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Passover Haggadah

HAGGADAH, PASSOVER (Heb. הַגָּדָה; "telling"), a set form of benedictions, prayers, midrashic comments and psalms recited at the seder ritual on the eve of Passover.


The Haggadah is based on the seder service prescribed by the Mishnah (Pes. 10), which had apparently been conducted in the form of a banquet. The observance of the precepts at the seder – the eating of the pesaḥ (the paschal sacrifice ), matzah ("unleavened bread"), and maror ("bitter herbs"); the drinking of arba kosot ("four cups of wine"); and the recital of the story of the exodus from Egypt (the narrative of the Haggadah) were integrated into this banquet celebration. Essentially, the Haggadah is an account of the Egyptian bondage, a thanksgiving to God for the redemption, and, in Temple times, a thanksgiving for the acquisition of the Land of Israel. After the destruction of the Second Temple, the latter was replaced by a prayer for the ultimate redemption. The purpose of the Haggadah ("Ve-higgadta le-vinkha" – "And thou shalt tell thy son," Ex. 13:8), one of the central commandments of the day, is represented by the narrative itself. Not written by any particular author, or group of authors, the Haggadah is not a "literary composition" in the accepted sense of the term. Its narrative is a collection of excerpts from the Bible, Mishnah, and Midrash, interpolated with the ritual performances: the Kiddush , the benedictions recited on the performance of precepts, and for food, Grace after Meals , and the Hallel . Gradually, stories, psalms, and songs were added. Many recensions of the Haggadah, differing from one another to a greater or lesser degree, have been preserved in various manuscripts, mostly dating from the 13th to the 15th century, and also in fragments from the Cairo Genizah . Some halakhic works also contain the text of, and commentaries on, the Haggadah (see below: Manuscripts and Editions). In keeping with its compilatory character and the varied nature of its sources, the literary or logical nexus between the different sections of the Haggadah is not always discernible. The quotations, derived from a multiplicity of sources, have mostly been adapted to the needs of the seder service.


(1) The Kiddush . It is not specific to the seder service but is prescribed for all the festivals.

(2) Ha Laḥma Anya ("This is the bread of affliction") are the opening words of a declaration in Aramaic, designating the matzah as the bread of affliction and inviting the needy to join the meal. It ends with "This year we are here, next year may we be in the Land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year may we be free men." There seems to be no clear connection between the three statements of the declaration. It appears to be a folk composition which was added to the seder liturgy after the destruction of the Temple.

(3) Mah Nishtannah ("How is this night different"), popularly known as "the four questions," is according to the Mishnah (Pes. 10:4) apparently a formula with which the father can instruct his son. This formula passed through a number of stages till it assumed the forms which are to be found in the different recensions that are in use today.

(4) Avadim Hayinu ("We were bondmen") is an introduction to the formal narration of the exodus from Egypt, based on the views of Samuel (Pes. 116a). Passages of unknown origin supplement the narration stressing its importance.

(5) Ma'aseh be-Rabbi Eli'ezer… Amar Rabbi Elazar ("It is told of R. Eliezer… R. Eleazar b. Azariah said") is a story concerning the leading tannaim, followed by a discussion between them, whose purpose it is to emphasize the importance of the narration. While the story is preserved only in the Haggadah, the debate is cited in the Mishnah (Ber. 1:5) and in halakhic Midrashim (Sif. Deut. 130; Mekh., Pisḥa 16).

(6) The baraita of the Four Sons, also preserved in a halakhic Midrash (Mekh., Pisḥa 18) and in the Talmud (TJ, Pes. 10:4, 37d), but in a recension differing considerably from Haggadot in use today, incorporates all the biblical verses enjoining the narration of the exodus (Deut. 6:20; Ex. 12:26; 13:8; 13:14). It adapts them to four different types of "sons": the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the disinterested, who should be instructed according to the halakhah "that according to the understanding of the son the father instructs him" (Pes. 10:4).

(7) Yakhol me-Rosh Ḥodesh ("It might be thought that [this exposition should begin] from the New Moon [of Nisan]") is a tannaitic commentary on Exodus 13:8 (Mekh., Pisḥa 17), adducing exegetical proof that the narration of the exodus story is obligatory on the eve of Passover.

