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The Passover Haggadah

Celebrated writers Jonathan Safron Foer and Nathan Englander talk about their new American translation of the Passover Haggadah, a story of freedom.

A 700-year-old Haggadah on display. (AP)

A 700-year-old Haggadah on display. (AP)

Almost everybody knows the ancient story of Moses and the Jews flight to freedom.  Egypt.  Slavery.  The pharaoh, and plagues, and the parting of the Red Sea.  Let my people go.  It’s bedrock.

The Jewish remembrance of that story each year at Passover is elaborate, also ancient, and guided by the text called the Haggadah.  There have been thousands of translations from the old Hebrew.  Now, celebrated American writers Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander have taken their turn.

This hour, On Point: a new American Haggadah, and the great old story of freedom.

-Tom Ashbrook


Nathan Englander, translator New American Haggadah.

Jonathan Safron Foer, editor of New American Haggadah.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times “After thumbing through the sleek hardcover book, Mr. Obama looked up and asked wryly, ”Does this mean that we can’t use the Maxwell House Haggadah anymore?””

The Philadelphia Inquirer “It began with an e-mail nine years ago. Novelist Jonathan Safran Foer asked a friend to join in a writing project.”

The Guardian “Passover is the easiest festival for Jews of scant belief to embrace. There is none of the policed piety of the High Holy Days or the rejection of western culture that Hanukah commemorates. Its universalist message of a people’s liberation from slavery has been adopted by revolutionary movements throughout the modern era from Oliver Cromwell to Martin Luther King. ”

Excerpt: New American Haggadah

Use the navigation bar at the bottom of this frame to reformat the excerpt to best suit your reading experience.

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  • AJ

    What does the Haggadah say about Israel’s miserable treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank?  After all the Haggadah is a story about freedom.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       There were no Palestinians, no Gaza, and no West Bank when the story is set.  Your question is ananchronistic.

      • Robert Riversong

        Your answer is anachronistic. The real purpose of retelling the story “as if if were us” is to make it relevant and real to today’s world, to today’s slavery and today’s striving for freedom.

        “Next year in Jerusalem”, means next year let the spirit of freedom prevail everywhere – and perhaps most importantly, in the actual Jerusalem.

        Otherwise, the Haggadah is just an anachronistic history book.

        • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

           And your responses to me are knee-jerk reactions.

        • Historrectomus

          One without any real history in it.

      • AJ

        I know that were no Palestinians when the Haggadah was written.

        But there are Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank now who are being subjugated to cruel and inhumane treatment by the apartheid-state of Israel, but you probably think that Palestinians being treated like prisoners in a concentration camp is a good thing, right?

  • Liz Ryan Cole

    Unfortunately many of us can only use this by looking to other sources for transliteration – which means we are left with one of the other 7,000, even if we like what you have done. 

  • Anonymous

    The Exodus story was also important to enslaved Americans before the Civil War.  When Northern abolitionist missionaries went to Union-held Fort Monroe in coastal Virginia during the way, they recorded the spirtuals of the thousands of former slaves who had escaped there and to neighoring Hampton, burned by the Confederates to keep it out of Union hands; and one of these spirtuals was “Go Down Moses” or “Let My People God.”  About half of Fort Monroe, by the way, was recently declared a National Monument by President Obama, and a National Parks Superintendent is already on the job.

    • Zeus

      that is really a naive propaganda about the exodus story, it was not about freedom from slavery as some of us would like to sell it, the old testament celebrated slavery in other context, freedom from slavery was not a universal right to think it could relate to enslaved Americans who were not God chosen people of course

      • Anonymous

        Whose propaganda? Whose naivete? It’s a historical fact that enslaved Americans used the Exodus story to express their aspiration for freedom.

        • Zeus

          well, Martin L. King, referenced the story, that was political rhetoric, but it didn’t add any value, he ignored the fact that old testmanet Legitimatized slavery of other people, so it was ok for Moses and companies if they enslaved others but not the other way around, how could we find any inspiration here for African Americans or anyone else? 

