The New Union Haggadah to be Published March 2014

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New Union Haggadah

The Society for Classical Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of AmericanRabbis Press have collaborated to publish  The New Union Haggadah, a revised edition. 

The original Union Haggadah was published in 1923, and soon became a cherished seder companion for generations of American Jews.  Its literary beauty, broad universalistic spirit and original artwork, still resonate with many today, but the text needed a update to reflect “the dramatic cultural, social, and spiritual developments of our time.”  The New Union Haggadah keeps the literary beauty and artwork of the original Union Haggadah, and adds:

  • Gender sensitive new union haggadahlanguage
  • An inclusive approach
  • Full transliterations of the Hebrew
  • Miriam’s cup ritual
  • New essays by leading scholars.

The publication of The New Union Haggadah, revised edition,  is expected to be released in March, 2014.  We will post an announcement as soon the book is available to order.

In his introduction the the new Haggadah, Rabbi Howard Berman says:

“This New Union Haggadah represents an important milestone in the long tradition of liturgical innovation of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. The major focus of the CCAR’s publications program since its founding in 1889 has been the creation of new worship materials in response to the dramatic cultural, social, and spiritual developments of our time. The CCAR’s recent prayer books, Gates of Prayer (1975) and Mishkan T’filah (2007), and other resources have reflected the dominant trend toward a reappraisal and embrace of traditional Jewish ritual observance in the Reform Movement. In many cases, while respectfully building on the historical foundations of Reform liturgical practice and drawing on the most enduring elements and texts of the original Union Prayer Book (1894, 1918, 1940), these successor volumes were conscious departures from the earlier styles and formats of historical Reform observance. This was also true of the various versions of the Passover Haggadah that supplanted the last revision of the Union Haggadah of 1923.

A more recent development has been a renewed appreciation for Reform Judaism’s distinctive liturgical heritage. There is a new recognition that the lyrical cadences and majestic phrases of our earlier prayer books remain beloved by many of our people and are the common tradition and shared legacy of all Reform Jews, on every point of the spectrum…There is an emerging trend that affirms the broad diversity of worship styles and approaches to observance in our congregations. A reflection of this pluralism was the founding of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism in 2008, as a voice of advocacy for the reclaiming and renewal of the historical liturgy, music, and broad liberal spiritual principles of our Movement. The Society has become a recognized and respected presence, seeking to collegially and constructively encourage dialogue and shared exploration of these issues, and to creatively develop new resources for carrying this distinctive heritage forward into the twenty-first century.  This New Union Haggadah, the first joint collaboration between the Society and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, seeks to embody this principle.

This volume preserves the literary beauty, the direct and accessible text, and the broad, universalistic spirit that rendered the 1923 version the longest-lived publication in CCAR history. Its stylistic and theological embodiment of the Classical Reform spirit remains cherished by many Reform Jewish families who have lovingly used it for generations and who have continued to conduct the seder from tattered, wine-stained copies of the long out-of-print, gray-covered volume. For this revised edition, we have rendered the majority of the English text in con-temporary, inclusive, gender-neutral language, following the egalitarian values that have guided all of the CCAR’s liturgical developments over the past forty years. In the spirit of Classical Reform, this Haggadah is conceived to be used as a forthrightly and primarily English-language experience, with all of the major Hebrew texts included in transliteration, and accompanied by versions of the most popular holiday songs and hymns that may be sung in both languages. We have introduced new elements in the text as well. These include traditional parts of the Haggadah that were consciously eliminated by the editors of the earlier versions. Our predecessors sought to remain true to the vigorously rational spirit of a liberal faith that rejected superstition and parochialism. The original Union Haggadah consequently omitted such well-known dimensions of the ritual as the triumphant enumeration of the Ten Plagues—considered a “vindictive act unworthy of enlightened minds and hearts.” While they provided for the tradition of welcoming the prophet Elijah, there was no particular ceremony attached to it—reflecting the ambivalence toward what may have been considered a remnant of ancient myth and fantasy.