(8) Mi-Teḥillah Ovedei Avodah Zarah Hayu Avoteinu ("In the beginning, our fathers worshiped idols") is an introduction to the narration of the exodus story based on Rav as opposed to Samuel's view (see above Avadim Hayinu).

(9) A tannaitic Midrash on Arami oved avi (Deut. 26:5–8) – "An Aramean would have destroyed my father" (usually rendered: "A wandering Aramean was my father") which, according to the Mishnah (Pes. 10:4), everyone is obliged "to expound." This commentary, also preserved in the Midrashim based on the Sifrei (Sif. Deut. 26:5 (301), especially Mid. Lek. Tov, and Mid. Hag., ad loc.), is a haphazard selection of aggadic interpretations. In the seder ritual, it is prefaced with "Blessed be He who observes His promise… Go and learn what Laban the Aramean sought…," a passage not found in the Midrashim and apparently composed in the post-talmudic period.

(10) Commentaries of the tannaim on the miracle of the plagues and the division of the Red Sea during the exodus from Egypt are recited. In most Jewish communities these have been seen as a continuation of the preceding Midrash; their source is the Mekhilta (Va-Yehi be-Shallaḥ 6).

(11) Kammah Ma'alot Tovot la-Makom Aleinu ("How many goodly favors has the Almighty bestowed upon us") is a poem in two versions which is preserved only in the Passover Haggadah. The poem was composed during the Second Temple period and seems to have no direct connection with the seder service.

(12) The Mishnah of Rabban Gamaliel. It explains the significance of the Passover sacrifice, the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs. Taken from the Mishnah (Pes. 10:5), it was reworded (in a question-and-answer form) during the post-talmudic period.

(13) Be-Khol Dor va-Dor ("In every single generation") is a passage from the Mishnah (Pes. 10:5), or from an expanded Mishnah (baraita), which had been supplemented by a statement of Rava (Pes. 116b).

(14) The first two chapters of Hallel are recited, as prescribed in the Mishnah following Bet Hillel (Pes. 10:6).

(15) The benediction for redemption "Who redeemed us" is based on the ruling of R. Tarfon and R. Akiva in the Mishnah. After observing the commandments to eat unleavened bread and bitter herbs, the meal is eaten, followed by Grace after Meals. (According to the opinion of scholars such as Elbogen, Ginzberg, and Finkelstein, etc. it is obvious from the text of the Mah Nishtannah that at some stage in the development of the seder service this part of the ritual followed rather than preceded the meal.) The company then continues with the second part of the Haggadah.

(16) Shefokh Ḥamatkha ("Pour out Thy wrath") is a collection of verses whose theme is a supplication for vengeance on the nations that have oppressed Israel. The custom to recite these verses is attested since medieval times; their number and order differ according to the various rites.

(17) The last part of the Hallel is recited, as specified in the Mishnah (Pes. 10:7).

(18) Yehallelukha Adonai Eloheinu al Kol Ma'asekha ("All Thy works shall praise Thee") is a benediction of praise ("Birkat ha-Shir") in accordance with R. Judah's view (Pes. 118a).

(19) The Great Hallel (Ps. 136). Its recital became obligatory at a later date. (It is based on the baraita of R. Tarfon (ibid.).)

(20) Nishmat Kol Ḥai ("The breath of all that lives"), another version of the Birkat ha-Shir ("Benediction over the Song") is recited, in accordance with the view of R. Johanan (ibid.).


The text of the Haggadah is also divided according to the prescribed ritualistic acts of the seder service. Each textual section is headed by a descriptive phrase which, in some rites, is chanted as a separate litany. The sections are kaddesh (the Kiddush), u-reḥaẓ ("washing" of the hands), karpas (eating the "herbs" dipped in saltwater), yaḥaẓ ("dividing" the middle matzah), maggid (the "narration"), raḥaẓ ("washing" the hands for the meal), moẓi-matzah (the "benediction" over the matzah), maror (eating the "bitter herbs"), korekh (eating "bitter herbs with matzah"), shulḥan orekh (the "meal"), ẓafun (eating of the fikoman – the "last maẓẓah"), barekh ("Grace after Meals"), hallel (recitation of the second part of Hallel), and nirẓah (the closing formula). This Passover Haggadah and seder ritual follows the practice of the Pumbedita and Sura academies of Babylonia and was adopted by all the Jewish communities in the Diaspora. It completely superseded the ancient Palestinian recension which differed from it in certain respects (such as the omission of sections 4–7 listed above.


