu al Kol Ma'asekha, the Great Hallel and finally Nishmat Kol Hai.
Haggadah is a religious text of the Jews that lays down the order of the Passover Seder. According to the spiritual commandment, each Jew is obliged to "tell your son" about the liberation of Jews from their slavery in Egypt, as described in the book of Exodus in the Torah (first three parts of Hebrew Bible, Tanakh). The Prague Haggadah, published in 1526, is widely referred to, due to the specific attention given to detail in lettering. it is also credited with introducing many of the themes that are still found in the modern texts. The Prague Hagaddah also introduced illustrations in the holy text for the first time, using them extensively in the edition.
Pesach Holiday Haggadah
It is believed that the Haggadah had been written in the post-Rabbi Yehudah bar Elaay (circa 170 CE) period. He is the last tanna to be quoted in the Haggadah. The text was complied by the time of Rav Nachman (mentioned in Pesachim 116a). However, there is a dispute over which Rav Nachman, the Talmud was referring to. While some say it refers to Rav Nachman bar Yaakov (circa 280 CE), there are others who believe the Talmud was referring to Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak (360 CE). The interpretation of the text is also debated by many.
Although the exact date of the compilation of the Hagaddah is not known, the Jewish tradition established that the text was compiled during the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods. The oldest and completely readable manuscript of the Haggadah till date is found in a prayer book compiled in the 10th Century CE, by Saadia Gaon. Only 25 editions of the text had been printed by the end of the sixteenth century. During the seventeenth century, the number of editions increased up to 37, thereby swelling up to 1,269 separate editions by the nineteenth century.
The main portion of the text of the Haggadah has continued to be the same as the original text, as mentioned in the original compilation. However, with the printing of newer editions, some additions were made to the last part of the text. Cumulative texts were added to the Haggadah in the fifteenth century. They gained instant acceptance and became a standard to be printed at the back of the holy text. The contemporary times are also witness to attempts of modernizing the Haggadah, with an eye to revitalize a particular text. However, Orthodox Judaism doesn't approve of it.