Friday, April 01, 2011

The Absolut Haggadah

Usually, at about this time of year, I promote the Absolut Haggadah. This week has been fairly hectic and so I have not had the chance to write up a review post of this year's effort -- because they update it every year, with new jokes and new ideas. Perhaps I will get a chance next week to give a more substantive post, but in the meantime, it is best for publicity to start with enough lead time before Pesach, so people have ample time to check out the 2011 edition and pass it on to others. And so, for today, I am going to simply repost last year's review.

First, I will let them explain the aim of their general project, in their own words:
The Absolut Judaism project is an effort to seriously read, understand, and evaluate the underpinnings of Judaism and present them in an often humorous way.  Fundamental texts, commentaries, and ideas are being read perched on the shoulder's of giants with additional help and clarity provided by recent advances in modern Biblical scholarship, including archeology, linguistics, history, geography, botany and medicine.  It is our hope that a better understanding of the fundamental texts and ideas of Judaism will make us better Jews and make the world a better place to live. 

Last year's post follows:
Click on the image or on the link to visit
their website, where you can download the
haggadah or read other essays about Judaism

Once again, The Absolut Haggadah. (Click on the link, or the image, to download it as a PDF.) They have made a bunch of changes since last year, tightening up the text and expanding on some of the ideas. They still keep it to 93 pages.

Read last year's post where I summarize their general approach. They provide a haggadah with structural and textual analysis, with a generous dose of humor. Structural analysis is what the role of each section is in the greater whole. Textual analysis is what particular phrases and prooftexts mean in the haggadah.

I will give an excerpt from the haggadah, and comment upon it. They actually got an idea from me and credit me with it, so I think I'll discuss that segment.

From page 49 going on to page 50.

There are two footnotes in play. Footnote 83 credits me. Footnote 82 reads:
This second verse is a later addition and does not appear in all contemporary Haggadah texts. It was added apparently because of the Medrash that identifies the blood mentioned in this verse as the blood of Milah and the blood of the Passover sacrifice. As a result of this interpretation, the verse refers directly to the Exodus. In Eziekiel, however, the two verses appear in the opposition and this verse seems to refer to the enslavement stage.
This ends my citation of the Absolut Haggadah. Now, my analysis of just what they did.

(1) In terms of their rather brief analysis of the phrase gadol atzum, that "We grew in number at an astounding pace" -- there are two approaches one could take in analyzing each of the phrases of the viduy in Ki Savo. The approach I would perhaps have preferred here (which they use in other contexts) is that each phrase is a pointer, a quick intra-biblical allusion to some idea or pasuk in the much lengthier exodus story in sefer Shemos. And so the linkage here is between the words atzum and vayaatzmu. But that might be focusing too much on the methodology and too little on the message. What they do here is focus much more on the point of the pasuk, the message that is to come across. And in that pasuk, the idea expressed by the repetition of all those synonyms for growth, together with bim'od meod, is indeed the astonishing growth. And further, perhaps {?} that would then be the meaning of gadol atzum as a phrase, astonishing growth.

(2) In terms of varav, I absolutely agree. In some cases, the prooftext is used to demonstrate that the short phrase in Ki Savo is a pointer to the Biblical story; in others, the prooftext is to give meaning to the cryptic phrase. By citing Yechezkel 16:17:

ז  רְבָבָה, כְּצֶמַח הַשָּׂדֶה נְתַתִּיךְ, וַתִּרְבִּי וַתִּגְדְּלִי, וַתָּבֹאִי בַּעֲדִי עֲדָיִים:  שָׁדַיִם נָכֹנוּ וּשְׂעָרֵךְ צִמֵּחַ, וְאַתְּ עֵרֹם וְעֶרְיָה.
7 I cause thee to increase, even as the growth of the field. And thou didst increase and grow up, and thou camest to excellent beauty: thy breasts were fashioned, and thy hair was grown; yet thou wast naked and bare.

it clearly is not trying to give an allusion to the exodus from Egypt, but rather to define the word ורב. It is meant "caused to increase", as in רבבה, what is the point? That is an arcane pasuk to cite, when there are many more famous pesukim to cite, for an exceedingly common word. Rather, it references the other word in the pasuk meaning this, namely ותרבי. And so, in context, it means "mature", and is a reference to how the Israelites developed, and matured into a people, rather than just a family. And this is part of the general theme (of starting with gnai and ending with shevach) which the Haggadah is trying to develop.

That is as much as my contribution (and as is footnoted). But they added two further proofs that I did not know, or think about. One is that the breaking up of the phrase גדול עצום demonstrates that this is a separate point. And the other is from the footnote, that early haggadot did not contain the continuation into the second pasuk, where that second pasuk makes it into a pointer to the exodus story. Overall, very impressive.

Last year, I included a bunch of recommendations and brief reviews of the Absolut Haggadah. I'll include them at the bottom of this post as well. If you've seen other reviews, let me know and I'll post them:

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 whowrote:
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. :)

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