by Rabbi Jack Riemer
How would you like to sit at the seder with three of the giants of the last century — the Rav, the Rav Harashi and the Reb — and listen to them exchange insights into the haggadah? This new Haggadah makes it possible for you to do just that.
The Rav was Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the leader of Modern Orthodoxy in the United States. The Rav, as he was known to his many disciples, was the inheritor of the Brisker dynasty, which developed a whole new method for analyzing the Talmud, and he came to America with a doctorate in Philosophy that he had earned at a German university. He is the icon of those who believe that it is possible to combine an enormous knowledge of the tradition with an understanding and appreciation for modern culture and philosophy.
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook was the first Rav Harashi — the Chief Rabbi of Palestine under the British mandate. He combined an enormous knowledge of the Jewish mystical tradition with a poetic soul and with an understanding of the need to appreciate and not rebuff the pioneers who were building the land of Israel.
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach,ֲ “Reb Shlomo” as he was known to his followers, was a travelling troubadour who crossed the country, reaching the souls of both involved Jews and young people who were on the periphery of Jewish life with his songs and his stories. Few of us realized when we listened to him how great his knowledge of Hassidic literature was, and how serious was his desire to reach out to those whom mainstream Jews had given up on.
It is hard to imagine these three sitting at the same table, celebrating Pesach together, but this new haggadah: “The Night That Unites” does the next best thing. It chooses some of the very best insights of the three, edits and simplifies them so that the general reader can understand them, and puts them together side by side on each page of the haggadah.
Every year I try to call attention in this column to the best haggadah of the year. This one wins the prize this year hands down. Most of the new haggadot are based on the premise that in order to have a seder that speaks to our generation, we must make it as brief as possible, and we must spell out the parallels between the Exodus andֲ the freedom stories in the world around us. So the black spiritual: When Israel Was in Egypt Land-Let My People Go, and the story of Soviet Jewry’s liberation in our time, and discussions of America’s policy in Vietnam and elsewhere have become staples of the seder. This book is different. It leaves nothing of the traditional haggadah out, for it believes that this is a night for study, and that if we invite our guests to stretch their minds and work hard, they will respond. And this haggadah does not draw any parallels between the Exodus and any of the freedom movements of our time, because it is based on the premise that this is the night for telling our story, and that the parallels to those of others that may be in it, people can find by themselves.
I love the artwork in this haggadah, starting with the three seder plates on the cover that stand for the three thinkers whose work is found inside. And I love the fact that each unit contains questions that can be asked at the seder in order to make it a participatory experience. I started out marking the pages that I liked the best so that I would be sure to study them at the seder, and I soon found that I had marked almost every page.
So this is, at least in my opinion, the best new haggadah of the year, and I recommend that you bring it to your table on seder night. It is the next best thing to having three of the giants of Jewish life sitting there with you.
This review originally appeared in the South Florida Jewish Journal