A tendency, however, existed to elaborate on the text of the Haggadah with midrashic and poetic sections. These additions are neither obligatory nor universally accepted: e.g., the tannaitic exposition Ani Adonai ve-lo Aḥer ("I the Lord and no other"; Maḥzor Vitry, 293) and an interpretation of ve-natan lanu et mamonam ("and gave us their substance"; the siddur of Saadiah Gaon, 143), the latter is derived from the Mekhilta de-R. Simeon b. Yohai, and was adapted to the seder ritual. Similarly, certain benedictions were expanded through the interpolation of piyyutim (e.g., in the siddur of Saadiah Gaon, 144). Among Oriental communities it is customary to recite in the first part of the seder service the hymn "And ye shall say: This is the offering of the Passover." In later times, hymns and roundelays were gradually incorporated into the Haggadah, and sung at the end of the seder: Az Rov Nissim ("Of old, Thou didst Perform most Miracles at Night"; from a kerovah by Yannai ); Omeẓ Gevurotekha ("The Strength of Thy Might"; from a kerovah by R. Eleazar Kallir ); Ki Lo Na'eh ("For to Him Is it Becoming"; by an anonymous paytan); and Ḥasal Seder Pesaḥ ("Accomplished is the Order of the Passover"; from a kerovah by R. Joseph Tov Elem Bonfils ). Other hymns introduced are just folk songs composed for the entertainment of children, e.g., Addir Hu ("Strong is He"); Eḥad Mi Yode'a ("Who Knows One?"); Ḥad Gadya ("One Only Kid"). In other communities different piyyutim have been adopted: e.g., "On Passover in Egypt my Captives went forth Free"; "From the House of Iniquity, Seat of my Strifes" or "Home of my Medanite [captors]" (both are in the Maḥzor Carpentras); or "Who Wrought Wonders in Egypt" (Maḥzor Romania, Constantinople, 1510). In northern France it was customary to sing at the end of the seder "The Lovers Sing with Ringing Voice" (Maḥzor Vitry, 298).


Textual difficulties in the Haggadah called for the annotation of the text. The earliest commentaries were written in a talmudic style and can be found in the halakhic works of the school of Rashi and his disciples (e.g., in Maḥzor Vitry; Ha-Orah, ed. by S. Buber, 1905; Siddur Rashi, ed. by S. Buber and J. Freimann, 1911; Ha-Pardes, ed. by D. Ehrenreich, 1824). The commentary attributed to R. Samuel b. Meir is written in the same style. A more comprehensive and profound exposition is found in Shibbolei ha-Leket by R. Zedekiah b. Abraham Anav (13th century; ed. by S. Buber, 1886), in which are incorporated some annotations by Isaiah di Trani , as well as interesting novellae, by the author's brother. The two important commentaries composed in the 14th century were by R. Aaron b. Jacob ha-Kohen of Lunel (in Orḥot Ḥayyim; it also appeared in Kol bo ) and by R. David b. Joseph Abudarham (in his commentary on the prayer book; Venice, 1566). These early commentators merely annotated the text. They were not concerned with the investigation of the historical aspect of the Haggadah and did not refer to the sources of its different texts. This simple explanatory type of commentary came to a close in the 15th century with Afikoman by R. Simeon b. ẒemaḥDuran , which until that time was the only commentary published as a separate book. After the 15th century, the commentators included material of their own in their expositions, both as an elaboration on the narrative and as a discussion of philosophical and theological concepts. R. Isaac Abrabanel in Zevaḥ Pesaḥ (Venice, 1545; figure 3) poses 100 questions which he answers at length. With reference to the verse "Know thou of a surety…" (Gen. 15:13), he asks: "What benefit have we derived from the exodus from Egypt, in view of the fact that we are once again in exile?" In his reply he discusses the significance of the exile and the ways of Providence at great length, without establishing any direct connection with the text. The commentary thus becomes a separate discourse. Subsequent commentators, who followed his style, mostly annotated in an aggadic vein, while a few gave mystical interpretations, e.g., R. Eliezer Ashkenazi in Ma'asei Adonai (Venice, 1583); R. Judah Loew b. Bezalel (the Maharal) of Prague in Gevurot Adonai (krakow, 1582), in which he also expounds halakhic matters; and the kabbalists R. Moses Alshekh and R. Isaiah Horowitz . The best known later commentators are: R. Jacob Emden , R. Elijah b. Solomon Zalman of Vilna, Jacob of Dubno, Jacob b. Jacob Moses Lorberbaum (of Lissa), and Moses Sofer (Schreiber) who wove their homiletic compositions round and into the Passover Haggadah. R. Ḥayyim Joseph David Azulai (18th century), known for his critical approach, also follows the above method in his commentaries on the Haggadah, though occasionally the critical view is discernible. Only in the 19th century did scholars begin to analyze the text, to clarify its sources, and to determine the original wording. This method was adopted by H. Edelman, E. Landshuth , D. Cassel , M. Friedmann, and D. Goldschmidt, whose commentaries were published in articles or in book form.


