“A Haggadah without wine stains is like a YomKippur machzor without tear stains.”
- R. Levi Yitchak of Berditchev
The Pesach Seder is a night etched into the collective consciousness of the Jew. Just thinking about this magical night, conjures up vivid memories of the scents, sounds, and tastes, the special time spent with family, and the experience of exploring our rich tradition. At the Seder, we don’t retell the story of the Exodus – we relive the experience.
The Haggadah, a text that evolved over centuries, serves as the manual that brings the Seder to life.
With thousands of Haggadot in print, it can be overwhelming to decide what to buy and what to use at the Seder. Just like kashering the home for Pesach requires preparation, so too the material for the Seder. And according to the investment is the return.
Below are twenty of my favorite Haggadot. I hope these picks help enrich your Seder.
Torat Chayyim (Mosad HaRav Kook) – A basic Haggadah that features the commentary of the Rishonim (Rashi, Rashbam, Raavan, Ri, Rid, Shibolei Haleket, Ritva, Abudarham, Rashbetz, Ephraim mi’Bonn). Great for understanding the p’shat (simple meaning) of the text.
Haggadah Sheleimah (Machon Torah Sheleimah) – A classic work of scholarship by R. Menachem Kasher, this Haggadah explores the origins of the Haggadah text and its evolution over the centuries. It also contains important halakhic discussions on the components of the Seder as well as many important commentaries published from manuscript.
HaSeder HeAruch (Machon Otzar HaMoadim) – Much more than a Haggadah, this three volume encyclopaedic work contains an in depth analysis on every aspect of the Seder, drawing on rich material from the classic to the contemporary. Vols. 2 & 3 contain commentaries on the Haggdah text itself. It is truly a “kol bo“.
Encyclopedia Talmudit Haggadah Shel Pesach (Yad HaRav Herzog, Encyclopedia Talmudit) – Clear and insightful halakhic discussions of the elements of the Seder, many taken from entries in R. Yosef Zevin’s lucid and elegant Encyclopedia. (Also essential are his essays in HaMoadim B’Halakha).
Zevach Pesach – In one of the most famous classical commentaries to the Haggadah, R. Don Yitzchak Abravanel, the great 15th C. Spanish scholar, employs his famous style of question and answer to explore the major concepts of the Exodus from Egypt. (An English translation by my friend and neighbor, R. Yisrael Herzceg, is available by Artscroll).
Haggadat HaMikdash (Machon HaMikdash, Carta, Sifriat Beit El) – A wealth of material, filled with rich illustrations, that describe the observance of Pesach in the Holy Temple, with a focus on the Korban Pesach. A great way to bring these important elements into focus at the Seder. May we soon merit to eat from the Zevachim and the Pesachim, amein.
Haggadah and History (JPS) – Not a Haggadah, but a gorgeous coffee table book by scholar Yosef Chaim Yerushalmi, which looks at five centuries of the printed Haggadah. Hundreds of incredible illustrations from important Haggadot from all over the world, along with insightful explorations, makes this book a worthwhile investment.
The Arthur Szyk Haggadah (Massadah, Alumoth) – Masterful watercolor illustrations and illuminations by Polish artist Arthur Szyk, first published in 1941. The rich colors and graphic imagery of this volume tell the story of the Exodus and draw upon the modern narratives of Nazism and Zionism to express the motifs of Bondage and Freedom. A very expensive brand new edition is available for thousands of dollars. Check Ebay for some of the older editions. My beloved copy was given to me by my Grandpa Jerry, and has a silver book jacket, embossed with Jewish symbols. It’s not dated, but I believe my edition was printed in 1967. I need not mention that I don’t risk getting any wine stains on this one.
Otzar Meforshei HaHaggadah (Machon Yerushalayim) – A beautifully bound Haggadah which features a wonderful collection of rich commentaries from classic to contemporary. Not so user friendly as the first half is just the plain text, while the second contains the commentary – but worth the investment.
Haggadat Hegyonei Halakha (Hotzaat A. Rutner) – Fans of the Hegynoei Halakha series will enjoy R. Yehudah Mirsky’s highly original essays on Jewish Law and Thought.
The Hirsch Haggadah (Feldheim) – R. Samson Raphael Hirsch was one of the leading Jewish thinkers of the Nineteenth Century. Just like his Commentary to the Torah, his comments on the Haggadah take classic Jewish philosophical ideas and make them accessible to a Modern World. Pure Hirschian synthesis! A great resource for yekkeshe minhagim too!
Peirush v’Likkutei HaGra (Mosad HaRav Kook) – This new edition culls from the many works of the Vilna Gaon and his students, bringing together the Gra’s minhagim and deep comments on the Haggadah.
Haggadah Shel Pesach Im Peirush HaReiyah (Machon HaRatzya) – R. Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook was one of the greatest thinkers of the Twentieth Century. While a lean commentary to the Haggadah was published in his work Olat Reiyah on the Siddur, this work offers much more as it gleans from his many original works. It also contains some important essays and drashot as appendices (many of which previously unpublished).