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Adding Beauty to Holiness:
The First English Translation of the Haggadah


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The first edition of the Haggadah with an English translation, done by "A. Alexander and Assistants" and printed for him, was published by the translator in London, 1770. Having published a bilingual edition of "our Tephilloth, or Common-Prayer-Book," Alexander now undertook a "second Attempt, in Publishing this small Book of the Haggadah or the Ceremonies of the Passover" accompanied by an explanatory introduction and notes. Facing the title page is a frontispiece whose engraved Hebrew legend declares, "And they built for Pharaoh store-cities Pithom and Raameses." Depicted are medieval towers being built, slaves laboring, and an overseer cruelly beating a slave, mouth wide open in a scream of pain — again a copy of an illustration in the Amsterdam Haggadah.

Alexander Alexander, having published the prayer book in Hebrew with an English translation in London, 1770, undertook "a second attempt," publishing in the same year "this small Book of the Haggadah, or the ceremonies of Passover, together with a Notation thereon." His English is poor in both translation and "Notation," nor did it improve in the Festival and Holy Days prayer books and the Pentateuch which he subsequently published, and which his son Levy Alexander republished. The frontispiece, Moses slaying the Egyptian, "Engraved for the Hebrew Hawgoda," is a copy of bar Jacob's illustration in the Amsterdam Haggadah, which itself is a copy of a biblical engraving by Matthaeus Merian, (Haggadah shel Pesah (Passover Haggadah), London, 1770. Hebraic Section, Library of Congress Photo).

Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, (DC: Library of Congress, 1991).

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