Thanks to its short text and ubiquitous usage, the Haggodah is the most prolific sefer ever published. No city or town with a printing press failed to include a Haggodah in its repertoire. According to a bibliography edited by the historian Yitzchak Yodlov, 4,730 different editions of Haggodah were written or printed by 1960, and since then the number may well have doubled.
The proliferation of Haggodos was also influenced by the custom of some kehillos to buy a new machzor every year. Nowadays, many people follow this practice in order to have something new to share at the Seder table. Rav Naftoli of Ropshitz offered a humorous explanation of the minhag. Because of yeridos hadoros, he said, every year, the roshoh of last year is already considered a tzaddik. Therefore, in order to reach the complement of four sons we need to buy a new Haggodah each year with a new roshoh.
Bird Heads and Coffee
The formulation of our Haggodah by the Mishnah and Gemara was only the beginning of a long story that continues until our time. Except for fragments from the eighth or ninth century found in the Cairo Genizah, the oldest Haggodah is a partial text found in the siddur of Rav Amram Gaon (the oldest existing siddur) who headed the yeshivah of Sura, Bavel, in the ninth century. The first complete Haggodah is part of the siddur of Rav Saadya Gaon who headed the same yeshivah during the tenth century. The Rambam’s Haggodah of the thirteenth century is essentially the same as the one we use today except for various tefillos and songs that were added later. The first Haggodah appearing as a distinctive separate text dates from the same time. All these Haggodos are of plain text with no illustrations.
The age of illuminated (illustrated) Haggodos begins with the strange Bird’s Head Haggodah written in southern Germany at the end of the thirteenth century. As its name suggests, the most striking feature of this Haggodah is that many of its human figures have the heads of animals, mostly birds. Faces are also disguised by helmets or bulbous noses, while angel’s faces appear with no facial features at all. All men in the Bird’s Head Haggodah wear the standard conical Jew’s Hat that was compulsory for Jews of Germany and the Holy Roman Empire from the time of the Lateran Council of 1215 until the late Middle Ages.
The Bird’s Head Haggodah is not unique in its avoidance of drawing the human face. Various machzorim and a Tanach from that time and region also follow the practice, no doubt in order to avoid the prohibition of drawing graven images according to the shittah that this includes the depiction of human faces. The Bird’s Head Haggodah was nusach Ashkenaz. The earliest illuminated Haggodah of Sephardi origin is the Golden Haggodah produced in Spain in around 1320.
Printed Haggodos came soon afterwards. First claimant for this honor is a Haggodah supposedly printed in Guadalajara of central Spain in 1482. However, since the printer never bothered to include the place or date of its printing, this is only a guess. The first confirmed printing of a Haggodah is that printed in Soncino, Italy, in 1486. Nine years later, in 1505, two brothers printed the first Haggodah with a commentary – using that of the famous Rav Yitzchok Don Abarbanel. Then came printed illustrated Haggodos, four of which influenced the style of most illustrated Haggodos until well into the twentienth century. These were the Prague Haggodah of 1526 (in which the song Adir Hu appears for the first time), the Mantua Haggodah of 1560, the Venice Haggodah of 1609, and the Amsterdam Haggodah of 1695.
The first American Haggodah was printed by Solomon Henry Jackson who arrived in the United States from London in around 1787 and moved to New York in around 1820 where he became the first Jewish printer of the city. Besides translating and publishing a siddur in Hebrew and English in 1826 and printing the first American Haggodah in1837, he also printed a monthly periodical called the Jew, which fought the attacks of Christian missionary teachings. In an early issue of the Jew he proudly announces that he will fiercely defend his religion: “I am… a man as yourselves, whom you have unwarrantably attacked – a Jew! A citizen of the United States! And an inhabitant of New-York who, standing on the defence of his religion, on the defence of his people and kindred, which, and whom you have, and do unfairly, wantonly, and unmanly attack, calls on you to guard.”
The printing of his siddur and Haggodah may have been part of his attempt to nurture Judaism in a hostile environment. His son, John M. Jackson, succeeded his father as printer for the Jewish Kehilla, advertising on the back cover of a second edition of his father’s Haggodah that he could supply blank kesubos printed to order “on parchment if required,” and that he also sold family and pocket luachs at prices “as cheap as the cheapest.”
The most prolific Haggodah ever printed is the Maxwell House Haggodah first printed by the Joseph Jacobs Advertising Agency of New York in 1934. Joseph Jacobs Advertising (“90 years of Kosher and Jewish experience”) presently advertises on its website:
“Over 50 million Maxwell House Haggodahs have been printed, making it the most widely used Haggodah in the world. For many decades, the Maxwell House Haggodah was known for its famous blue cover. In 2011 a newly designed Haggodah was introduced. It includes a revised, more contemporary translation for the first time in 80 years.
