If you’ve been to a Seder in the United States some time in the last 80 years, you’ve probably come across the Maxwell House Haggadah.
The iconic blue cover and dual-column Hebrew and English translations have arguably become almost as emblematic of the holiday as the Seder plate and Elijah’s cup among Jews of the Diaspora. It has appeared in the suitcases of Soviet immigrants bound for Israel, been carried onto every battlefield the US military has fought on since 1933, and been the guest of honor at the Obamas’ White House Seder.
The Maxwell House Haggadah owes its existence to the Joseph Jacobs, a former advertising manager for the Forverts who started the Joseph Jacobs Advertising agency in 1919, which specialized in selling ads for Jewish publications. In 1923, Jacobs convinced Maxwell House Coffee, then owned by the Cheek Neal Coffee Co. out of Tennessee (it’s now owned by Kraft Foods, Inc.), to invest in an advertising campaign targeting Jewish consumers.
Until then, the coffee bean had been seen as a legume, a bean not kosher for Passover. “Jewish grocery stores would put away coffee with the chametz under the incorrect assumption that coffee beans were kitniyot when in fact they are technically a fruit not a bean in that sense,” explained Elie Rosenfeld, CEO of Joseph Jacobs Advertising.
To spread the word, Jacobs had an obscure Lower East Side rabbi certify that coffee beans were an acceptable post-Seder treat. To drive the point home, he placed an ad in the Forverts, announcing to all Yiddish speakers that Maxwell House Coffee was Kosher L’Pesach, or kosher for Passover (see original ad below).