Just in time for one of the most unusual Passover seder nights in recent memory, acclaimed scholar Vanessa Ochs has come out with a new book on the history of the haggadah.Regarding that ancient echo:
“The Passover Haggadah: A Biography” is Ochs’s contribution to the Princeton University Press Lives of Great Religious Books series, which includes explorations of the Book of Genesis and the letters of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Yet the haggadah brings some unique challenges.
Ochs writes that the first haggadot were oral instructions mentioned in the Mishnah and its supplement, the Tosefta. In the Tosefta, she finds “an ad hoc Passover home ceremony taking place between 70 and 200 CE and beyond.” Citing Prof. Judith Hauptman, Ochs writes that compared with the Mishnah, the Tosefta’s haggadah “was briefer and less elaborate,” and it “may even have come first.”
Ironically for those planning virtual seders today, the original seders had their own virtual quality for Jews who could not worship at the Second Temple following its destruction in 70 CE.
“Certainly, the seder in the Mishnah grafts ancient practices of the Passover pilgrimage holiday in Jerusalem involving the sacrifice of lambs at the ancient temple,” Ochs said. “In its place, it became itself the first virtual Passover.”
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