This promotion — the longest running consumer promo in the US — has resulted in Maxwell House being the preferred coffee in Jewish households.”
The Maxwell-Pesach connection began eleven years before the printing of the Haggodah when Joseph Jacobs, head of the above-mentioned advertising company, allayed fears that coffee beans might be considered kitniyos by securing a letter from Rav Hersch Kohn (a Yerushalayim– born talmid chochom who lived in New York from 1921 to 1964) that the coffee bean was more akin to a berry than a bean and therefore kosher for Pesach. This was the first hechsher for coffee in the history of the United States. An effective advertising campaign and the introduction of the free Maxwell House Haggodah dramatically raised Pesach sales of the Maxwell brand.
Another historic American Haggodah is the Artscroll Haggodah of 1976. As Artscroll claims, “Since it first appeared… the ArtScroll Haggodah by Rabbi Joseph Elias has been the most popular Haggodah of its kind, anywhere! With its broad variety of sources and excellent combination of thoroughness, reliability, accuracy, and good taste, it remains a staple of tens of thousands of Seder tables — and deservedly so!”
Additions to the Text
Our Haggodah text begins with the Simonim, a list of keywords that help us remember the Haggodah’s main features. The most common list, beginning with the words kadesh urchatz, is said to be composed by Rashi, although a talmid of the Maharil wrote that it was written by one of the thirteenth century baalei Tosfos, Rav Shmuel ben Shlomo of Falaise, France. In his Haggodah Shleima, Rav Menachem Kasher lists thirteen other versions of the Simonim, most of them from the times of the Rishonim.
The tefillos and songs at the end of the Haggodah were added well after the sealing of the Gemara. Shefoch Chamoschoh is a medieval addition, probably inspired by the oppression of the times. It is not found in the texts of Rav Saadya Gaon or the Rambam. Oldest of the added songs is Dayeinu, which already appears in the Haggodah of Rav Saadya Gaon in the tenth century. Altogether, the minhag Ashkenaz Haggodah includes seven piyutim, many of which were not originally composed for the Haggodah. Chasal Siddur Pesach kehilchoso was originally the conclusion of a piyut written for Shabbos Hagodol in about the twelfth century. Oz rov nissim nifleisoh was part of a piyut for the first day of Pesach written in about the thirteenth century, while Ometz gevurasecha was taken from a piyut composed for the second day of Pesach by Rav Elazar Hakalir.
According to a manuscript siddur from 1406, Echad mi yode’a and Chad Gadya were found on a parchment in the beis medrash of Rav Elazar Rokeach of Worms (the Baal Harokeach).
There are parallels to the Chad Gadya concept in earlier sources. The medrash (Bereishis Rabbah end of parshah 16) says that when Nimrod said to Avrohom, “Bow to fire,” Avrohom replied, “We should bow to water that extinguishes fire.” Nimrod said, “Bow to water,” and Avrohom replied, “We should bow to the clouds that carry water.” Nimrod said, “Bow to the clouds,” to which Avrohom retorted, “If so, we should bow to the wind that scatters clouds.” Nimrod said, “Bow to the wind,” and Avrohom replied, “We should bow to a person who contains the wind.”
Similarly, the Gemara (Bava Basra 10a) writes how nothing in the world is all-powerful: “There are ten tough things in the world. A mountain is tough but iron cuts it. Iron is tough but fire melts it. Fire is tough but water extinguishes it. Water is tough but clouds carry it, etc.”
The Chida (Chaim Sha’al 1:28) discusses the serious import of this seemingly lighthearted song: “Someone was scoffing at the piyut Chad Gadya that is recited in towns of Ashkenaz on Pesach night, and someone rose and excommunicated him. Is the excommunication valid?”
The Chida answers that the person deserves excommunication for laughing at something said by myriads of Jews including gedolim and roshei yeshivos. In addition, the Chida writes, many commentaries were written on it. Also, according to the Arizal, the piyutim of Ashkenaz are based on kabbalistic concepts, and it is written in the name of the Baal Harokeach that all the concepts and details of the piyutim are a tradition from person to person and from sage to sage.
We can humbly add that the Chad Gadya song at the end of the Seder epitomizes the meaning of yetzias Mitzrayim during our years of exile. Redemption is not a one stage process, but a series of ups and downs leading to the climax when death is destroyed forever.
(Sources include: Rav Menachem Kasher, Haggodah Hashleimah, Mechon Torah Shleimah, Yerushalayim, 5727. Elimelech David Ha-Levi Web)