New American Haggadah

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Overview

Read each year around the seder table, the Haggadah recounts through prayer, song, and ritual the extraordinary story of Exodus, when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to wander the desert for forty years before reaching the Promised Land.

Now, Jonathan Safran Foer has orchestrated a new way of experiencing and understanding one of our oldest, most timeless, and sacred stories, with a new translation of the traditional text by Nathan Englander and provocative ...

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Overview

Read each year around the seder table, the Haggadah recounts through prayer, song, and ritual the extraordinary story of Exodus, when Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to wander the desert for forty years before reaching the Promised Land.

Now, Jonathan Safran Foer has orchestrated a new way of experiencing and understanding one of our oldest, most timeless, and sacred stories, with a new translation of the traditional text by Nathan Englander and provocative commentary by major Jewish writers and thinkers Jeffrey Goldberg, Lemony Snicket, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, and Nathaniel Deutsch. Ravishingly designed and illustrated by the acclaimed Israeli artist and calligrapher Oded Ezer, New American Haggadah is an utterly unique and absorbing prayer book, the first of its kind, that brings together some of the preeminent voices of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

Andrea Grossman
This Haggadah sings to more than one generation; it is glorious and rich, funny and affirming. And it reminds us of why we do Passover in the first place. This is what we've been waiting for.
Writer's Bloc Presents
Alexander Nazaryan
New American Haggadah is as finely-designed as any book you are likely to come across, religious affiliation notwithstanding...unlike Haggadahs that take an anodyne approach to history, this one respects its audience enough to engage in some of the most pressing questions facing Jews today, trusting that they are smart enough to come to their own conclusion.
New York Daily News
The Millions
"What makes this volume such a pleasure to read, and what makes it the best book of modern religious thought in recent memory, is its demand that dialogue be a central part of worship....The New American Haggadah makes worship a radical act of intellectual inquiry."
The Jewish Week
"Clearly worth the wait. A gorgeous production, it is distinctive in every way....The translations are elegant, and the accompanying remarks thoroughly fitting for a contemporary, questioning, open-minded member of American Jewry."
Sun-Sentinel (South Florida)
"Buy a copy of New American Haggadah. While the compilers demurely observe in their brief introduction that 'Like all Haggadahs before it, this one hopes to be replaced,' I am confident that it will have an uncommonly long run; it is a labor of great love and of much work and, above all, of brilliant artistry - verbal, graphic and intellectual."
Beliefnet Editors
"This Haggadah is simply magnificent. The translation turns the English 'side' of the service, which has always felt clunky and awkward to me...into poetry. It's a translation finally worthy of sharing the page with the Hebrew. Which is so, so important for those of us who can't engage meaningfully with the text in the original."
The Jewish Daily Forward
"Englander's translations are crisp and clear, and the themed commentaries...are excellent, multi-vocal and concise. It is, indeed, excellent work: literate, inventive and sure to win prizes."
Julia Neuberger - Financial Times
"A touching and scholarly Haggadah that offers fresh insights....what makes this Haggadah shine is the combination of commentary, design, and illustration....[it makes] us think, laugh, cry, and ask questions."
Andrea Grossman - Writer's Bloc Presents
"This Haggadah sings to more than one generation; it is glorious and rich, funny and affirming. And it reminds us of why we do Passover in the first place. This is what we've been waiting for."
Alexander Nazaryan - New York Daily News
"New American Haggadah is as finely-designed as any book you are likely to come across, religious affiliation notwithstanding...unlike Haggadahs that take an anodyne approach to history, this one respects its audience enough to engage in some of the most pressing questions facing Jews today, trusting that they are smart enough to come to their own conclusion."
Francine Prose - New York Times Book Review
Praise for THE MINISTRY OF SPECIAL CASES:

"Who is this Nathan Englander, so young in novelist years, but already possessed of an old masters voice?...One reads this novel in awe of Englander's talent."

Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Powerful...A veritable book of treasures."
Entertainment Weekly
Praise for EATING ANIMALS:

"Stirring...compelling....Foer brings an invigorating moral clarity to the topic."