  • Anonymous

    Please ignore former post if you use it: some egregious typos.
    Corrected version:
    The Exodus story was also important to enslaved Americans before the Civil War.  When Northern abolitionist missionaries went to Union-held Fort Monroe in coastal Virginia during the war, they recorded the spirtuals of the thousands of former slaves who had escaped there and to neighoring Hampton, burned by the Confederates to keep it out of Union hands; and one of these spirituals was “Go Down Moses” or “Let My People Go.”  About half of Fort Monroe, by the way, was recently declared a National Monument by President Obama, and a National Parks Superintendent is already on the job.

  • Gina Stansell

    Beautiful text. Beautiful passion. Thank you for this worship-full book. As a Christian I’m very familiar with the story, but I’ve never been to a Seder or heard the Haggadah. One of my life goals is to live transparently in my brokenness, recognizing my need for healing. I look forward to reading your book.

  • Anonymous

    How does the claim that this is a universal story against slavery accommodate the other books that allow slavery? 
    There is no historical evidence for any of this.  No archeological record is not a mere detail. 

  • Robert Riversong

    What is needed is NOT a more orthodox retelling of an ancient story, but a more modern and relevant telling of an ancient story. We don’t retell the story every year to drag us back into the past, but to drag the story of liberation forward with us.

    The commentary should be about the world in which we live today – who is not free and why, what is our role in preventing or preserving freedom, and what we must do to make freedom live.

    The seder is NOT about praying to an ancient god, but to dedicating our lives as a living prayer for universal freedom.

    • Historrectomus

      I wish I had freedom from the Jewish influence on our government. So far it has been evil to the percentile. Especially the banking scams that kilt  the economy.

  • Ellied1

    i am one of many who have rewritten our haggadahs in order to make them appropriate for so many of us jews  who still care about justice.  the MAGGEED (telling the story) in my version begins,
    “Lo! This is the bread of affliction (holding up the uncovered plate of matzo), which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.  Let all who are hungry come and eat, all who are in need come and join the passover meal.  This year we are oppressed. Next year, may we be free.
    just a tiny selection from a haggadah that does NOT ignore the obligation of jews worldwide to demand justice and equality for the Palestinian people….
    how on earth can there be a telling of the story that speaks of the tears of jewish people in the past and present, and not of the tears of palestinian people?

  • S.C. Listener

    Do astronomical occurrences have a place in this modern translation?

  • Carole Giangrande

    One more point: as a theology student (Catholic), I learned in studying the Hebrew Bible that the Exodus event is the first time in recorded history that the underdog won, and that prior to this, there was no such concept as the rights of the oppressed; kings were gods. So Exodus represents not only an inspiring event but a major change in human consciousness. This is truly inspiring.

    • Zeus

      a major change in human consciousness? obviously you are ignoring the whole story, how can human consciousness be improved if the story legitimizes terrorism, how do you feel about killing innocent children, animals, unleashing the plagues that punished everyone regardless of what they did, frankly that was the first strong story teaching terror.

      • Historectomus

        Zeus dude she was a theology student what can you expect but metaphysical apologist nonsense. She has no idea what she is talking about, or about the tidal dimension of the stories and myths she has discounted without ever reading or even being aware of them. Being a biblical scholar is the equivalent of being an expert in Spiderman Comics, only you believe it’s true.

  • Rabbi Barbara

    Following up on my on-air comment: When Nathan Englander refers to the gender-specific language of the Haggadah, he says he is pointing up problems in Judaism. My point is that in the Judaism of my community and of the vast majority of Jews in North America, this is not a problem. We solved it decades ago. It is now a familiar and honored part of Jewish tradition and does not represent “an agenda.” Thank you!

  • RjF

    The Pass-over story is an old -essentially sad- story. 
    A myth that bears repeating as historical
    reference to a time of conflicted/afflicted/dualist thinking, and the resulting confusion and strife. It does NOT form a healthy spiritual concept for belief and right conduct of our lives.
      The core myth of a vengeful god that favors one over another is a barbaric one.  It
    is a sad legacy that cannot hide messages of exceptionalism, discrimination, punishment
    to the ‘other’…
    -a belief system that depends upon commitment to a
    capricious, controlling god, and the attachment to a land promised to
    ‘the chosen’. 
      If we remain ‘enslaved’ to such stories, we remain
    stuck in debating -or congratulating ourselves- about how good we can
    (only briefly) be.   However, we remain unable to escape this dark archaic history.   
    Real Freedom would be for us all to move beyond the old ways permanently… -to develop a universal kindness and compassion that can allow us to transcend our lowest
    -to create a true ‘promised land’… open to all !!!

