For many years, I purchase one or two new Haggadot (story of Passover). Sometimes I buy them for their commentary, sometimes because they are facsimiles of medieval Haggadot and sometimes because they are beautiful and textually clever works of art. At our family seder, everyone gets to select a Haggadah and we often compare pictures and commentaries. In advance, I always prepare notes and commentaries that I will use in explaining the different parts of the seder.
Last year I used a new Haggadah, Shirat Miriam Haggadah, by Rabbi Yosef Zvi Ramon. Using it was a joy, and it opened my eyes in new ways of looking the Haggadah. Rabbi Rimon teaches at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel and is a remarkable scholar and educator. His 480-page Haggadah reflects both his scholarship and his pedagogy. It is clear that Rav Rimon has not only written a masterful piece of traditional scholarship, but the very writing itself expresses and reflects the key element of the Haggadah "In every generation a person should view themselves as if they came out of Egypt."
For each section of the seder, there is a description of the halachot (laws) associated with that section. This is not a simple prescription of what to do, but rather reflects different viewpoints and debates over time. He accomplishes this through a series of well laid out questions and answers for each section. In doing so, he follows the very question and answer model of the Haggadah itself. He also provides a useful short summary at the end of the halachic section of what the current practice should be. It should be noted that what Rabbi Rimon presents is much more than prose. Included are very useful charts. Reading through each section is as if you are sitting in a class taught by a master pedagogue who is fully aware of the different ways people learn.
Each part of the seder includes a wonderful section on "Food for Thought," which focuses on the ideas and themes for each section. There are also riddles (the answers are in the back of the Hagaddah) and suggestions for further discussion.
But I leave the best for last. Rabbi Rimon's introduction to the structure of theHaggadah and Maggid, the telling of the story, is brilliant. After all, it could be argued that the road not taken by the Haggadah of reading the actual story of the Exodus from the biblical Book of Exodus is what we should be doing at the seder. Rabbi Rimon shows how the actual structure of telling the story is divided into four sections each of which have the same internal characteristics. It becomes clear that what may appear to be a somewhat haphazardly put together text is really one very carefully planned and organized to impart the message of Passover. Remaining the master educator, he accomplishes this through his description and then color coding Maggid to show the common characteristics of each of the four sections. He accomplishes this so clearly that I know I wondered why I had not seen this before encountering Rav Rimon.
This is also a beautiful Haggadah, with lovely pictures of Judaica included. The pages use color well and are pleasing to the eye. The print is large. There is also a companion book which goes into a deeper analysis of the halachic (legal) requirements of the seder. A specially prepared much shorter Haggadah for youth was just published. It follows the same attractive and appealing style but with only brief explanations.
Rabbi Rimon's Shirat Miriam is a traditional Haggadah informed by traditional Jewish thought. It may not be the Haggadah you use at your seder. You may not always agree with his theology or ideas. But it certainly could and should be the Haggadah (or one of the Haggadot) you use to prepare for your seder. This is a volume that you can refer to year after year not only for information but also for strategies in conducting the seder itself. In using it you will enter Rabbi Rimon's classroom and leave with new knowledge, great questions to ponder, and deep respect and gratitude for this master teacher and scholar.
Rabbi Michael Balinsky is the executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, a partner serving our community and the Jewish United Fund