Book Review: Perceptive Haggada

The tome’s official title is The Lieberman Open Orthodox Haggadah (The Orlofsky Edition), making clear what you will discover in its pages.

‘MAGGID,’ BY Caryl Meyer Lieberman. (photo credit: GEFEN PUBLISHING)
‘MAGGID,’ BY Caryl Meyer Lieberman.
(photo credit: GEFEN PUBLISHING)
The excitement of a new Haggada in English, with a focused message and educational images, awaits the 5775/2015 Seder attendee.
The tome’s official title is The Lieberman Open Orthodox Haggadah (The Orlofsky Edition), making clear what you will discover in its pages. A major spokesman for modern Orthodoxy in the US, Dr. Avi Weiss has many disciples; now one of them, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Washington, has presented this Haggada, with its important focus on Am Yisrael.
Studying American Passover history, one finds a continuing interest in Haggadot that make a statement about aspects of Judaism. An early example appeared in 1879 in Chicago. The illustration of the Four Children underscored the point dramatically: The image of the rasha (wicked son) is that of a young man, clad in fancy duds and bareheaded, smoking at his family’s Seder table. The new age of Judaism had reached America; the interpretation was awaited.
During the first decade of the 20th century, in 1907 to be exact, the Reform Movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations published its Union Haggada. The clear text and translation and the images of ancient Egypt, in their own way, offered an important statement. Thousands of years after the Exodus, the Jews – using the Haggada – were alive and practicing their faith in the US. They were privileged to celebrate Passover in freedom.
Herzfeld makes it apparent from the start that in the commentary and explanations, it is not just his voice you will encounter; included are “voices of others to help us better understand” the Haggada and its meaning. As you read/study the new insights into the traditional text, you will encounter the ideas of those who worked with him.
Personally, I found that to be a healthy approach. Enthusiasm is engendered via the images of Herzfeld’s mother, Caryl, drawn especially for this Haggada. Her drawings strongly underline the spiritual poignancy of this new work.
On page 119, there is a picture of a woman as the illustration for the Barech section of the Seder, when the Grace After Meals is recited. She is facing us with hands uplifted; above her, the Hebrew word “beshalom” initiates a call for God’s blessings of peace and strength standing out from a cloud background. The text, from the Grace After Meals, descends and crowns the woman’s head as she blesses humanity and nature.
There are four questions on this section directed to the Seder participant. The fourth asks, “Why did the artist choose a woman for this picture, and why is she surrounded by nature?” Herzfeld’s answer is important, fathoming the feminist spiritual strengths of Judaism as we read the Haggada. “A woman often embodies the power of prayer in Judaism, as shown by the story of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Shmuel.”
Then the author continues in this way. “The woman [in the illustration] is surrounded by flowers, fruit-bearing trees and all kinds of life, because the words of the Birkat Hamazon [Grace After Meals] recognize God’s rule over the entire world.”
Among the key elements in this Haggada are an emphasis on Jewish feminism, the rights of the woman halachically, the cleansing and restorative power of the mikve, the necessity to work for the freeing of all agunot (women “chained” to their marriage) and fertility issues.
What one will encounter is presented at the beginning of the volume. “I want this Haggada,” Herzfeld writes, “to help your Seder be alive, exciting and relevant.”
Thus, it includes “provocative voices that will encourage you to discuss cutting-edge ideas at the Seder.”
This text is not just “a redemption story based solely on our own excitement and good fortune,” but is “sensitive to the needs of those around us.” The section starting on page 135, which emphasizes the essential spirit of Martin Luther King Day, is one example of dealing with “the needs of those around us.”
Open Orthodoxy was created by Dr.
Weiss to stand up to the absolutes of the Orthodox Right. This Haggada is a perceptive tool to help the Jewish community recognize where Halacha can truly carry us.
I encourage you to use this work for your Seder this year; you can learn from it and be inspired by it.