Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Introducing the Absolut Haggadah, 2009 Vintage

Note: Bumped to the top.

Someone just forwarded me this year's version of the Absolut Haggadah. I put it up on my private website, so that you can download it here. If you have a previous year's version, take note -- this year's version is a substantial update. So make sure you get this year's haggadah, rather than the 2007 or 2008 edition. According to their press release, a group of people learning in a chaburah come together to discuss the form, structure, history and purpose of the Pesach seder, and to revise previous the previous year's haggadah effort. And so this year has much deeper analysis than last year, plus many more mother-in-law jokes. Or rather, they write deep analysis but an engaging style.

From flipping through the Haggadah, it seems that, as before, their intent is to avoid vertlach, and focus more on the true meaning of the text, if such is indeed possible.

An excerpt might be in order, to illustrate, taken from parts of page 85-88:
Some versions of Raban Gamliel’s text write “al shum mah” and some write “al shem mah.” Is Raban Gamliel asking what is the reason for these three symbols at the Passover seder? Or is he asking, how did these symbols get their name?
Then, regarding the matza, and how it was al shum that it they left before it had time to rise, they write:
There are two glaring problems with the traditional reading that Matzo was a "laboratory accident;" i.e., that they made Matzo because it had to be baked before it had time to rise.
1. There was plenty of time for the dough to rise before it was baked, since it was not baked in Egypt, but rather in Sukkot, the first stop on the journey after leaving Egypt.
2. They were already commanded to eat Matzo the night before they left.
Why did they bake the dough they carried out of Egypt into Matzo? It seems that because they were on the road and you simply don’t bake raised bread when you’re on the road! (Raised bread requires an oven and a lot of time, Matzo bakes quickly and has a long shelf life.) So, why do we eat Matzo? Because the redemption was so rapid, the dough the Hebrews prepared in their homes in Egypt before they left did not have time to become leavened. As a result, they had no choice but to carry the dough out with them and bake it into matzo on the road.

Eating Matzo is an active way of commemorating the speed of the redemption. This explanation also explains why they ate Matzo the night before they left. All aspects of that meal were meant to simulate a traveler's hasty meal (loins girded, shoes on, walking sticks in hand, meat roasted whole over a fire and hasty eating).

According to the texts that read "al shem" (rather than "al shum"), we would expect this paragraph to contain the etymology of the word Matzo (just as the and Marrar Passover paragraphs relate to the origin of the word). Yet, the root of the word Matzo does not appear in this passage.

Perhaps the root of this word is buried in the phrase “ki lo chametz.” Matzo seems to be a jumbling of the letters CHMTZ {J: with the guttural CHET switching for HEH) and the proof text says the basis of matzo was specifically that “it was not leaven.”
It is a nice analysis, and rooted in classic sources, though they might have done well to cite them -- they do, after all, have copious footnotes. Also, in the particular passage above, they could have front-loaded the distinction between shum and shem, by explaining at the very start that one of them meant etymology and one meant pretext (if I am understanding this correctly), rather than leaving the reader in this momentary confusion. I personally would prefer more sources in the text or footnotes for justification or comparison, but the purpose appears to be to make an *engaging* yet scholarly haggadah, rather than the particular haggadah I would personally consider optimal.

They did not do any good marketing, so I will do it for them. Here is what some people are saying about the Absolut Haggadah:

Abacaxi Mamao wrote:
Absolut Haggadah [PDF]. I know nothing about it. Maybe you'll find it interesting. Josh Waxman, about whom I also know nothing, introduced it and gave a short review here. I liked what he said, though, so I downloaded it. I haven't had a chance to look at it in depth yet, though. Who has time? Pesach is coming!
Rabbi David Sedley wrote:
I found this excellent Haggadah. It deals with many of the same issues that I spoke about in the shiur (which is in the previous post) and answers some of the outstanding questions, such as when the Haggadah was put into its present form (some time in the Gaonic period, though we have fragments from the Cairo Geniza which are pretty similar to todays Haggadah). They also have a nifty chart which shows the parallels and differences between Rav and Shmuel in the way that the Haggadah is set out (and how we do both). They have also given the verses which we will spend most of the Seder explaining, and discuss why the authors of the Haggadah chose those verses (from Devarim) instead of the story itself which is in Shemot. There is then a commentary on the Haggadah which will serve you well on the Seder night (if you so desire). I think it is an excellent piece of work, but don't just take my word for it. Have a look yourself.

And Elsewhere:
Fantastic Hagadah. Just the right mix of seriousness and comedy. Well done.
larryv wrote:
Searching for a Haggadah to use for my own first Seder I came across this. I was very amused.

A blogger, unsure who, wrote:
a refreshing blend of humor and commentary trying to uncover the pshat (basic meaning) of the Haggadah.
Neil Harris wrote:
Great Haggadah…and you used my favorite Far Side!! Thanks!
Josh M. of HaProzdor wrote:
I downloaded it ... and started reading through it - it has some very interesting stuff on the structure of the haggadah. Kol HaKavod to the authors!
ADDeRabbi wrote:
very nice.
Steg wrote:
i agree... the only problem is the expense of printing it out in full color :-P
Those are the only testimonials I could find with my minimal web surfing. Maybe you can read and review it this year. Who knows? Next year you could be part of the testimonial. :)

Also, see my analysis from 2007.


Anonymous said...

It still contains the common error of explaining 'hakheh et Shinav' as "knock out his dentition."

Hakheh is not the same root as's advocating a toothless rasha.

Unknown said...

We did discuss that issue but we didn't come to a conclusion. I assume you meant to explain as "set his teeth on edge." We preserved this language for the purpose of the joke rather than to advance a position. We were more interested in the Yerushalmi's wording of "oso ha'ish." (If you see Ramban Genesis 49 he seems to explain hakheh as break. Also see Soncino 49a translating it as blunting. Not convincing perhaps.) In any case thank you for your he'arah. Hag Sameah.

David said...

Another great haggadah to check out is the Papercut Haggadah by master Israeli artist Archie Granot at

SJ said...

read my blog. XD


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