Academic journal article Shofar

The Transformation of the Haggadah's Preface as Influenced by the Development of Public Education in Europe and the United States

Academic journal article Shofar

The Transformation of the Haggadah's Preface as Influenced by the Development of Public Education in Europe and the United States

Article excerpt

The Transformation of the Haggadah's Preface as Influenced by the Development of Public Education in Europe and the United States

The seder (Passover ritual meal) and haggadah (text used during the meal) were codified in early medieval times. With the decline of women's Jewish literacy and their role in Jewish society beginning with the Industrial Revolution, the prefatory material in haggadot became more common. Since medieval times prefaces have often been added to the haggadah; yet, in the last two hunded years, the preface has changed considerably from an occasional comment to a standard set of information concerning holiday preparation. Why this change in the preface occurred is under examination in this paper. The change in Jewish educational patterns, which happened through the creation of free public education in both Europe and the United States and resulted in the need for the prefaces primarily among Jewish women, is illustrated.

The haggadah's preface is usually an explanation of how to prepare the home for the festival, and its development is curious. No other Jewish liturgical book contains such a broad and in-depth introduction into how to prepare for the holiday. However, before we can discuss how such a need developed and was addressed, we must understand the significance of and traditions behind Passover, for without them neither the importance of the haggadah nor its changes over time are clear. In addition, a grasp of the role the haggadah plays in the festivities is imperative. Finally, the role women have had throughout the ages in both Jewish life and this festival in particular must be comprehended. The growth of public education has influenced Jewish women's Jewish literacy,(1) and, as we shall show, this has not been ignored by haggadah compilers and Jewish educators. The purpose of this paper is a study of the inclusion of introductory material to the liturgy, not a study of the liturgy itself, which varied little until the twentieth century.

Seder

Seder (meaning "order"), the service for Passover, takes place on the first and second nights of Passover. The table around which the seder is celebrated now substitutes for the altar in the Temple, and a roasted egg and lamb bone represent the spring sacrifices. Traditionally this eight-day festival commemorates the ancient Jews' exodus from Egypt (Exod. 6:28-15:22), along with the agricultural tradition of celebrating the beginning of the new planting season and the earth's springtime revival; in more recent times, it has come to represent the struggle for freedom from oppression. This celebration is the only Jewish festival which is purely home-centered. The other Jewish holidays are spent in the synagogue;(2) this is not to say that some parts of other holidays are not celebrated within the home -- invariably some meal is involved. However, the seder takes place at home with family and guests over a highly ritualized meal, or a rabbinically organized multimedia experience encompassing sight (special dishes, tablecloths, candles, and guests), sound (songs and prayer in the local vernacular, Aramaic, and Hebrew), smell and taste (particular foods), and touch (varying food textures from the sharp and crunchy matzah to the heavy, sweet, smooth wine). The haggadah (Hebrew for "telling") is the book which contains the service.

Preparations for this festival are extensive because of restrictions on food (hamets, leavened food, is forbidden for the eight days of Passover). The entire house and all cooking and eating utensils must be cleaned to remove any food which contains, or may contain, a product which has been fermented. The Jews of Rhodes spent between six and eight weeks cleaning their homes,(3) while in some Ashkenazi communities preparations began as early as Hannukah.(4) Susan Starr Sered notes in her study of elderly Jewish women in Jerusalem that "the Day Center women view Passover as the most important, as indeed, the ultimate holiday. …

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