March 23, 2010
Sometimes the newest ideas are more traditional than they seem.
The Open Source Haggadah Project invites people to go on-line and create their own Haggadot for Passover. The site offers traditional texts and translations and a wide range of commentaries, supplementary readings, and activities to enhance your seder. You can choose a wholly traditional seder, select the text and rituals according to your family customs, and add or subtract discussions that enhance the meaning of the holiday. Click a tab, and the whole thing will be converted to an Adobe Acrobat file that you can print out on your own.
If that sounds post-modern, even sacrilegious, it’s worth revisiting A Different Night, the Family Participation Haggadah, the now classic version created by Noam Zion and David Dishon of Israel’s Shalom Hartmann Institute. Theirs is a Passover text for families eager to dispense with set questions and answers but intimidated by the prospect as well. Careful to retain the traditional core of the Haggada, they also weave in ancient midrash, contemporary commentary, provocative questions, and unexpected answers. They cite rabbinic sources that envisioned the seder not as a rote reading from a script (the Haggada wasn’t written down until the second century), but an evening of storytelling, improvisation, and discussion. As they explain, “The storyteller must be flexible and inventive, for this, the longest part of the seder, is also the most creative.”
Sometimes doing it yourself can be intimidating — and no one wants to insult the elders at the table, for whom the tradition means doing things the way they did as children. But Passover is a time for taking hold of tradition and turning it into something that speaks to each one of us. Modern technology is only making that ancient impulse more accessible.
As the creators of the Open Source Haggadah put it, “The more personally invested and conscious you are of the design and execution of your seder, the closer to the spirit of Passover’s liberation you will become.”
May the holiday bring you the liberation you seek, whatever tools you use to find it.