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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Another Haggadah On The Market, But This One Is Special

A Review of the Kol Menachem Haggadah
By: The Commentator

Posted: 4/7/08

With over 3,000 editions on record, the Pesach Haggadah stands as the most printed Jewish text of all time. Practically all the great Rishonim and Akharonim published their own commentary to the Haggadah. And if they didn't, then Artscroll has likely put something together based on other assorted writings within the last twenty years.

Rabbi Soloveitchik has a Haggadah and Shlomo Carlebach has one, too. So, then, why shouldn't the Lubavitcher Rebbe have one, also?

In fact, before he took his place as Grand Rabbi, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn printed Likutei Ta'amim u'Minhagim, a commentary of the Haggadah that, aside from serving as a standard running commentary on passages of the text, aims to articulate the halakhic positions and customs of Chabad for the seder night. Although there have been several reprints of the Rebbe's first printed work - including a more esthetically pleasing retyped version in 1991 by Kehot - Rabbi Chaim Miller, author of the popular Kol Menachem/Gutnick Library series featuring the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, felt the need to bring to light a new commentary.

The new book is in English, ensuring that newcomers to Judaism, many of whom are in that position due to Chabad, will be able to appreciate the work. A mixed blessing, the Rebbe's vast writings for the most part remain in Hebrew and Yiddish. While many of us are comfortable with Hebrew, later generations are powerless against Yiddish while many struggle with the Hebrew texts. Moreover, many of the Rebbe's texts are "collections" without much of an order, making it difficult for readers to study the Rebbe's thoughts on subjects that may be found sporadically throughout the Rebbe's printed volumes.

Thankfully, Rabbi Miller's recently published Kol Menachem Haggadah solves these two problems. With great elegance, Rabbi Miller presents a dual commentary below the standard Haggadah text. In one section entitled Classic Questions, the reader will find, as he will in all books within the Kol Menachem series, thoughts and comments of over one hundred rabbinic scholars who lived throughout the ages. Most familiar with the Haggadah will quickly realize that this section offers an interesting selection of commentaries to very standard and often-asked seder night questions. Although this part of the book offers some halakhic insights as well, it serves mostly as a raid of rabbinic commentaries so that those who use the Kol Menachem Haggadah won't feel left out of the conversation.

The novel section of the work is most certainly the Toras Menachem section found at the bottom of every page. In this skillfully edited portion, Rabbi Miller utilizes writings found in Likutei Ta'amim u'Minhagim, the Rebbe's commentary of Rashi, and other writings and testimonies by Chabad's deceased leader and those who were close to him. Moreover, while it is certainly too limited in space to serve as an update for Likutei Ta'amim u-Minhagim, Rabbi Miller takes advantage of including an array of the Rebbe's teachings in lamdus, mysticism, halakhah, and of course, p'shat.

The only criticism one can reasonably hold over the beautifully laid out volume is that it incorporates very little memories and narratives about the Rebbe's seder table. Indeed, while Rabbi Miller writes in his foreword that he used Otzer Minhagei Chabad, a previously published account of the Rebbe's seder customs as observed by his students, and information culled from discussions with others close to the Rebbe, he elected not to be a storyteller. As a major figure of twentieth century American Judaism, it seems critical for the historical record that such narratives are produced. Owing to the breadth of this text's interests, it would seem fitting that stories of the Rebbe's seder be included along with his halakhic and exegetic commentaries.

But it would be unfair to say that we will merely "settle" for this important and monumental Haggadah worthy to be used at any seder table this Pesach.

© Copyright 2008 The Commentator

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