Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe
Back to Opinion

A Digital Haggadah? Now That’s Just Wrong.

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.

Engage

  • Events

    Haart to Haart

    Virtual

    Dec 7, 2022

    7 pm ET · 

    A conversation with Julia Haart and her son Shlomo, stars of Netflix's 'My Unorthodox Life,' about the new season and much more.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.