  • Jacob Arnon

    There is great political philosophy  study of the Exodus account in “Exodus and Revolution” by Michael Walzer.


  • Jacob Arnon

    There is also a pretty devastating review of this ‘new” Haggadah 
    by Leon Wieseltier in The Jewish Review of Books:


    NEW AMERICAN HAGGADAHedited by Jonathan Safran Foerwith a new translation by Nathan Englander 

  • Ganesh ( pron. Gah- nay-sh_

    Excellent program Tom. I was driving my car and was listening to this. I had the same question as the Lady Rabbi asked. Why the God in the western religions are only male.

    On a side note, WBUR station is not picking in my car once I cross Westborough MA. Has something been done to the signal strength?

  • Zeus

    Nothing good to celebrate about this story, it is immoral, genocidal, and represents a classic act of terrorism committed by Moses and his God.
    what would tell our children about the innocent children, animals and others who were murdered for no crime of their own.
    what would tell our children about there is a remote historical evidence that supports this fairytale to make it the centre piece of a belief system. 
    if this story is true which is not, Moses and his God would be the equivalent of today’s Bin Laden who had a problem with the government, then decided to terrorize everyone else associated with it.
    Nothing motivating about the story as the speakers claimed. it is horrible story that everyone should be ashamed of, on the contrary it was demotivating for Egyptians who foolishly believed in christianity and Islam that plagiarized the story and reproduce and spread it that made Egyptians feel sinful for their heritage that their ancestors were on the wrong side of God.

    Guest speaker was so hypocrite that he claimed to be atheist but didn’t mind participate in spreading a fairytale story full of hatred, vengeance and genocide and ignoring the inhuman act of Moses and his God.
    It’s time to dimiss this rubbish non-sense stories from our life  

  • Barbara

    I agree with the comments that recognize that the Exodus story is rife with the power of a God who chooses to bring suffering on some people (the Egyptians) in order to free his favored people.

    There are many inspirational stories throughout history of those who have worked for freedom WITHOUT advocating plagues and murder to facilitate it.  Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and scores of ordinatry people working with extraordinary compassion and courage. Let’s find a NEW model for the celebration of freedom!

  • AJ

    God loves the Palestinians, who have every right to live in present day Palestine.

  • Yevno Aron

    Yes, Jewish Palestinians and the Palestinian Jews have the right tolive in the entire Palestine and form their own states there (like Arabs do in the Palestinian Kingdom of Jordan and the Hamas Republic of Gaza) However, the Jewish rights are challenged.
    Jews live in Bantustans under the Arab apartheid yoke…

    • AJ

      Jews (about 25,000) live in Iran, they are prosperous and live in peace with their fellow non Jewish Iranians.

      Why can’t a simular situation take place in Israel?

  • Zeus

    As usual Israeli Palestinian conflict creeps in and spoils every debate that might be connected.
    Everyone has the right to live and prosper regardless of their religious or non religious belief, isn’t that the basic human right we are all agree on? why do we need to justify our existence and property right based on old myth our ancestors created and we happily embraced it although it violated the very basic of reason and humanity.

  • AJ

    God Bless Israel.

  • Hidan

    How can one be an Atheist and Jewish?

    • Plushkin

      exactly the same way one can be bi-racial. Our home grown jihadi

      • Hidan

        still doesn’t answer my question.

         As well I ask you multiple times now to stop calling me a terrorist and stop stalking and I reported you once again.

        I bet if you Spend more time with your hubby it would be far more healthier for stalkers like yourself

  • Hidan

    Also the many historians have found that the Jews in Egypt were in fact not slaves but workers with an detachment of armed men. It’s speculated the reason the Pharaoh changed his mind after he allowed them to go was because they razed a bunch of towns for supplies and food. It also talks about how Moses was able to outwit the Pharaoh and how Moses was an quite crual military dictator at the time and gave the example of a town that once was a ally to Moses who men started worshiping the women there took gods. Moses ordered his man to kill men,women and children for this crime. According to the reading that when moses came down from the with the 10 commandments 1/3 of the people there were killed because of his anger. It’s also speculated that the part were moses struck a rock and was in a sense killed by God was actually the Israelite being tried of his rule and killing him.

