A Glowing Review of "A Passover Haggadah: Go Forth and Learn" by David Silber with Rachel Furst

We were classmates with David Silber at Yeshiva University's High School, College and Rabbinical School. We studied Talmud together as chavrusas in High School in the shiur of Rabbi Gershon Yankelewitz (who is now 100 years old, may he live to 120). Silber went on the found the remarkable Drisha Institute on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and has spent his career in Torah education.

Rabbi Silber is an Orthodox Jewish scholar of major significance with the broad and deep knowledge of a first rate Talmid Chacham. While in high school, we recall that he placed among the highest finalists in the world Bible contest. Silber knew the entire Tanakh by heart and could cite it with great facility on any topic. He is known now as an expert in the entire range of Jewish learning and as a master teacher of our tradition.

Silber's new book will appear in time for Passover this year,  A Passover Haggadah: Go Forth and Learn. His collaborator in writing this book is Rachel Furst, an accomplished scholar and teacher in her own right. Although we single out Rabbi Silber here, all of our comments and compliments ought to be allocated between both authors.

This is a volume of great erudition and careful learning. Silber derives his insights from a range of sources including the work of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, but not limited by that influence. Silber's writings show an originality of theological insight that is deeply rooted in the classical texts and sources and informed by a wide ranging knowledge of the liberal arts.

The publisher describes the book as follows:
Rabbi Silber has given us two books in one: the Haggadah itself, in English and Hebrew, with his seder commentary and a collection of essays that provide close readings of the classic biblical and rabbinic texts that inform Seder-night ritual and narration. Both parts work beautifully together to illuminate the central themes of Passover: peoplehood, Covenant, our relationship to ritual, God's presence in history, and other important issues that resonate with us all.

Just as midrash attempts to bridge the gap between ancient text and contemporary meaning, Rabbi Silber's Haggadah provides new sources of insight that deepen the Passover experience for today's readers.
The essays are works of pedagogic mastery. Silber has taught this material for decades and over time has highly refined his presentations. He balances his use of previous scholarly sources between the rabbinic and the academic and arrives often at original insights that are compelling. Thus, the essays in this volume are parts of the book that will be cited by many who seek fresh and modern angles of vision into the old and established contents of the Tanakh and rabbinic writings.

Silber's comments in this book's Haggadah-text-section are substantial, original and faithful to the rabbinic record. Interspersed here are not just nuggets of interpretation, but also coherent essays and excurses on topics brought to the Seder table by the Haggadah text.

The book authentically amplifies the strong and weak aspects of the Haggadah itself. The Haggadah book is a complex composite of liturgy, learning and rituals. It's notable that we call the occasion on which we read and enact the book the "Seder" as that implies order and organization. Indeed the Haggadah is the one rabbinic book that comes with its own embedded table of contents - a listing of the fifteen Seder sections.

Yet organization with a list of contents does not imply a tight coherence to a set theme. The Haggadah ranges widely and richly across the landscape of Israelite and rabbinic history and ritual. It hops often without warning from one mode of expression and rite to another and from one crucial topic in Jewish religious life and thought to another.

Silber and Furst enrich this winding and even dizzying Haggadah-journey that we embark on each year with the expertise of seasoned and expert scouts. At the end of the trip with this marvelous guide book we can safely say that these pathfinders took us on a great adventure with deep and keen perceptions into every stop along the way.

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