Ellen DeGeneres
"One of the most important books I've ever read."
The Seattle Times
"[A] tour-de-force.... A few pages into The Ministry of Special Cases, it becomes clear how much [Englander] has to bring to the topic: pitch-black humor, a skeptical affection for his characters, and the narrative ability to trace the impact of fascism-with-a-modern-face on a cluster of lives."
From the Publisher
Praise for EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED:

"Not since...A Clockwork Orange has the English language been simultaneously mauled and energized with such brilliance and brio."—Francine Prose, New York Times Book Review

"Powerful...A veritable book of treasures."—Los Angeles Times Book Review

Praise for EATING ANIMALS:

"Stirring...compelling....Foer brings an invigorating moral clarity to the topic."—Entertainment Weekly

"One of the most important books I've ever read."—Ellen DeGeneres

"What makes Eating Animals so unusual is vegetarian Foer's empathy for human meat eaters, his willingness to let both factory farmers and food reform activists speak for themselves, and his talent for using humor to sweeten a sour argument."—O , The Oprah Magazine

Praise for THE MINISTRY OF SPECIAL CASES:

"Who is this Nathan Englander, so young in novelist years, but already possessed of an old masters voice?...One reads this novel in awe of Englander's talent."—New York Times Book Review

"[A] tour-de-force.... A few pages into The Ministry of Special Cases, it becomes clear how much [Englander] has to bring to the topic: pitch-black humor, a skeptical affection for his characters, and the narrative ability to trace the impact of fascism-with-a-modern-face on a cluster of lives."—The Seattle Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316069861
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 3/5/2012
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 645,721
  • Product dimensions: 7.90 (w) x 10.70 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Safran Safran Foer

Jonathan Safran Foer is one of the most acclaimed young writers of his generation. His books have received numerous awards including a National Jewish Book Award and a Guardian First Book Award, and have been translated into thirty-six languages. He garnered remarkable praise for his first two novels, Everything Is Illuminated (adapted for film in 2005) and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (adapted for film in December 2011), and for his New York Times bestselling work of nonfiction, Eating Animals.


Nathan Englander is the author of The Ministry of Special Cases and For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, which earned him a PEN/Malamud Award and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Sue Kauffman Prize. His short fiction has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, and numerous anthologies including The Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Anthology, and The Pushcart Prize. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 2003 and a Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library in 2004. He lives in Manhattan.

Biography

Recent literary history is rife with auspicious debuts, and Jonathan Safran Foer's arrival was one of 2002's brightest and most media-friendly. After all, the backstory was publicist-ready: Everything Is Illuminated began as a thesis at Princeton under advisers Joyce Carol Oates and Jeffrey Eugenides, and Houghton Mifflin reportedly paid somewhere around half a million dollars for the rights.

Foer achieved a fresh, creative approach to the English language by viewing it through the eyes of his foreign narrator, a young Ukranian man named Alex who works in a family tour operating business targeted toward American Jews seeking their family roots. Alex's comical, dictionary-aided writing consists of not-quite-right sentences such as "He is always promenading into things. It was only four days previous that he made his eye blue from a mismanagement with a brick wall." Alex's client, an American Jew named Jonathan Safran Foer, wants to find a woman who hid his grandfather from the Nazis. The two set out -- with an old picture, and the name Augustine -- to find the woman, bringing Alex's grandfather and an odiferous seeing-eye dog.

The story unfolds both through Alex's eyes and in a later correspondence with Jonathan, who reveals chapters of a fictionalized version of Augustine's story. Despite the novel's decidedly earnest and serious themes, what's most striking about it is its strange, resonant humor. Publishers Weekly saw "demented genius" in it; and Francine Prose, who also used the adjective "demented" for Foer's writing, noted in the New York Times Book Review, "The problem [with the book] is, you keep laughing out loud, losing your place, starting again, then stopping because you're tempted to call your friends and read them long sections of Jonathan Safran Foer's assured, hilarious prose."

Since Foer admitted to doing little research (although he did take a trip similar to the fictional Foer's, inspiring the book), and the historical fiction sections earned some critical gripes for being uneven (Salon called them "dime-store García Márquez"), the chief strength of Everything Is Illuminated lies in a scope and wit that are stunning from an author who was still finishing up college at the time he began it. The paperback rights for Everything Is Illuminated later went for reportedly close to $1 million.

Foer has had an undergrad's dream experience when it comes to consorting with eminent forbears: Russell Banks -- a professor in Foer's senior year -- came to his aid when he assembled A Convergence of Birds: Original Fiction and Poetry Inspired by the Work of Joseph Cornell, which was published in 2001.

If Foer follows in the footsteps of fellow critical debut darlings Eugenides and Donna Tartt, it will be another ten years before we see a second novel. Fans will hope that instead he follows Oates's more prolific example.

Good To Know

According to a Princeton publication, Foer has been a "math tutor, archivist, ghost writer, farm sitter, advertising consultant and receptionist."

