Passover: The Haggadah

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The Haggadah is based on the seder service prescribed by the Mishnah (Pes. 10), which had apparently been conducted in the form of a banquet. The observance of the precepts at the seder – the eating of the pesac (the paschal sacrifice),

The Seder

matzah (“unleavened bread”), and maror (“bitter herbs”); the drinking of arba kosot (“four cups of wine”);

Matzah, Maror, the Drinking of Arba Kosot

and the recital of the story of the exodus from Egypt (the narrative of the Haggadah) was integrated into this banquet celebration.

The Narrative of the Haggadah

Essentially, the Haggadah is an account of the Egyptian bondage, a thanksgiving to Elohim for the redemption, and, in Temple times, a thanksgiving for the acquisition of the Land of Israel. After they destroyed the Second Temple, a prayer replaced the latter for the ultimate redemption. The purpose of the Haggadah (“Ve-higgadta le-vinkha” – “And thou shalt tell thy son,” Ex. 13:8), one of the central commandments of the day, is represented by the narrative itself. Not written by any particular author or group of authors, the Haggadah is not a “literary composition” in the accepted sense of the term. Its narrative is a collection of excerpts from the Bible, Mishnah, and Midrash, interpolated with the ritual performances: the Kiddush, the benedictions recited on the performance of precepts, and for food, Grace after Meals, and the Hallel. Gradually, stories, psalms, and songs were added. Many recensions of the Haggadah, differing from one another to a greater or lesser degree, have been preserved in various manuscripts, mostly dating from the 13th to the 15th century, and also in fragments from the Cairo Genizah.

Some halakhic works also contain the text of, and commentaries on, the Haggadah (see below: Manuscripts and Editions). In keeping with its compilatory character and the varied nature of its sources, the literary or logical nexus between the different sections of the Haggadah is not always discernible. The quotations, derived from a multiplicity of sources, have mostly been adapted to the needs of the seder service.

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