In honor of the upcoming holiday of Pesach, we have added 7 new historic Haggadot to our library. Each of these Haggadot has a fascinating background, many revealing just as much about the periods in which they were translated as they do about the exodus from Egypt which they recount. Below is a brief introduction to each of these colorful texts. They can now be found alongside our standard Pesach Haggadah under “Available Text Versions’’. Special thanks to doctoral student Avraham Roos for bringing these texts to our attention and making this project possible.
Translated in London by A. Alexander, this is the first Haggadah ever translated into English. This edition provides a fascinating snapshot of many Seder-table customs that are no longer mainstream. One such bygone ritual: this Haggadah states that the Kos Shel Eliyahu, or Cup of Elijah, was to be drunk by the youngest child present at the Seder.
Printed in New York, this was the first Haggadah printed in the United States. This version relies on a translation from 1787 by David Levi, an influential British Jew and the second person ever to translate the Haggadah. This translation is especially important as it had a strong influence on all following translations through the late 19th century.
Prior to the publication of this Haggadah, one of the worst blood libels in modern memory broke out in Damascus, Syria. Charged with the murder of a Franciscan friar for the purpose of using his blood for Pesach-related rituals, a group of Jews were arrested, tortured, and thrown into jail. The Times of London covered the story extensively, and in mid-August, they even went so far as to publish this nearly-complete English translation of the Passover Haggadah in response. The Haggadah appeared on the third page of the paper, allowing readers to learn about the Passover holiday, see that Christian blood played no part in its rituals, and conclude that the charges levied against the Jews were false.
Printed in London, this Haggadah was translated by A. Mendes, one of the the first Sephardim to translate the Haggadah into English. This translation is also noteworthy for its originality; while most translations after 1787 were heavily influenced by David Levi’s, Mendes was the only 19th century translator who tried to seriously create an original translation.
Translated by Reverend H. Liberman, this was the first Haggadah to be printed in Chicago. A fun fact: a note written in the margin of one page offers a recipe for kosher for Pesach mead, a kind of alcoholic beverage.
Translated by A.A. Green, this is the first known example of a bowdlerized, or self-censored, Haggadah. Roos explains that it was quite common in the Victorian Age to censor unseemly references to the body or sexuality. This Haggadah, translated at the end of the Victorian age, is replete with many such censored translations. One example: the Haggadah typically quotes from the Bible: “I have caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field, and thou hast increased and waxen great, and thou hast gotten excellent ornaments: thy breasts are fashioned, thine hair is grown, whereas thou wast naked and bare.” In this edition, Green translates that line “I have caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field, and thou hast increased and waxen great, and thou art come to excellent ornaments; thy shape is perfected and thine hair is grown, whereas thou wast naked and bare. Green’s unprecedented decision to omit the word ‘breasts’ is one that some publishers still adhere to today.
This Haggadah was translated in Jerusalem at the turn of the century by the Russian printer A.M. Luncz. Most interesting about this version is the poor quality of editing; this edition is replete with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Roos notes, for example, that the letters “p” and “q,” “b” and “d,” and “u” and “n” are mistakenly interchanged throughout the text. The child who is too young to ask–שאינו יודע לשאול– is called “he who hath not capacity to inpuir” (inquire). Similarly, צא ולמד becomes “search, and enpuire,” while אברהם (Abraham) is misspelled as “Adraham.” Turns out that Luncz was struck with blindness in his 25th year, but continued to work as an editor and publisher!
All images reproduced here belong to Avraham Roos. To read more about these 7 translations, visit Roos’ blog.