    I understand what the authors are trying to do and using it to in a sense do go but if such story is true than Moses in a sense is/was a monster

    Battles BC -Moses – Death Chase


  • Zeus

    Ancient Egyptian documented a lot of little details about
    their life but mentioned nothing even remotely about the exodus story, or Moses,
    which puts the whole story in the same category as Cinderella and Santa Clause.


    It’s disturbing that some people living among us think the
    story is inspiring, they certainly lack moral clarity when they celebrate such
    holocaust that took the life of innocent children, women and animals and
    annihilated regular people.


    The guess speakers are hypocrite fooling everyone that on
    one hand they claim to be atheist meanwhile celebrating bigotry and genocide of
    an ancient myth to reaffirm their retarded religious beliefs of some.

    How can they go wrong if they play on both sides?

  • Ganesh ( pron. Gah- nay-sh_

    The other thing I was a little concerned and disturbed was the idea that God punishes.  From where I stand , an ever loving god never punishes

    • ThePope

      It all makes sense when you understand that “god” as portrayed by the Jews is a reflection of the human ego at it’s most self-aggrandizing. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual case of a supra-human compassionate and loving intelligence that some few have come in touch with, despite all the hundreds of thousands of bible thumpers that think they have. If they ever had a real experience of a higher dimension they would pop their pants and quit their church at once.

  • Monica Roland, Lockport, NY

    Fabulous program.

  • ThePope

     @@Hindan:disqus  and All
    I guess your orientation is correct but your resource materials are
    crap. There is no evidence at all that large numbers of Jews wandered
    around in a desert for any amount of time. So your historical sources
    that use biblical literature as evidence that “the Jews this” or “the
    Jews that” is just more crap on the crap pile.

    Want to know the truth about Jewish beliefs (propaganda) then read
    Gold’s Bondage of the Mind. It is totally absurd the amount of attention
    the Jews get in our culture. They represent less than two percent of
    our population, but because many fools took what can be valuable
    insights about conscious evolution that are presented in metaphoric
    forms and turned them into dross by insisting on their literal truth they have finally become, in fact as well as fiction, our “Chosen”-people.
    What a catastrophic mess for human culture.

    I am convinced that there is nothing so absurd that it is not believed by humans somewhere.

    These “great religious traditions” pass their poison through the
    generations as if it were gold to inherit, while it more closely
    resembles the mechanism of child-abuse.

    OnPoint should be ashamed of it’s sycophancy and support for
    organizations that subvert the ascendancy of reason on earth.  It has
    surely been a long time coming.

    • Hidan


      I have a good guess many such stories are most likely completely made up or as real as the flying spaghetti monster. But if such was remotely true it’s not anything close to what this show presented and more akin to the Historians in the link I provided.

      For example if Moses did actually live he was a despot and violent one at that. And by sacking towns may have been the reason for the Pharaoh to go after him again.

      The folks that worshiped Zeus had far better stories, historical locations to there fictional stories.

  • ThePope

    Watch this Jewpercabra episode on South Park for a vivid animated (sort of) illustration of the passover in ancient Egypt.
    Watch It Now!


  • Yevno Aron

    It does not matter what G-d one believes.
    What matters is studying. Jews excel in that and this makes others to envy.
    We, Jews want an intentional community.
    However, right now Jews are segregated and oppressed in Palestine
    their population densiity is 3 times higher than Arabs

    • Zeus

      this is in fact out of line comment Yevno and can be understood as racist as well as you are suggesting that a certain ethnic group is simply better than others. you missed the main point about the debate which is about ancient literature that some think of it as holy and inspiring while willingly ignoring the bigotry, mass genocide and terror committed by those who claimed to be victim in the story.
      we are simply ridiculing our twisted perception of the story hoping that reasonable people would come to their senses and realize that there is nothing good to celebrate about the story because it is deplorable on all human levels

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