Through the generations the Passover Haggadah has been one of the most popular works – perhaps the most popular – in Jewish religious literature. Many recensions, differing from one another to a greater or lesser degree, have been preserved in various manuscripts mostly dating from the 13th to the 15th century, and also in fragments from the Cairo Genizah. These manuscripts originate from all countries in which Jews have lived. Some halakhic works also contain the text of and commentaries on the Haggadah. Others are found in daily or festival prayer books; the majority, however, are separate works for use on the eve of Passover only. These manuscripts have not yet been adequately investigated; only a selected few, particularly the illuminated copies, have engaged the attention of scholars. In the seventh or eighth century the Haggadah was apparently compiled as a separate work by the geonim. The oldest extant version however is in the prayer book (siddur) of Saadiah Gaon (10th century; ed. by I. Davidson, S. Assaf and B.I. Joel, 1941); other early versions are found in Maimonides' Mishneh Torah (12th century) and in Maḥzor Vitry (11th century). Since the 15th century, the Haggadah has had more than 2,700 editions, either with or without commentaries. Later editions have included as many as 200 commentaries. The Haggadah has been translated into vernaculars used by Jews, e.g., Yiddish, Ladino, Judeo-Greek, Judeo-Arabic (in its various dialects), and Judeo-Persian, which are often printed together with the Haggadah. Oral vernacular renderings are traditional in those communities which have no printed literature in their spoken idiom (e.g., in modern Aramaic). The Haggadah has been rendered into a number of languages, and the translation, whether with or without commentary, is often included in the editions. "Emended" editions, which do not give the traditional but a substitute version, are customary in certain communities, e.g., the Haggadah of S. Maybaum (1891), Caesar Seligmann (Frankfurt, 1913), Guggenheim (Offenbach, 1927), the Central Conference of American Rabbis (from 1905 onward), the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues in London (1953), and the Reconstructionist movement in the U.S. The tendency to "reform" the Haggadah exists also in Israel, especially in nonreligious kibbutzim which tend to emend the text of the Haggadah from year to year; as a rule, these editions do not appear in print, but in cyclostyled form only. The Karaites have composed a Passover Haggadah of their own, which is completely different from that of the Rabbanites, and consists of biblical verses and a few benedictions. It has been printed several times (Pressburg, 1879; Odessa, 1883; Vilna, 1900; Ramleh, 1953). Haggadah editions based on scientific analysis and research are by: H. Edelman (1845); E.L. Landshuth (Maggid me-Reshit, with an introduction, 1855); J.D. Eisenstein (Oẓar Perushim ve-Ẓiyyurim al Haggadah shel Pesaḥ, 1920); C. Roth (in English, 1939); D. Goldschmidt (with a commentary in Hebrew; 1947) and with an introduction on the history of the Haggadah and the texts of all the midrashic and paytanic additions in 1960; and M.M. Kasher (containing Mss. recensions, genizah fragments, and a collection of commentaries, as well as a lengthy introduction, 1955).


