Who wrote the Haggadah?

They say that the Seder is the most widely observed Jewish ritual. Assuming that is true, the Haggadah then is a near universally used Jewish book. It also is one of the most frequently published Jewish books in history, surpassed perhaps only by the Hebrew Bible and the Siddur and Machzor Prayer books.

Now it behooves me to ask of this book, who wrote the Haggadah?

Over the past five or so years I can attest that many prominent rabbis have written or edited and published Haggadahs. Here are some of my blog posts to support this assertion, Haggadah Posts.

And so five years ago, not to be left behind, I set out to publish a Haggadah of my own. More specifically, I started to republish my favorite classic out-of-print Haggadah: The Polychrome Historical Haggadah. 

Life intervened and so, I stopped short of publishing the book even after having done significant work towards that goal. 

Fast forward (actually the intervening years were full of many kinds of events and activities and did not go by that fast) - to 2017 and I found myself with a window of time and opportunity, and I said let's do this. Let's push that book out into print. 

And so I did release The Polychrome Historical Haggadah in a new edition. I have published yet another Haggadah.

Ah, but that's not the answer to who wrote the Haggadah, is it?

A bible scholar friend of mine, quite a few years ago wrote a book, Who Wrote the Bible? That question is a fine inquiry for academic scholars, but a heretical question for a rabbi, because we assert that Moses, inspired by God, wrote the whole Bible -- and by this I mean the Torah, called the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses. Scholars, on the other hand, posit that the work is a composite historical document written by many people over numerous epochs.

So much for the Bible. But what is the answer to the question of the season, who wrote the Haggadah?

It is correct  and sanctioned to say historically, literary critically and theologically that many people over many epochs wrote parts of the Haggadah.

So you may say to me, okay show me how that works. Explain to me who wrote the various composite texts and when did they write them.

And concisely that is what The Polychrome Historical Haggadah sets out to do - in a brilliant way - by color coding the layers of the text from the Biblical, rabbinic (mishnaic and talmudic), geonic, medieval, modern and contemporary periods - each in its own color. And by providing critical notes to show the sources of the distinctive literary strata of the work.

So here is the answer to who wrote it. The Haggadah evolved organically over millennia. It is the output of many authors, mostly anonymous, assembled by many editors and used throughout history by nearly all Jews, every year.

And a colorful way to see the strands of the composition is to use the The Polychrome Historical Haggadah  at your Seder. 

Please do that and have a wonderfully happy Passover.
I think you will be interested in this new reprint of a classic haggadah with a foreword that I added - available from Amazon. - Tzvee
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The Polychrome Historical Haggadah                            
The Polychrome Historical Haggadah 
by Jacob Freedman et al.
  Learn more                      


Awesome: I published three paperback books in March on Amazon!

Awesome: I published three paperback books in March on Amazon!


My first unboxing video:

My first Talmudic Advice podcast:

My Haggadah Unboxing Video:


Ten Tips for a Better Seder - with Trump Tips Added

It's a great performance. A dramatic Off-Broadway revue.

I have always had fun directing the reading of the Haggadah at the Seder. I learned this dramatic art as a child by watching my father (Rabbi Zev Zahavy) masterfully conduct the performance of the communal synagogue Seders as the rabbi of the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan. He did it right and authentic and dramatic.

So in the spirit of the season of rebirth and freedom, let me offer you ten tips for your seder extravaganza - this year we must add Trump Tips.


"Das Reine Denken Und Die Seinskonstituierung Bei Hermann Cohen" - Rav Soloveitchik's Dissertation at the University of Berlin 1930

In honor of the upcoming yahrzeit of the Rav's passing (on Hol HaMoed Pesach, the 18th of Nisan, in 1993) and of the anniversary of his recent birthday (Feb. 27, 1903) we offer to our readers a link to a scan of my teacher Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik's doctoral dissertation in the field of philosophy written at the University of Berlin, 1930.

The thesis is in German and the scan is a PDF file: "Das Reine Denken Und Die Seinskonstituierung Bei Hermann Cohen" by Josef Solowiejczyk. ("Pure Thought as the Constitution of Being in Hermann Cohen's Philosophy")

Manfred Lehmann wrote briefly about this dissertation and the Rav's biography:
...It is reported that the Rav would have liked to write his dissertation on Maimonides and Plato, but since no experts in these subjects were available in Berlin, he chose a field of pure philosophy, tempered with mathematics.

Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Lichtenstein, Prof. Weidhorn, Prof. Flatto, Prof. Levy: My Five Greatest Teachers at Yeshiva University

I realized over the years since I graduated from Yeshiva College that so many of my teachers there imprinted upon me indelible lessons for life and learning. I have chosen here to recall five special teachers. I apologize to the many other wonderful teachers that I have omitted. I especially beg the forgiveness of those that I have chosen to so briefly and inadequately remember. Nothing that I say can do them justice.
[Periodic re-post -- to celebrate these great teachers.]


My father's most valuable autographs - the signatures on his ordination parchment

I am republishing this post in honor of the Yeshiva University Chag HaSemikhah Convocation that will take place on Sunday, March 19, 2017 and in honor of the 75th anniversary of my father receiving his ordination.

I received my rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva in 1973. My father received his semichah on March 19, 1942 = א׳ בְּנִיסָן תש״ב

Here is my original post:

In May 2012, during the shiva for my dad, Rabbi Dr. Zev Zahavy, I showed many people an important part of our inheritance from him - five valuable autographs.

Now these are not autographs of Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle or of U.S. presidents or anything like that. 

These are the five signatures on my dad's klaf - on his diploma of ordination from Yeshiva University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, which he received in 1942.

The priceless autographs are by five great Torah scholars, Rabbi Binyamin Aronowitz, Rabbi Bernard L. Levinthal of Philadelphia, Rabbi Samuel Belkin, Rabbi Moses Shatzkes (the Lomza Rav) and Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik of Boston (the Rav).

Rabbi Yossi Adler looked at the klaf during the shiva in Teaneck and confirmed what I had been told, that it was rare to have five signatures on such a document. My own ordination has two (Rabbis Belkin and Soloveitchik).

I once asked my dad what it was like to go before these five great rabbis and be examined before receiving semichah - ordination. He told me, "They were tough. They asked difficult questions. They made me sweat."

I greatly treasure this meaningful part of the legacy of my dad.


RCBC Designates Next Saturday "Shabbat Shmoozer" in Teaneck

The RCBC (Rabbinical Council of Befuddled Clergy) has declared next Saturday to be "Shabbat Shmoozer" in all Teaneck synagogues.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Rabbi S. A. Rudemanski explained that scholars had pointed out a mistake the rabbis previously made in reading of halakhic texts governing synagogue conduct.

Rudemanski said the rabbis had thought that "talking in synagogue" was the cause of everything from natural disasters and political crises to scraped knees and stubbed toes.


Jews in Book Reviews - NY Times Book Review - 2 major reviews of books about Jews

Front page of the book review David Grossman's newest book - and inside the BR, Professor Ellen Umansky's new novel.

Is This Mic On?: A Stand-Up Comedian Wrestles With His Country and ...

David Grossman's novel “A Horse Walks Into a Bar,” about a ... A version of this reviewappears in print on March 5, 2017, on Page BR1 

A Painting Stolen First by the Nazis, Then by Persons Unknown - The ...

1 day ago - In Ellen Umansky's “The Fortunate Ones,” a painting that went missing in Nazi-occupied Vienna connects the lives of two women


My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Advice Column for March 2017: Dizzy Bat Mitzvah Girl and Bewildered Burial Seeker

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Advice Column for March 2017: 
Dizzy about her Bat Mitzvah and Bewildered about her Burial

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I’m getting a little dizzy trying to figure out when to schedule my bat mitzvah. My synagogue recommends that both boys and girls celebrate their bar and bat mitzvahs at age 13. I’d like to celebrate it when I am 12. I am ready for it. My parents support me. What should I do?

Coming of Age in Clifton

Dear Coming of Age,

It’s probable from what you say that the tasks of preparing for the chanting of the Torah and haftarah in the synagogue likely are not what is making you dizzy. Planning and deciding on all the related logistics for your bat mitzvah day are challenges to young and old alike. You appear to be involved in the ordeals of scheduling and negotiations, perhaps with your parents, siblings, and friends, and with the calendars of your synagogue and the demands of caterers, DJs, and wardrobe, just to list the most obvious factors that come into play in approaching a bat mitzvah.