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Haggadah History

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 17/4/2020

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Haggadah History

The word הגדה comes from והגדת לבנך,[1] tell your children on that day... The Haggadah was initiated by the Anshei Knesses Hagedola, the supreme council of sages that ruled during Temple times in Jerusalem. Although the minimal fulfillment of this Mitzva is a simple recounting of the going out of Egypt and explaining a few of the Pesach symbols, appropriate fulfillment requires much more. To enhance this Mitzva, over time additions have been made to the Haggada—many of which gained wide acceptance that they became part of the Haggada. The additions include Chad Gadya and Dayeinu. R’ Saadia Gaon[2] (882-942) had neither Dayeinu or Chad Gadya in his Haggadah, although he did recognize the existence of Dayeinu.[3] Rashi (1040 - 1105) as well as the Rambam (1138-1204) didn’t include Chad Gadya in their versions of the Haggadah, although Rashi did include Dayeinu. In the Machzor Vitri, R’ Simcha of Vitri,[4] includes sections which we don't say today. Although Rashi himself didn’t say them, they were said in Provence, France in his day.


The changes of the Haggadah came to an end in the late middle ages, aided by the invention of the Printing Press, which enabled the basic Ashkenazic version which had been endorsed by the Arizal to be accepted even in Sephardic communities.[5] The text is based upon the Haggadah of R’ Amram Gaon,[6] who headed the Babylonian Yeshiva of Sura between 856-876. This text was endorsed by Rashi. R’ Amram's Haggadah concluded with the after blessing on the fourth cup of wine. It didn’t include Chasal Siddur Pesach. Different Piyutim (poetic prayers) were added to the Haggadah of R’ Amram Gaon, including Chasal Siddur Pesach,[7] Az Rov Nissim,[8] Ki Lo Naeh Ki Lo Yaeh,[9] Adir Hu, Echad Mi Yodea and Chad Gadya.[10]
Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] Shemos 13:8

[2] R’ Saadia Gaon said that he belonged to the noble family of Sheilah, son of Yehuda. He called his son Dosa, after his ancestor R’ Chanina Ben Dosa.

[3] The Avadim Hayinu section was written in the second century by R’ Eliezer Hagadol. The section of the Haggadah which speaks of the four rabbis who stayed awake all night in Bnei Brak discussing the Exodus from Egypt is cited in the works of the Tosafos (eleventh century).

[4] R’ Vitri, who died in 1105, was a student of Rashi.

[5] The first known printed Haggadah as we have it today was made in 1485 in Venice, Italy.

[6] He was the first to arrange a complete liturgy for Shul—Siddur Rav Amram.

[7] This was authored by R’ Yosef Tur-Elam I, who died in 1040.

[8] This was authored by R’ Yannai, the ninth century Rebbi of R’ Eliezer Hakalir. A later custom reported by Maharil (circa. 1365-1427) adds the words: ויהי בחצי הלילה before the words אז רוב נסים.

[9] The author is unknown but cited by Eitz Chaim, Rabbi Yaakov bar Yehuda of London (circa. 1285)

[10] The earliest known inclusion of Chad Gadya—of whom we don’t know the author—is in Sefer Rokeach (1160-1238). Hundreds of explanations have been written on it. The Chida (1724-1806) writes that the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797) wrote more than ten different explanations!   

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