One of the many projects on Foer's "Project Museum" Web site is the Empty Page Project, a collection of blank paper from various authors -- the paper they normally use to write (anything) on. Nothing is on display yet, but according to a Guardian article, Foer has acquired pages from Paul Auster, Susan Sontag and Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Both of Foer's brothers are editorial types: Franklin is an editor at the New Republic, and Joshua is a recent Yale grad and a contributor to Slate.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Jonathan Safran Foer
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 21, 1977
    2. Place of Birth:
      Washington, D.C.
    1. Education:
      B.A. in Philosophy, Princeton University, 1999

Read an Excerpt

New American Haggadah


By Jonathan Safran Foer, Nathan Englander

Little, Brown and Company

Copyright © 2012 Jonathan Safran Foer Nathan Englander
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-316-06986-1



CHAPTER 1

First Cup


Kadesh

Fill the cup with wine, rise, and reflect:

Here I am, prepared and ardent, allied and present, ready to perform the mitzvah of the first cup, the enactment of salvation's promise. As the Holy One, Blessed is He, declared to Israel:

And I will lift you out from under the millstone that is Egypt.

Raise the cup and recite (on Friday night, add the words in brackets):

[And God reviewed the whole of what he had done and, behold, it was a wonder. And evening went by and morning went by, constituting the sixth day. And the skies and the earth and all their legions reached their peak. And on the seventh day God had completed the labor of what He had done, and He settled on the seventh day from all the labor of what He had done. And God blessed that seventh day and distinguished it in holiness, because on that day God settled from all the labor that He had created for the very purpose of its doing.]

Join in, gentlefolk, dear masters, my teachers:

You are blessed, Lord God-of-Us, King of the Cosmos, Maker of the fruit of the vine.

You are blessed, Lord God-of-Us, King of the Cosmos, who selected us from among every nation, and raised us above every culture, and sanctified us with His mitzvot. And it is with love—Lord God-of-Us—that You gave us [Shabbatot to rest and] holidays for our happiness, that you gave us festivals and seasons to rejoice, that you gave us the day [of this Shabbat and the day] of this Festival of Matzot in the season of our emancipation, and designated it [with love] as holy—a commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. Because it was us that You elected, and us that You set apart from all other nations, and it was [the Shabbat and] the holidays sanctified by You [with love and with desire] with happiness and rejoicing that You bequeathed us. You are blessed, Lord, who sanctifies [the Shabbat and] Israel and the seasons.


622 BCE

During the reforms of King Josiah, a "book of instruction," most likely the core of Deuteronomy, is read to the public, calling upon the people of Israel to offer a sacrifice to God on Passover (2 Kings: 22-23).


587 BCE

Jerusalem is conquered and destroyed by the army of Babylon, and the Israelites are taken captive as slaves. They live in forced exile for almost 50 years, until King Cyrus the Great permits them to return home in 538.

On Saturday night only, recite:

You are blessed, Lord God-of-Us, King of the Cosmos, Maker who bestows luminescence to the flame.

On Saturday night only, continue:

You are blessed, Lord God-of-Us, King of the Cosmos, who differentiates between the sanctified and the mundane, between light and dark, between Israel and the nations, between the seventh day and the six days of the Making. You differentiated between the holiness of Shabbat and the holy of the holiday, and you made the seventh day sacred above the six days of the Making. You held up and hallowed Your nation, Your Israel, in Your sanctity. You are blessed, Lord, the one who distinguishes between holy and holy.

On all nights, continue with the following blessing. Those who recited it during candle lighting, do not recite it now:

You are blessed, Lord God-of-Us, King of the Cosmos, who breathed life, and sustained life, and shepherded us through to the current season.

While reclining to the left, drink at least most of the cup of wine.


House of Study

Exodus 19:6

"And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."

On this night that is different from all other nights, it is fitting that we begin by recalling our own difference.

But how are we Jews different from all other peoples?

We are chosen, the Haggadah tells us.

Unlike salvation, chosenness is a question, not an answer; the beginning of a journey, not its end. It will not take place in the future and, therefore, we do not hope or pray for it. Instead, like the Exodus from Egypt, being chosen is something that has happened to us already, something that we must remember and, in so doing, make present in every generation. As modern people, we are used to choosing; being chosen is much more difficult, at least for many of us. Some of us do not accept it at all.

In the book of Numbers, Balaam declares of Israel: "As I see them from the mountaintops, gaze on them from the heights, there is a people that dwells apart, not reckoned among the nations." Chosenness can sometimes feel like loneliness; a burden. Perhaps for this reason, the Haggadah reminds us that our chosenness is an expression of God's love and a source for rejoicing.

