New American Haggadah – Jonathan Safran Foer, Ed. [Review]

April 4, 2012 — Leave a comment


Page 2 – New American Haggadah – Jonathan Safran Foer, Ed.

For instance, one of the House of Study segments offers some thoughts about the nature of God’s command to his people to observe the Passover for all time (Ex. 12:15), and contrasts the way Moses relays this commend to the people in the following chapter (Ex. 13:6):

Where God uses the plural form of ‘you’ in the Hebrew original, Moses substitutes the singular form; where God directs his command to the entire nation, Moses redirects it to the individual Israelite, adding, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I went free from Egypt.’ (Ex. 13:8)

The ‘whole community of Israel’ has now become ‘your son,’ and ‘your ranks’ have become ‘me’.

In many places, the Torah teaches us that Jews were chosen as a people. But were we also chosen as individuals?…the Haggadah reminds us that every ‘person is obligated to view himself as if he were the one who went out from Egypt.’…

Do we still need to be reminded that we are individuals? Or is the real challenge to imagine that we belong to something bigger than ourselves?

The layout of the book, which requires the reader to turn the book this way and that in order to read the various elements, gives the real sense that the Haggadah is a conversation, not a monologue. The Passover Seder narrative begins in response to four questions, often asked of the celebrant by the youngest member at the table. The New American Haggadah doesn’t end with those questions. The meditations and historical notes in this Haggadah are meant to spark spirited discussion during and after a Seder on the themes embedded in the familiar story. An example: in the final Nation section, this question is asked of readers:

The Haggadah saves the most demanding call for the final moment of the seder. ‘Next year in Jerusalem,’ we declare, sometimes nervously, sometimes self-consciously, often ambivalently…Jews, no matter our politics, have a special responsibility to tie ourselves to Israel’s fate, and to work for the vision of Israel in which we believe…When we reach it – and we will, for that is the core Jewish belief: there will be no more need for seders and Haggadot: We will live in a world in which the poor are fed and sheltered and the sick healed; in which the Jews are accepted as a free people; in which no one is persecuted or enslaved. Until that day arrives, we will continue to gather around the Passover table, to remind ourselves, and each other, of the work we must do. So, what are you going to do?

Though some Englewood Review of Books readers may be acquainted with the Passover Seder if they’ve sampled a Christian version of the meal from which Jesus adapted elements to give us communion, The New American Haggadah offers a fascinating and thought-provoking exploration of contemporary American Jewry’s story of national salvation.


Michelle Van Loon is a regular contributor to The Englewood Review of Books who blogs at


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