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Ochs, Vanessa L.

The Passover Haggadah

A Biography

Series:Lives of Great Religious Books 51


    44,95 € / $50.75 / £42.00*

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    Publication Date:
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    March 2020
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    Aims and Scope

    The life and times of a treasured book read by generations of Jewish families at the seder table

    Every year at Passover, Jews around the world gather for the seder, a festive meal where family and friends come together to sing, pray, and enjoy traditional food while retelling the biblical story of the Exodus. The Passover Haggadah provides the script for the meal and is a religious text unlike any other. It is the only sacred book available in so many varieties—from the Maxwell House edition of the 1930s to the countercultural Freedom Seder—and it is the rare liturgical work that allows people with limited knowledge to conduct a complex religious service. The Haggadah is also the only religious book given away for free at grocery stores as a promotion. Vanessa Ochs tells the story of this beloved book, from its emergence in antiquity as an oral practice to its vibrant proliferation today.

    Ochs provides a lively and incisive account of how the foundational Jewish narrative of liberation is remembered in the Haggadah. She discusses the book's origins in biblical and rabbinical literature, its flourishing as illuminated manuscripts in the medieval period, and its mass production with the advent of the printing press. She looks at Haggadot created on the kibbutz, those reflecting the Holocaust, feminist and LGBTQ-themed Haggadot, and even one featuring a popular television show, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Ochs shows how this enduring work of liturgy that once served to transmit Jewish identity in Jewish settings continues to be reinterpreted and reimagined to share the message of freedom for all.


    232 pages
    11 b/w illus.
    Jewish holidays; Jewish Diaspora; the four questions; why is this night different from all other nights; Pesach; Judaica; Moses; ten plagues; the Exodus; Passover seder; matzah; fourteenth day of Nisan; Mishnah; Passover songs; seder plate; Talmud; Midrash; seder recipes; Passover recipes; classic Passover songs; Viktor E. Frankl; Man’s Search for Meaning; Robert Kopman; 30 Minute Seder; Jewish family life; Moshe Rosenberg; The (unofficial) Hogwarts Haggadah; Birds’ Head Haggadah; Sarajevo Haggadah; Washington Haggadah; My People’s Passover Haggadah; Amsterdam Haggadah
    General/trade;Professional and scholarly;College/higher education;

    More ...

    Vanessa L. Ochs is professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia and an ordained rabbi. Her books include Inventing Jewish Ritual, which won a National Jewish Book Award; Sarah Laughed: Modern Lessons from the Wisdom and Stories of Biblical Women; and Words on Fire: One Woman's Journey into the Sacred. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.


    "This readable, engaging, and thought-provoking book deftly balances breadth and depth—it is also fun to read."—Lesleigh Cushing Stahlberg, coauthor of The Bible in the American Short Story

    "Vanessa Ochs demonstrates that one of the core texts of Jewish life—the Haggadah—was as much a product of its times as it was a blueprint for social action. She trains her eye on the storied and panoramic life of this beloved book, moving from its textual bricolage in the ancient world to its contemporary moment."—Maya Balakirsky Katz, author of Drawing the Iron Curtain: Jews and the Golden Age of Soviet Animation

    "Vanessa Ochs is the only person who could have written this engaging, feisty, and brilliant biography of the Haggadah. Here, she shows us not a staid or fixed text, but a text patinaed with wine, a book that both comforts and unsettles, that remembers and interprets and challenges. Ochs has done the remarkable: she has written a book about the Haggadah that is as delightful as the Haggadah itself."—Lauren F. Winner, Duke Divinity School

    "Vanessa Ochs answers the question, 'Why is this night different from all others?' with another question, 'Why is this Haggadah different from all others?' The Passover Haggadah, her lively, engaging survey of the many thousands of Haggadot invented, illustrated, and cherished across the ages, offers an answer. A guide to the past, present, and future of this annual dinner theater in Jewish homes, this book speaks to today's Jews. The Passover Haggadah belongs on every family's bookshelf right next to their stack of wine-stained, crumb-filled Haggadot."—Pamela S. Nadell, author of America's Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today

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