We have reinstated the recollection of the plagues, retaining the beautiful and moving interpretation originated by Rabbi Herbert Bronstein in the CCAR’s 1974 A Passover Haggadah. This brilliant and creative rendition links the recitation of the plagues to the symbolism of the ten drops of wine—the diminishing of our joy at our own redemption as we recall the suffering of our oppressors. We have also been inspired by the concept of echoing the ancient plagues with those of our own time—also a feature of the Bronstein version—offered here in a new form that weaves the two together. Despite the rationalist objections, Elijah remained stubbornly ensconced in the hearts of most Reform Jews. For the ceremony of opening the door for the prophet, we have reclaimed a little-known supplement created by the Joint Committee on Ceremonies of the CCAR and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1942. This text brilliantly recasts this beloved tradition in the universalistic spirit of Reform Judaism, as an authentic question-and-answer dialogue between parent and child. In addition, we have incorporated more recent innovations that have broadened the embrace and symbolism of the seder—the cup of Miriam and the orange on the seder plate—with explanations that express the heightened awareness and contemporary sensibilities of these popular rituals in a way that complements the rest of the text.Another aspect of the 1923 Union Haggadah that we have preserved is its unique artistic design, which captured the imaginations of generations of Reform families. The distinctive black-and-white Art Deco borders and lettering commissioned for that edition, drawing on ancient archeological and calligraphic motifs, are presented here in full color. We have also built upon the conscious effort of the CCAR to carry forward the long tradition of illuminated and artistically embellished Haggadot, continued in the more recent versions as well. We have conceived of an original approach for this volume that incorporates images drawn from stained glass windows from Reform temples throughout the United States, both historic and contemporary, depicting Passover-related themes and symbols. The introduction to the 1923 edition of the Union Haggadah opened with the following statement:

The moral and spiritual worth of the hallowed institution of the Seder, which has become a vital part of the Jewish consciousness, is priceless. We should suffer an irretrievable loss were it to pass into neglect. To avert such a danger has been the anxious thought to which the Union Haggadah owes its origin.

This passage dramatically struggles faced by the early leaders of the Reform Movement as they sought to negotiate the tensions between a ritually focused Orthodoxy, from which they were courageously departing, and a rational, liberal faith based on intellectual integrity and ethical values. In 1908, when the CCAR published the first edition of the Union Haggadah, these debates were very much alive. At that point, the pioneer Reformers had shifted the locus of religious life and worship from the home to the synagogue, where the principles of a new, modern, liberal Judaism were proclaimed in the liturgy and expounded from the pulpit. Passover was celebrated in Reform temples with well-attended services on the first and seventh festival days, highlighted by the majestic liturgy of the Union Prayer Book’s texts expressing the vision of the “universal Passover” of future redemption and liberation of all humanity. Some of the greatest compositions of the Classical Reform musical repertoire rang out on these days—the grand choral settings of the Hallel psalms and stirring English hymns such as “God of Might,” set to the traditional Adir Hu melody, and “Behold It Is the Springtide of the Year,” original lyrics also set to a traditional Passover chant motif. However, in the early years of the twentieth century, the home seder had indeed declined in popular observance. The leaders of our Movement were confident that a version of the Haggadah, which, like the Union Prayer Book itself, would be “at once modern in spirit and rich in traditional elements,” would renew the compelling meanings of the seder and inspire a revival of its celebration. This goal was indeed fulfilled, and what had been an “anxious” hope was rewarded with the eventual reality today that the Passover seder remains the most observed religious tradition among American Reform Jews.

A further feature of the 1923 edition that we have renewed is the appendix collection of scholarly essays that made the Union Haggadah a rich educational resource for individual and group study. We have enlisted some of the leading academic experts in liturgy and history in the Reform Movement today to provide studies of various dimensions of the historical, textual, and cultural background of the Passover traditions. We believe that this renewed spiritual resource of our Reform Jewish heritage will be an important alternative for many of our people seeking a Haggadah that provides a clear, accessible, “user-friendly” seder experience—one that blends the timeless traditions of the festival with progressive contemporary interpretations. For those who have loved the Union Haggadah throughout their lives, we offer a fresh encounter with a cherished family tradition. For others seeking a distinctive option in the midst of the hundreds of versions of the Haggadah currently available, we trust that this volume will provide a meaningful way for contemporary Reform Jews to celebrate the holiday. We offer this effort in the hope that we have remained true to the vision of the editors of the original Union Haggadah, who created the lyrical and majestic work that we humbly seek only to reclaim and renew. They offered their work as a resource in which “a complete philosophy of Jewish history is revealed, dealing with Israel’s eventful past, deliverance from physical and spiritual bondage, and great future world mission.” Like theirs, may our celebration of Passover e our souls with a love of liberty, and rouse our hearts to greater loyalty to the Jewish people and to Israel’s God of Freedom.”







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