We might even say that wrestling with being chosen, like Jacob wrestling with God—or was it with himself?—is Jewishness itself. We might, like Rabbi Hillel, say that the rest is commentary. Yet this, after all, is a night for commentary; a night for asking questions that we have been chosen to ask.


Playground

The Passover seder is conducted in an orderly fashion, with each ritual performed at a certain time, in a certain way, according to thousands of years of tradition. This is surprising, as the Jewish people do not have a history of being particularly well organized. Even God Himself often seems engaged in convolution, a phrase which here means "as if He has not quite followed His own plan." If you look around your Passover table now, you will most certainly see the muddle and the mess of the world. There is likely a stain someplace on the tablecloth, or perhaps one of the glasses has a smudge. Soon things will be spilled. You might be sit ting with people you do not know very well, or do not like very much, so your own emotional state is somewhat disordered. Nobody likes everything served at the Passover dinner, so there will be chaos within people's palates, and the room is likely to be either too cold or too hot for someone, creating a chaos of discomfort. Perhaps there is someone who has not yet been seated, even as the seder is beginning, because they are "checking on the food," a phrase which here means "sneaking a few bites" when they're supposed to be par ticipating in the ceremony.

This is as it should be. Passover celebrates freedom, and while the evening will proceed in a certain order, it is the muddle and the mess around the order that represent the freedom that everyone deserves, and that far too many people have been denied. With that in mind, why not excuse yourself, in an orderly fashion at some point in the ceremony, so that you might check on the food?

Kiddush


Nation

Judaism, particularly in its American expression, is not thought of as a law- and-order religion. But it very much is, if not in the string- 'em-up sense of the term—punishment in Judaism is accompanied by the promise of mercy. We are, of course, a people of laws, and we are also a people of order, of seder. Our foundation story, in the book of Genesis, is a tightly organized account of the making of order out of chaos. In the creation stories of other ancient peoples, we see gods who are in competition with man. This can make for narratives that are morally ambiguous and disorderly. In Judaism, there is no such ambiguity, and no such disorder; God orders the world through law. In Judaism, law is holy. But not all laws. The laws of man must be subjected to a vigorous test: whether or not they conform to moral law as set forth by God. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from the Birmingham city jail that "an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just." King was arguing against laws that separated the races, and he turned to a leading thinker of his century to buttress the case: "Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an 'I-it' relationship for an 'I-Thou' relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things."

It is possible to imagine that King had in mind the story of Shifra and Puah, the midwives who delivered Moses, when he argued for the equality of all God's children. Passover is the most politically radical of all holidays in part because, as the scholar Nahum Sarna has noted, the book of Exodus contains the first known example in ancient literature of civil disobedience. Shifra and Puah were instructed by Pharaoh to kill the sons of the Israelites. Pharaoh was the law. But the law was unjust. So these two heroic midwives broke one law, and most certainly risked their lives, in order to honor a higher law: "The midwives feared God and they did not do as the king of Egypt spoke to them, and they allowed the boys to live." Without Shifra and Puah, no Moses; no Moses, no liberation, no Sinai, no Torah. Their bravery forces us to ask ourselves: Are there times when we should have resisted an unjust man-made law, and did not?


Library

Time rushes on, impassive and unmarked. It's we who domesticate the flux, parceling it out into countable units so that we can situate ourselves within it: I am young and live in expectation, I am old and nearing the end of my days. Differentiation creates order, creates duration, creates the sense of our lives.

A religious calendar imposes further divisions on time, separating out hours to be regarded as so significant as to achieve holiness. That, after all, is the meaning of the Sabbath and holidays, the holy days. In the traditional Jewish calendar, the borders around the sacred hours are delineated with obsessive precision, the time of the onset of a holy day calculated to the last minute. The notion of the chosen is applied to temporality itself, and hours are carved out of the flux to gesture toward eternity.

The celebration of Passover emphasizes the imposition of an ordered structure over the formlessness of time. From the beginning to the end of the seder there is a multiplicity of stages, with procedural instructions overlaid all along the way. First you must do this, we are told, and now you must do that.

Differentiation creates order, creates the sense of significance that makes duration endurable. And if there is a way toward sanctification in all of this, if such an ideal is even possible, then it lies somewhere here in the divisions, parting time as Moses parted the sea, effecting a separation where the extraordinary can make itself felt.

Wash your hands, without reciting the usual blessing, and dry them. Remain silent until after karpas.

Urhatz

Dip a small piece of vegetable in salt water and recite the blessing (keep in mind that this blessing also applies to the maror that will be eaten later):

Karpas

You are blessed, Lord God-of-Us, King of the Cosmos, who creates the earth's harvest.


