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Development of the Haggadah

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JewishTreats.org

On Passover night we are commanded “v’hee’ga’d’ta” and you shall tell, the story of the Exodus. (Notice the shared root of hee’ga’d’ta and Haggadah.) The Passover Haggadah serves as a step-by-step guidebook for telling the story of Passover.

Before the destruction of the Holy Temple, most Jews traveled to Jerusalem to offer the Pascal lamb. Because the entire lamb had to be eaten before midnight, it was the common practice for several families to purchase a lamb and partake of the festive meal together while retelling the Exodus story, discussing the Midrashim (legendary commentary on the Torah) describing the Exodus, and reciting the ten plagues. These early seders also incorporated the other basic mitzvot of the seder: eating matzah and maror (bitter herbs) and drinking four cups of wine.

After the Second Temple was destroyed (70 C.E.) and the Jews dispersed, the oral law was written down (Mishna and Talmud) in order not to be lost to future generations. Among that which was written down was the basic outline of the Passover Haggadah, including the order of questions and discussion (Mah Nishtana - the Four Questions).

The oldest existing Haggadah that we have today is from 8th or 9th century Palestine. While there have been modifications and additions over time (as people have added prayers of devotion and songs of praise), the basic form of the Haggadah has not changed. With the advent of the printing press in the Middle Ages, the Haggadah text was set, based on the prayer book of Rav Amram Gaon, who headed the Babylonian Yeshiva of Sura between 856-876 C.E. While certain parts of the Haggadah, such as Chad Gad’ya (“One Kid”), were not added until much later, the basic text of the Haggadah has remained the same to this day.

This Treat was last posted on March 30, 2012.

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