The Haggadah (Hebrew: הַגָּדָה, "telling"; plural: Haggadot) is a Jewish text that sets forth the order of the Passover Seder. Reading the Haggadah at the Seder table is a fulfillment of the Scriptural commandment to each Jew to "tell your son" of the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt as described in the Book of Exodus in the Torah ("And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt." Ex. 13:8).
Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews also apply the term Haggadah to the service itself, as it constitutes the act of "telling your son."
The Mishna details questions one is obligated to ask on the night of the seder. It is customary for the youngest child present to recite the four questions.Some customs hold that the other participants recite them quietly to themselves as well. In some families, this means that the requirement remains on an adult "child" until a grandchild of the family receives sufficient Jewish education to take on the responsibility. If a person has no children capable of asking, the responsibility falls to the spouse, or another participant. The need to ask is so great that even if a person is alone at the seder he is obligated to ask himself and to answer his own questions.
Ma nishtana ha lyla ha zeh mikkol hallaylot?
Why is this night different from all other nights?
- Shebb'khol hallelot anu okh’lin ḥamets umatsa, vehallayla hazze kullo matsa.
Why is it that on all other nights during the year we eat either leavened bread or matza, but on this night we eat only matza?
- Shebb'khol hallelot anu okh’lin sh’ar y'rakot, vehallayla hazze maror.
Why is it that on all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but on this night we eat bitter herbs?
- Shebb'khol hallelot en anu matbillin afillu pa‘am eḥat, vehallayla hazze sh'tei fe‘amim.
Why is it that on all other nights we do not dip [our food] even once, but on this night we dip them twice?
- Shebb'khol hallelot anu okh’lin ben yosh’vin uven m'subbin, vehallayla hazze kullanu m'subbin.
Why is it that on all other nights we dine either sitting upright or reclining, but on this night we all recline?
A fifth question which is present in the mishnah has been removed by later authorities due to its inapplicability after the Destruction of the Temple:
5. Shebb'khol hallelot anu okh’lin basar tsali shaluk umvushal, vehallayla hazze kullo tsali.
Why is it that on all other nights we eat meat either roasted, marinated, or cooked, but on this night it is entirely roasted?
The four questions have been translated into over 300 languages.
- We eat only matzah because our ancestors could not wait for their breads to rise when they were fleeing slavery in Egypt, and so they were flat when they came out of the oven.
- We eat only Maror, a bitter herb, to remind us of the bitterness of slavery that our ancestors endured while in Egypt.
- The first dip, green vegetables in salt water, symbolizes the replacing of our tears with gratitude, and the second dip, Maror in Charoses, symbolizes the sweetening of our burden of bitterness and suffering.
- We recline at the Seder table because in ancient times, a person who reclined at a meal was a free person, while slaves and servants stood.
- We eat only roasted meat because that is how the Pesach/Passover lamb is prepared during sacrifice in the Temple at Jerusalem.
The traditional Haggadah speaks of "four sons"—one who is wise, one who is wicked, one who is simple, and one who does not know to ask. This is based upon the rabbis of the Jerusalem Talmud finding four references in the Torah to responding to your son who asks a question. Each of these sons phrases his question about the seder in a different way. The Haggadah recommends answering each son according to his question, using one of the three verses in the Torah that refer to this exchange.
The wise son asks "What are the statutes, the testimonies, and the laws that God has commanded you to do?" One explanation for why this very detailed-oriented question is categorized as wise, is that the wise son is trying to learn how to carry out the seder, rather than asking for someone else's understanding of its meaning. He is answered fully: You should reply to him with [all] the laws of pesach: one may not eat any dessert after the paschal sacrifice.
The wicked son, who asks, "What is this service to you?", is characterized by the Haggadah as isolating himself from the Jewish people, standing by objectively and watching their behavior rather than participating. Therefore, he is rebuked by the explanation that "It is because God acted for my sake when I left Egypt." (This implies that the Seder is not for the wicked son because the wicked son would not have deserved to be freed from Egyptian slavery.) Where the four sons are illustrated in the Haggadah, this son has frequently been depicted as carrying weapons or wearing stylish contemporary fashions.
The simple son, who asks, "What is this?" is answered with "With a strong hand the Almighty led us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage."
And the one who does not know to ask is told, "It is because of what the Almighty did for me when I left Egypt."
Some modern Haggadahs mention "children" instead of "sons", and some have added a fifth child. The fifth child can represent the children of the Shoah who did not survive to ask a question or represent Jews who have drifted so far from Jewish life that they do not participate in a Seder.
For the former, tradition is to say that for that child we ask "Why?" and, like the simple child, we have no answer.
