Wednesday, January 27th, 2021

Books of Interest: Pesach Related Works

March 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Books of Interest, New Posts

Rabbi Norman Lamm, The Royal Table:  A Passover Haggadah, ed. Joel B. Wolowelsky, OU Press, 2010.

The Commentators’ Bible:  The JPS Miqra’ot Gedolot (Exodus and Leviticus), ed. Michael Carasik, Jewish Publication Society, 2009.

Kenneth Chelst, Exodus and Emancipation:  Biblical and African-American Slavery, Urim Publications, 2009. 

Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, אחריך נרוצה, Yediot Aharonot Press [Hebrew].

OU Press has released an enjoyable haggadah culled from the writings of Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, long-time leader of Yeshiva University and founding editor of Tradition.  Yeshiva University recently created a website dedicated to Rabbi Lamm’s heritage, including the compilation of many years of drashot given as the rabbi of the Jewish Center.  Based on these drashot, Dr. Joel Wolowelsky (associate editor of Tradition) pieced together, in a fully coherent fashion, a running commentary to the haggadah.  Since the original remarks were delivered for a popular audience, the comments are extremely accessible, running for a few paragraphs, and giving enough space to deliver a clear message without getting lost in overly technical or scholarly discussion. 

As drashot, the remarks frequently include some form of homiletical message.  Some include familiar themes from Rabbi Lamm’s other writings, now applied to the haggadah.  Others include novel insights into the story or message of Passover, which readers will enjoy transmitting as divrei torah at their own seder.  The volume also concludes with a few lengthy drashot delivered on themes in Shir Ha-Shirim.  All in all, this is an enjoyable commentary and is a welcome contribution to library of haggadot and modern Orthodoxy.

Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Chelst has written a book of great interest comparing the story of the Exodus with African-American slavery.  As is well know, abolitionists and civil rights advocates regularly recalled the Bible in their struggle  for equality.  Chelst, however, tries to show that our understanding of the Biblical story is greatly enhanced if we compare to the more recent (and better documented) story of black slavery.  The book is very well researched, and offers numerous examples of fascinating comparisons.


There have been many versions of Mikra’ot Gedolot (books including multiple Biblical commentators) created, and multiple translations written of the famous Biblical commentators.  Prof. Michael Carasik, however, has attempted to make available, for the first time, the Mikra’ot Gedolot experience in English.  I admit that I was quite skeptical at first when I opened the book; however,  I was pleasantly surprised at how well Carasik has edited the relevant commentaries to make them accessible yet substantive to the English reader. 

Carasik appropriately focuses on 4 major medieval commentators – Rashi, Ramban, Ibn Ezra, and Rashbam – as these four probably represent the commentaries that have had the greatest long-term impact.  To make the work accessible to English readers, he has omitted extended discussions regarding grammar (if people can’t learn the original Hebrew, the detailed grammatical notes will not excite them) as well as positions already stated by other figures.  Additionally, he tries to relate the interpretations of these commentators to the two provided English translations of the Biblical text, the New JPS translation (1985) and the Old JPS translation (1917).   He also provides additional notes where he sprinkles in comments from other important medieval commentators, including Seforno, Radak, Ralbag, and others.  [See here for a sample page, and here for his FAQ regarding his methodology.]  I used the Vayikra volume this past shabbat, and found that the anthology successfully trasmitted the major points of the commentaries.  While any abridged version can never fully re-create the richness of the original text, this work will certainly make possible a meaningful learning experience for the English reader, and those looking to explore the Exodus story in-depth will find the Shemot volume as a valuable resource. 

Also of Interest:  Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, Rosh Yeshivat Hesder in Petah Tikvah, has penned a commentary to Shir Ha-Shirim, relating to both pshat and drash interpretations, as well as contemporary implications of its message. 

- Shlomo Brody

 From the Books of Interest Archives:

Joseph Tabory, JPS Commentary on the Haggadah: Historical Introduction, Translation, and Commentary, Jewish Publication Society, 2008. 154 pages.

Rabbi Prof. Joseph Tabory of Bar Ilan University has written a number of significant essays and books on Passover rituals, including his Pesach Le-Dorot (1996) on the history of the Paschal sacrifice. JPS thus wisely chose him to compose this scholarly yet accessible haggadah, which will surely be enjoyed by both laymen and scholars alike.

Over the past several years, several historical-critical analyses of the Haggadah have been written, the most significant of which is the Haggadah of the Sages (Hebrew, 1998) by Shmuel and Ze’ev Safrai (which has now been translated into English). Tabory has taken this reserach, added his own insights and opinions, and penned a consise yet thorough 69-page historical introduction to the Haggadah. While Tabory is historically thorough, he does not elaborate with textual proofs and argumentation. This makes his text more understandable and enjoyable to read, although those looking for textual discussion would best look elsewhere.

As a seder night haggadah, the layout is crisp and the translation is sharp. The actual commentary to the Haggadah is consise but at times sparse, making it less thorough, yet at the same time, more usable for quick Seder night reading.
As with most historical-critical commentaries, there is very little homiletical or philosophical reflection, but for those looking for a great explanation of the history of the Haggadah, this is a wonderful choice.

- Shlomo Brody

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