A Mix-and-Match Haggadah


Were all Egyptians pro-slavery?

Children’s author Lemony Snicket suggests that even if most Egyptians started out in favor of subjugating the Israelites, they probably wavered after the Ten Plagues started. After burning hail, wild beasts, and lice, he says, “even Pharaoh’s son was probably an abolitionist–a word here which means ‘in favor of ending slavery if only because he was sick of plagues’.”

Snicket is one of the commentators in the New American Haggadah, released this month. It’s edited by Jonathan Safran Foer, but it isn’t exactly his creation–the text was written thousands of years ago (probably shortly before the time of the Talmud). In this version, the original Hebrew haggadah was translated by fellow fiction writer Nathan Englander, and the commentaries were written by a cadre of writers and intellectuals.

Foer is like the producer of a film, organizing everything, then standing back and hoping it works out. The result is a bizarre cacophony of a book–on the same page that Snicket ponders whether there were anti-slavery Egyptians, The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg reflects on how sometimes, a measure of violence or badness is needed for greater positive change. Think of the role of the Civil War in ending slavery.

There’s no single tone or theme to this haggadah–it includes humor, social commentary, politics, and more. According to Foer, each haggadah that’s written offers something new and different than the haggadot that have been published before it, and, “like all haggadahs, this one hopes to be replaced.” For now, however, this version is more than adequate.

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