What makes a Passover seder special? Maybe it’s the meal? Or is it the people we dine with? Perhaps it is the ancient songs that we join together in singing. Indeed all of these aspects of the evening contribute to the beauty of the event, but it is the haggadah that makes the Passover seder the most widely observed Jewish ritual around the world. The anchor of the evening, the haggadah, meaning “telling,” dictates the seder (order) of our night. It is in here that we read about the Passover story, are instructed to invite guests to our table, and are encouraged to rejoice in song and feast.
From Torah, we are commanded only to observe the Passover fast and to recall the story. Like so many texts in our tradition, the haggadah guides the rest of the seder customs but its authorship is unknown. According to Jewish tradition, however, the first haggadah was likely compiled around 200 C.E. during the Mishnaic period. The first words may have been drafted as early as 170, but a Talmudic statement suggests the earliest completion about the time of Rav Nachman. However, there remains some dispute as to whether the Nachman being referenced is Rav Nachman Bar Yaakov (circa 280) or Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak (circa 360). However, an alternative theory emerges from the Malbim (Meïr Leibush ben Jehiel Michel Weiser), a 19th century rabbinic scholar, and a minority of commentators, who argue that the haggadah dates to the era of Rav Yehuda haNasi (~100 CE), perhaps even put together by Nasi himself.
One has to pass through about one thousand years of history, however, to find evidence of written haggadic text. The oldest known manuscripts date to Saadia Gaon in the 10th century, but it is not until the 14th century that we find a haggadah as a standalone work. That document, “The Golden Haggadah” was compiled about 1320 and was followed shortly thereafter by the “Sarajevo Haggadah.” 1486 saw the publication of the oldest confirmed printed haggadah by the Soncino family from Italy. Interestingly, the advent of the printing press did little to foster the creation of new haggadot; in the eighteenth century, less than 250 editions are known to have existed. Only in the modern era have Jewish communities seen great expansion, with the last two centuries seeing upwards of 2,500 editions.
Here is a digital illustrated Haggadah as an example of the many Haggadot that are available.
If you wish to print a digital Haggadah for your guests at your Seder, you might want to consider Overnight Prints. For a 32 page booklet in a quantity of 25, the cost is around $3 apiece.