The Traditional Haggadah began to be compiled two millennia ago, in response to the Roman disruption of Jewish life in ancient Israel. It was compiled to serve as an outline of the order, i.e., seder, of activities at the Passover meal at which we tell the story of our ancestors’ Departure from slavery in Egypt. But the Traditional Haggadah does not include the complete story of the Departure from Egypt, because the compilers presumed the people knew the story well and would tell it at the Passover meal. For that reason, the Traditional Haggadah includes only a summary of the story, together with discussions and anecdotes to aid in understanding it or put a new twist on it. The Traditional Haggadah also includes prayers, instructions about eating ceremonial foods, and prayers. These elements are designed to make the story more vivid and the evening more joyful.
In effect, the Traditional Haggadah was conceived as a set of “director’s notes” for an evening of national religious dinner theater. But over time, the custom developed of reciting the Traditional Haggadah word for word, reciting its brief summary of the story of the Exodus along with the “director’s instructions.” This customary use of the Traditional Haggadah can be confusing.
The obvious solution is to tell the story of the Departure from Egypt, using the Traditional Haggadah as it was intended: to supplement to explain parts of the story and to guide us in prayers, rituals, and song. Surprisingly, none of the thousands of Haggadot published in the past century has followed this approach. Rather, many recount the liberation of other nations, groups, or social classes, omit material from the Traditional Haggadah, or add material about contemporary Jewish matters.
Yet, the story of the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt – our story – is an engaging and amazing story. It is one that deserves to be told. The Seder is the place to do it and the purpose of the Exodus Haggadah is to make it possible for all Jews, regardless of schooling, to do so in a meaningful way.