516 BCE

After the exiles' return from Babylon, the new temple is dedicated on Passover.

Break the middle matzah into two. Wrap the larger part—the afikoman—and hide it from the children for later. (Before hiding the afikoman, some put it on their shoulders for a moment, to reenact the Israelites' posture when fleeing Egypt.) Return the smaller piece to between the two whole matzot.

Yahatz


500 BCE

The world's Jewish population is approximately 300,000, or about 0.2% of the total global population.

Magid


419 BCE

The high priest of Jerusalem responds to a query from Jews on the Nile island of Elephantine on how to properly observe Passover: "In the month of Nisan, let there be a Passover.... Do not work on the 15th day and on the 21st day. Also, drink no intoxicants, and anything in which there is leaven." Tonight, the document is in the Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin.

Uncover the matzot and say:

This is the poor man's bread that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. All who are bent with hunger, come and eat; all who are in dire straits, come share Passover with us. This year we are here, next year in the land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year the liberated ones.

Just as You lifted nation from the belly of nation, and piloted Your people through the deep, may it be desirous before You, Lord God-of-Us and God of our fathers, to show compassion for our brothers, the whole house of Israel, to those hemmed in by misery and captivity and those trapped between sand and sea. Rescue and recover them—delivering them from gorge to meadow, from darkness to light. Break them free of their shackles and lead them on to salvation. Do it with speed and in our days, and let us all say, Amen.

Cover the matzot and move them to the side. Refill the cup.


Playground

It is altogether proper that matzah is called the bread of affliction, because it has been afflicted more than any other foodstuff on earth. It is born in a searing-hot oven and then completely ignored for fifty-one weeks of the year while people walk around shamelessly eating leavened bread and crackers. Then, Passover rolls around, and it is smeared with various substances, ground up into balls, and, in the morning, fried up into a counterfeit version of French toast. Everyone eats it and nobody likes it, and there's always one last box that sits untouched in a cupboard for months afterward, lonely, broken, and utterly unloved.

Of course it is practically impossible for free and fortunate people such as ourselves to envision a life of slavery, but as an exercise in imagining our ancestors, place a large square of matzah in your mouth and eat it. Listen to the cacophonous crunches in your ears like the blows of the slavedriver's whip. Feel the searing dryness in your mouth like the thirst of the Hebrew slaves for freedom. And then, with your mouth full of matzah, try to say the Shema, and watch the particles of oppression scatter across the table. Slavery spreads like a spray of crumbs, and it is very difficult to rid ourselves of slavery's great moral shame, which is why, even thousands of years after the Exodus, there are so many people enslaved, and why, even weeks after Passover, there are so many matzah crumbs in the house.


Library

"This year we are slaves," the Haggadah declares, an odd presumption for it to make, as well as an anachronism. Slaves were what we were, not are, so what is the Haggadah talking about?

The open invitation that immediately precedes the baffling declaration suggests in what sense we still lack our freedom, as well as what we must do in order to possess what we do not possess and become what we still are not: "All who are bent with hunger, come and eat; all who are in dire straits, come share Passover with us." The needs of those outside our homes seem too distant to disturb us, and this is our impoverishment. Our failures in charity are chained to a narrowed vision of the world that makes too much of the differences between us, and this is our enslavement.

"All who are bent with hunger, come and eat."

This is one of those strange locutions linguists call a performative. The uttering of it itself constitutes an act. So, for example, one's saying, under the right circumstances, "I thee do wed" doesn't describe the action: it is the action. And so it is with this invitation to the needy. We utter these words, in true earnestness, and the utterance becomes an act of charity.

Words are so mysterious to us that word power can seem like magic power, which is why there are prayers, incantations, and curses. "Abracadabra" comes from the ancient Hebrew for "I will create with words." We do things with words. We confess and entreat. We threaten, wound, seduce, and forgive. And we perform acts of charity, as in this passage, where just such an act is deemed the means to end our slavery.

"Ha-Lahmah Anya" moves swiftly. It begins by describing the unleavened bread in terms of the remembered afflictions of our ancestors, then passes to the performance of a good deed, and finally ends by foreseeing our freedom. Past, present, and future are represented by words that first mourn, then perform, and then long—all of these embodying acts which are quintessentially Jewish.

Poor Man's Bread


(Continues...)

Excerpted from New American Haggadah by Jonathan Safran Foer, Nathan Englander. Copyright © 2012 Jonathan Safran Foer Nathan Englander. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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