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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.


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