It was Rabbi Kaplan's conviction that Judaism acquires its authenticity by evolving in response to the changing conditions that confront the Jewish community. He further asserted thatthe importance of Israel notwithstandinga thriving Diaspora is essential for the creative survival of Judaism. In 1941, Rabbi Kaplan produced a ground-breaking workThe New Haggadahwith Rabbis Eugene Kohn and Ira Eisenstein. They revised it in 1978. Now we have revised it again and renamed it The New American Haggadah.
In earlier editions, Kaplan and his co-editors noted, "We have retained the traditional framework [of the Haggadah], with its [classic] charm, but we have filled it in with the... content of present-day idealism and aspiration." In the process, the editors omitted passages that, in their words, "convey no special message" or "might conflict with our own highest ethical standards." For example, they omitted the rabbinic musings that multiplied the number of plagues and edited the hymn Dayeinu. Among they readings they added were "Pharaoh, Arch-Tyrant," the Moses legends, and the verses from the Torah that emphasize the ethical implications of the Exodus.
Together, these changes were designed to inspire in the new generation the same devotion to freedom that our ancestors gained from the ancient Haggadah. The goal of The New American Haggadah remains the same.
Thus, the 15 steps of the sederas they traditionally have been defined and sequencedremain the sturdy loom upon which the evening's tapestry is woven. And the Passover vision of freedom, justice, and peace has been shaped by interweaving the threads of ancient Jewish tradition with the creative and ethical legacy of the modern American Diaspora.
In the spirit of Rabbis Kaplan, Kohn, and Eisenstein, we have edited those features that are at odds with the sensibilities and circumstances of our time. For example, we have edited the English text so that it is gender inclusive and shortened the Hallel to enable participants to complete the full order of the seder.
Among the additions that have been made are references to the matriarchs in the Hebrew and Aramaic text, music by Jewish-American songwriters, riddles to engage children, a memoir written by a Union soldier celebrating Passover during the American Civil War, and a modern exodus story recounted by an Ethopian Jew. All the illustrations in the Haggadah are new, and many reflect the diverse ways American Jews have enriched the Passover message of liberation.
As was true in earlier editions, the English version of the text is in large measure paraphrase. However, where a literal translation of the Hebrew is provided, it is in part original and in part derived from published translations of the Bible.
Revising The New Haggadah has been an exciting challenge. It called upon us to transmit our tradition even as we reinvented it. Such are the challenges passed on to us by Mordecai Kaplan. We believe that The New American Haggadah would have pleased Rabbi Kaplan and hope that you, your family, and your friends will find joy, inspiration, and renewal in it.
Return to The New American Haggadah.