Unraveling The Haggadah: History of the Haggadah #1

16 03 2010

Unraveling the HaggadahBased on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Chana Prero

The Haggadah holds a coveted place in every Jewish library and has been reprinted in hundreds of editions throughout the centuries. What is our earliest source for the Haggadah? Who put it all together?

Rav Kasher explains that the basic text of the Haggadah was codified by the Anshei Knesset Hagedola, but it is not the complete version we have today.

The Gemara in Pesachim cites a disagreement between Rav and Shmuel about which negative point in history the Haggadah should begin with. The fact that there was still discussion about this in the time of the Amoraim hints to us that the text was not fully established. The Avudraham writes that originally there were two versions, one by Rav and Shmuel and another by Abaye and Rava. The compiler of the Haggadah combined these two versions into the text we use today.

Rav Amram Gaon, who died towards the end of the ninth century, wrote a siddur, which included the Haggadah. Approximately sixty years later, Rav Sadyah Gaon wrote another siddur with a Haggadah. These are two of the earliest texts we have on the complete Haggadah. Rav Kasher
posits that the text of the Haggadah was established during the Gaonic period. He quotes a letter by Rav Natronai Gaon, a contemporary of Rav Amram, who writes strongly against those who followed a different text of the Haggadah. The letter states, “These blasphemers do not follow
our custom.” The fact that it says “our custom” and not “the Rabbis’ custom” suggests that the Gaonim established the text and not the Ammoraim or Tannaim. He conjectures that just as the seder of Hallel and the blessings on the four cups of wine were instituted by the Gaonim, they also
agreed on the text of the Haggadah.

If you look closely at the Haggadah, you can see that it is comprised of selections from the Mishna, Gemara, and Midrashim. Although the actual Haggadah text may have been put together during the Gaonic period, most of its sources are from an earlier era. “Ha Lachma Anya” was written
during the Babylonian exile. We know this because it was written in Aramaic, the spoken language in Bavel, and it mentions the enslavement of the Jews and their hope for the eventual redemption.

The source of Mah Nishtana is a Mishna in Pesachim. The question about the roasting of the korban pesach is not relevant in exile so it was left out of the Haggadah. Avadim Hayinu is mentioned in the Gemara Pesachim in which Rav and Shmuel argued over which negative point to begin the
Haggadah with. We recite Hallel hagadol which includes Hodu and Nishmat. Tannaic and Ammoraic sources both point to the obligation to say this on the Seder night.

The songs at the end of the Haggadah were mostly added during the Middle Ages. This is the least important section of the Haggadah. The essential part, when we fulfill the actual mitzva of sippur yetziat Miztrayim, begins with Avadim Hayinu. Here each of the sections in the Haggadah are explained and include verses in the Torah upon which they are based. They discuss our suffering and redemption, which are intrinsically connected.

The actual mitzva is to verbally express our subjugation and redemption.

This year as we sit at the seder once again, let us pray to for ultimate freedom and eternal redemption speedily in our days.

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One response

11 05 2010
MikieEjy6

Nice way of thinking. I like it. Many thanks for sharing

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