Haggadah: E. Baneth, Der Sederabend (1904); A. Berlinere, Randbemerkungen zum taeglichen Gebetbuche, 2 (1912), 47ff.; Finkelstein, in: HUCA, 23 (1950–51), pt. 2, pp. 319–37; idem, in: HTR, 31 (1938), 291–317; 35 (1942), 291–332; 36 (1943), 1–18; M. Friedmann (Ish-Shalom), Me'ir Ayin al Seder ve-Haggadah shel Levlei Pesaḥ (1895); D. Goldschmidt, Haggadah shel Pesaḥ ve-Toledoteha (1960), introduction (cf. reviews by E.E. Urbach in KS, 36 (1961), 143ff., and J. Heinemann in Tarbiz, 30 (1960/61), 405ff.); Z. Carl, Mishnayot im Be'ur Ḥadash: Pesaḥim (1927), introduction; J. Lewy, Ein Vortrag ueber das Ritual des Pessachabends (1904); Marx, in: JQR, 19 (1927/28), 1ff.; Stein, in: Jewish Studies, 8 (1957), 13–44; Zunz, Vortraege, 133–5; ET, 8 (1957), 177–93. Illuminated Manuscripts: Mayer, Art, index; B. Narkiss, Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts (1969), index. BIRDS' HEAD HAGGADAH: M. Spitzer (ed.), The Birds' Head Haggadah of the Bezalel National Art Museum in Jerusalem (1967), bibliography in introductory volume, pp. 123–4. CINCINNATI HAGGADAH: Landsberger, in: HUCA, 15 (1940), 529–58. DARMSTADT HAGGADAH: B. Italianer, Die Darmstaedter Pessach-Haggadah (1927–28); R. Wischnitzer, in: P. Goodman (ed.), Passover Anthology (1961), 295–324. GOLDEN HAGGADAH: Margoliouth, Cat, no. 607; Gutmann, in: SBB, 7 (1965); Mayer, Art, no. 1792 (102–4, 106–7); B. Narkiss, The Golden Haggadah (1970). KAUFMANN HAGGADAH: Mayer, Art, no. 1792 (187–99, pls. xxxi–xxxv); no. 2061; no. 2302; B. Narkiss, in: KS, 34 (1958/59), 71–79; 4 (1966/67), 104–7. SARAJEVO HAGGADAH: Mayer, Art, index and nos. 1792, 2235–7; no. 2969 (nos. 30, 41). WASHINGTON HAGGADAH: Landsberger, in: HUCA, 21 (1948), 73–103; Gutmann, in: SBB, 7 (1965), 3–25. Printed Editions: Mayer, Art, index; S. Wiener, Bibliographie der Oster-Haggadah (19492), contains a list of 884 editions between 1500 and 1900; idem, in: SBB, 7 (1965), 90–125 (addenda of 330 editions); A. Yaari, Bibliografyah shel Haggadot Pesaḥ (1960). Music: E. Werner, in: SBB, 7 (1965), 57–83; M. Brod, in: Musica Hebraica, 1–2 (1938), 21–23; B. Bayer, in: Dukhan, 8 (1966), 89–98; Idelsohn, Melodien, 2 (1922), nos. 16–26; 3 (1922), nos. 14–16; 4 (1923), nos. 76, 78, 79; L. Algazi, Chants Sephardis (1958), nos. 23–28; Levy, Antología, 3 (1968), nos. 189–316; A. Schoenfeld, Recitative und Gesaenge… am ersten und zweiten Abende des Ueberschreitungsfestes (1884); E. Piattelli, Canti liturgici ebraici di rito italiano (1967), 168–9. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Feminist Haggadot: The San Diego Women's Haggadah (1980, 1986); E.M. Broner with N. Nimrod, The Women's Haggadah (1993); The Journey Continues: The Ma'yan Passover Haggadah (2000); S.C. Anisfeld, T. Mohr, and C. Spector (eds.), The Women's Passover Companion (2003); idem, The Women's Seder Sourcebook (2003).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.