Four verses in Deuteronomy (26:5-8) are then expounded, with an elaborate, traditional commentary. ("5. And thou shalt speak and say before the LORD thy God: 'A wandering Aramean was my parent, and they went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, few in number; and became there a nation, great, mighty, and populous. 6. And the Egyptians dealt ill with us, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. 7. And we cried unto the LORD, the God of our parents, and the LORD heard our voice, and saw our affliction, and our toil, and our oppression. 8 And the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders.")
The Haggadah explores the meaning of those verses, and embellishes the story. This telling describes the slavery of the Jewish people and their miraculous salvation by God. This culminates in an enumeration of the Ten Plagues:
- Dam (blood)—All the water was changed to blood
- Tzefardeyah (frogs)—An infestation of frogs sprang up in Egypt
- Kinim (lice)—The Egyptians were afflicted by lice
- Arov (wild animals)—An infestation of wild animals (some say flies) sprang up in Egypt
- Dever (pestilence)—A plague killed off the Egyptian livestock
- Sh'chin (boils)—An epidemic of boils afflicted the Egyptians
- Barad (hail)—Hail rained from the sky
- Arbeh (locusts)—Locusts swarmed over Egypt
- Choshech (darkness)—Egypt was covered in darkness
- Makkat Bechorot (killing of the first-born)—All the first-born sons of the Egyptians were slain by God
With the recital of the Ten Plagues, each participant removes a drop of wine from his or her cup using a fingertip. Although this night is one of salvation, the sages explain that one cannot be completely joyous when some of God's creatures had to suffer. A mnemonic acronym for the plagues is also introduced: "D'tzach Adash B'achav", while similarly spilling a drop of wine for each word.
At this part in the Seder, songs of praise are sung, including the song Dayenu, which proclaims that had God performed any single one of the many deeds performed for the Jewish people, it would have been enough to obligate us to give thanks. After this is a declaration (mandated by Rabban Gamliel) of the reasons of the commandments of the Paschal lamb, Matzah, and Maror, with scriptural sources. Then follows a short prayer, and the recital of the first two psalms of Hallel (which will be concluded after the meal). A long blessing is recited, and the second cup of wine is drunk.
According to Jewish tradition, the Haggadah was compiled during the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods, although the exact date is unknown. It could not have been written earlier than the time of Rabbi Yehudah bar Elaay (circa 170 CE) who is the last tanna to be quoted therein. According to most Talmudic commentaries Rav and Shmuel argued on the compilation of the Haggadah,[note 1] and hence it had not been completed as of then. Based on a Talmudic statement, it was completed by the time of Rav Nachman (mentioned in Pesachim 116a). There is a dispute, however, to which Rav Nachman, the Talmud was referring: According to some commentators, this was Rav Nachman bar Yaakov[note 2] (circa 280 CE), while others maintain this was Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak (360 CE).[note 3]
However the Malbim, along with a minority of commentators, believe that Rav and Shmuel were not arguing on its compilation, but rather on its interpretation, and hence was completed before then. According to this explanation; the Haggadah was written during the lifetime of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi,[note 4] the compiler of the Mishna. The Malbim theorizes that the Haggadah was written by Rav Yehudah HaNasi himself.
The earliest Ashkenazi illuminated Haggada is known as the "Bird's Head Haggada", now in the collection of The Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The Rylands Haggadah (Rylands Hebrew MS. 6) is one of the finest Haggadot in the world. It was written and illuminated in Catalonia in the 14th century and is an example of the cross-fertilisation between Jewish and non-Jewish artists within the medium of manuscript illumination. In spring and summer 2012 it was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in the exhibition 'The Rylands Haggadah: Medieval Jewish Art in Context'.
The British Library's 14th century Barcelona Haggadah (BL Add. MS 14761) is one of the most richly pictorial of all Jewish texts. Meant to accompany the Passover eve service and festive meal, it was also a status symbol for its owner in 14th-century Spain. Nearly all its folios are filled with miniatures depicting Passover rituals, Biblical and Midrashic episodes, and symbolic foods. A facsimile edition was published by Facsimile Editions of London in 1992.
Published in 1526, the Prague Haggadah is known for its attention to detail in lettering and introducing many of the themes still found in modern texts. Although illustrations had often been a part of the Haggadah, it was not until the Prague Haggadah that they were used extensively in a printed text. The Haggadah features over sixty woodcutillustrations picturing "scenes and symbols of the Passover ritual; [...] biblical and rabbinic elements that actually appear in the Haggadah text; and scenes and figures from biblical or other sources that play no role in the Haggadah itself, but have either past or future redemptive associations"