Is The New American Haggadah Worth Buying?
Is Jonathan Safran Foer's years-in-the-making project featuring a translation by Nathan Englander and commentary by modern writers like Jeffrey Goldberg, Rebbeca Goldstein and Lemmony Snicket worth the money? And if it not, why not?
The New American Haggadah
Little, Brown and Company
$29.99 ($17.99 on Amazon.com)
• Not constrained by existing rabbinic commentary
• Not burdened by multiple halakhic opinions on how parts of the seder should be done
• Simple and easy to follow in either English or Hebrew if you don't want to read the commentary or the timeline during the seder
• Unusual translation choices (i.e., Elohaynu as "God of us," etc.)
• A too large size that makes it nearly impossible to use at any but the most uncrowded seders
• A bizarre design that forces the reader to rotate the book to read the commentary
• A bizarre design that forces the reader to rotate the book to read the timeline
• Commentaries that do not reference existing rabbinic or historical works because the commenters are often unfamiliar with them
• Commentaries which are, to those educated in Judaism, weak (except perhaps for Jeffery Goldberg's, which does not suffer from as many of the problems the others have)
Should you buy it for next year?
Hard to say. If Little, Brown comes out with a smaller, easier to handle paperback edition that fixes the bizarre book design problems and prices it low enough to make it viable to purchase multiple copies for use at your family seder, then yes, it probably is worth buying.
If it remains similarly sized and similarly priced without fixing any of the design problems that plague it, then you might want to wait for a secular haggadah to be published, a haggadah that is produced by knowledgeable scholars and which makes use of and cites historical research.
As it is, Foer's haggadah may win awards. But like the poorly designed English language translation of Steinsaltz's Hebrew Talmud translation and commentary (which was also acclaimed by people with little Talmud learning background or expertise, and who sometimes had undeclared connections to Steinsaltz and/or his editors) look for it on your bookstore's remainder/bargain table in a Passover or two, if not sooner. Steinsaltz only had design and publication problems; its content was first rate. The same cannot be said for Foer's haggadah.