My Haggadah (Leonard Baskin & Elie Wiesel)

I grew up in the 1970s with the CCAR Reform Haggadah with the gorgeous prints by Leonard Baskin. Since these were some 20 or so purchased Haggadah, they stayed with my family year in and year out. After my father got sick, I took over the family Seder. With each passing year, I grew more and more tired of this version’s text of the Haggadah. What I minded most of all were the overt expressions of conventional liberal pieties into the main body of the text, which by the 1990s had become quickly dated. I found myself wanting a more traditional text, unadorned by editorial commentary.

But I could not imagine giving up the Baskin images. I cannot tell you how much I love these pictures, how powerful I still find them, and the deep currents of nostalgia they continue to evoke for me. For the text, I still have some affection. The commentary reads very much like a timepiece. But whatever you think of the text, the CCAR Reform Haggadah is, in my estimation, simply the most beautiful Hebrew-English Haggadah I’ve ever seen. The Baskin prints respect the grisly, awesome violence of the story in ways that cutesy commentaries and cutesy illustrations tend to obscure, because, really, the “truth” told by the Haggadah is awful and unflinching.

Wanting to keep the images and find a new text, I finally settled with the Elie Wiesel Haggadah. The Elie Wiesel is a relatively straightforward text with not too much commentary. Most importantly for my purposes, it runs Hebrew and English texts one after the other down a single page column (as opposed to running Hebrew in separate columns on opposite sides of the page-spread, Hebrew on the right and English on the left). This format allowed me to match up the text on one side and the Baskin prints on the other side of the double page-spread of “my Haggadah.” The big black and white Hebrew letters, English text and whimsical black line-drawings in the Wiesel Haggadah compliment the color saturated images by Baskin.

This allowed me to find “a better text” in which to house and to keep the Baskin images. The decision was both aesthetic and filial.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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