Forward Thinking

A Digital Haggadah? Now That's Just Wrong.

By Mordechai Lightstone

  • Print
  • Share Share

The “Ultimate Digital Haggadah” as viewed on an iPad.

On my shelf I must have a dozen Haggadahs, some annotated, others illustrated and one even illuminated. I have thick hardcover tomes and soft Maxwell House prints — each one serves a different purpose.

But the Haggadah that I use each year, the one that I treasure and would feel remiss celebrating Passover without, is a simple softcover Haggadah that I purchased perhaps a decade ago. True, my other Haggadahs may be nicer — they have deeper insights and better stories, cleaner typesetting and sharper text — but none of them are my Haggadah.

My Haggadah was purchased at a Judaica store in Montreal a few days before I led my first public Seder in Kaunus, Lithuania. I clutched it in my hands when speaking to 120 Lithuanian Jews in the city that once had 35,000 Jews, but today has less than 1000.

Since then my Haggadah has traveled the world with me — across Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Canada, Mexico and the U.S. Where I go for Passover, it goes with me.

More than just the physical space my Haggadah has traveled, it’s the very wear and tear on its pages that attracts me to it. The pages, already worn with age, are blotted with wine stains that float above the text like dark purple clouds. In the corners are my notes — which songs I’d like to sing, which thoughts I’d like to highlight. This storied Haggadah doesn’t only tell of the Exodus from Egypt; it tells of my own personal Exodus as well. Each year has left its mark on these pages, and like rings on a tree, they tell a story of my growth and change. It has accompanied me as I’ve learned and grown as a Jew and as a person. I look at its pages and see a map of my personal journey. Here I was leading a Seder for the first time. Here I was joined by my wife, and here by my son, and yet later, my sons.

All of this is why I was saddened to read about the proliferation of digital Haggadahs this year. True, I abstain from all electronic communications on the holidays. But there is something particularly dispiriting about the idea of a digital Haggadah.


Even in the digital world, there is some consternation about the proliferation of apps. Apps, unlike the open web, are closed systems. Cut off from the greater web, they create specific experiences that are disconnected from the greater corpus of digital knowledge. They are walled gardens — often beautiful, but isolated.

How much more so on Passover, when we celebrate not just our birth and future, but our connection to our past as well. We sit around the same tables and join in the same discussions, we read the same core text, we join the web of Jewish Seders that dates back millennia — and we pass down a physical record of that process from year to year.

Unlike apps, which are here today and obsolete tomorrow, the physical Haggadah remains. Perhaps a little like the People of the Book, it may seem slightly outdated, but deep down inside we know that it was written with passion and will remain for generations to come.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: haggadah, digital haggadah, Seder, Passover2 2014, Passover

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.