How to choose a Passover Haggadah

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A Haggadah, published in Vienna in 1930, is part of the Iraqi Jewish Archive.Photo Iraqi Jewish Archive
A Haggadah, published in Vienna in 1930, is part of the Iraqi Jewish Archive.
Photo Iraqi Jewish Archive

The Haggadah is the text that tells the story of Passover and guides the rituals of the seder. It also can become a tradition in itself. Particular Haggadot are passed down through the generations, simply because they conjure warm feelings about family and memories of childhood.

So if you’re buying your first Haggadah, or want to try something more contemporary — or traditional — than what you’re used to, here are some things to consider:


Cost

You’ll need a copy of the Haggadah for each guest (or every two guests, if people are comfortable sharing) at your seder. Unless you plan to buy one copy and then do some extensive photocopying (which is illegal for copyrighted publications), you’ll have to multiply the book’s price by the number of guests.

There are also many free downloadable PDF versions online, like at mezuzahstore.com and chabad.org. You could choose to make your own.

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Length

If your guests are expecting the traditional seder, complete with Hebrew, they might be uncomfortable with an abridged Haggadah, an LGBTQ Haggadah or one that emphasizes contemporary examples of oppression and slavery. On the other hand, if many are first-time seder-goers or lack the patience for a really long seder, something like The 30-Minute Seder or a book that relates the Exodus to modern social issues might be just the thing.

Children

As children generally don’t like sitting still at the table for long, we recommend an abbreviated or child-oriented Haggadah. There are many great children’s and “family” Haggadot that engage adults as well as kids. Check out the list on Kveller.com for Haggadot for kids. For the older kids, think about acting out skits from the seder.


Technology

The first two days of Passover are yom tov days like Shabbat, when traditional Jewish observance forbids activities like writing and using electronics. If this is not an issue for you, however, a number of Haggadot are now available as e-books and apps, usually at lower prices than printed versions (with the added advantage that you will not need to find a place to store them after the seder). While many are just digital versions of printed Haggadot, others incorporate multimedia features.

A free one from JewishBoston.com has music and other materials in addition to the standard text. One on iTunes has text and music, plus interactive commentary and games.

Beauty

Haggadot come in an array of designs and styles, with art ranging from contemporary to ancient. The downside of a gorgeous tome, however, is that there’s a good chance one of your guests will spill wine all over it. (That can happen with any Haggadah, but you probably won’t mind so much if it’s inexpensive or more about function than aesthetic.)

For a beautiful (and modern) Haggadah, check out the New American Haggadah and The Bronfman Haggadah. The Syzk Haggadah, created in the 1930s, features illustrations in the style of illuminated manuscripts.

Julie Wiener is managing editor of MyJewishLearning.com.

—JTA News and Features

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