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Studies on the Haggadah


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Editors: Yitshak Reiner and Shmuel Peerless

* How does the Torah help us to understand why we drink four cups of wine at the Seder rather than five? 
* Why does the Haggadah present the four sons in a different order to which they appear in the Torah?
* Why does the Haggadah provide the wicked son with an answer that is given in the Torah to the “Child who does not know how to ask”? 
* “And he went down to Egypt: compelled by the Divine decree.” Where in the Torah do we find this decree?
* What unites the plagues in the three groupings in Rabbi Yehudah’s acronym (DeTzaKh ADaSh, BeAChaV)?
* What is the difference of opinion among classical commentators regarding the purpose of the Pesach offering in Egypt?

The essence of the educational approach reflected in the Pesach Haggadah is the question and answer method. Studies on the Haggadah is based on the teachings of one of the outstanding Torah teachers of our generation, Nechama Leibowitz, presenting over 100 analytical questions relating to the Seder and the Exodus from Egypt. Questions extracted from Nechama’s renowned weekly Torah study sheets (Gilyonot) guide the reader through an analysis of the Haggadah text, and the sources upon which it is based, including supplementary biblical texts, Midrashim, and medieval and modern commentaries. Suggested answers are provided by two of Nechama’s students, Yitshak Reiner and Shmuel Peerless. Studies on the Haggadah will provoke discussion and infuse greater meaning into the Pesach Seder.

Nechama’s approach is based on the principle of active learning. The cornerstone of her methodology is the presentation of questions on the Biblical text and relevant commentaries that require the learner to independently analyze and draw conclusions. The Gilyonot (study sheets) on the weekly Torah portion, prepared by Nechama over a thirty-year period, contain textual comparisons, stylistic literary analyses and commentaries that are designed to foster an in-depth study of the sources and raise probing questions. Nechama’s approach to Torah study is thus very compatible with the methodology reflected in the Haggadah. As such, it is helpful and challenging to apply Nechama’s work to the Pesach Seder.

This Haggadah collects questions relating to the Seder from Nechama’s Gilyonot and other writings, and organizes them according to the text of the Haggadah. It includes questions and suggested answers on the text of the Haggadah itself as well as the Biblical verses upon which the Haggadah is based. The purpose of this Haggadah is to enable individuals and families to engage in a meaningful study of the story of the Exodus from Egypt before, during, and after the Seder night experience.

Nechama Leibowitz (1905–97) was among the outstanding Torah scholars and teachers of our generation. Her unique instructional methods are utilized by many contemporary Torah educators throughout the world.

Rabbi Yitshak Reiner studied with Nechama Leibowitz for many years, and is currently involved in the publication of her Gilyonot along with study guides and suggested answers. He has served as the director of the Department for Seminars and Advanced Courses in the Department of Education of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem, and was also the principal of the Tahkemoni Jewish Day School in Antwerp, Belgium.

Rabbi Shmuel Peerless is the director of the Center for Jewish School Leadership at Bar-Ilan University’s Lookstein Center. Previously, he served as the educational director of the Hillel Academy of Dayton, Ohio and the Hebrew Academy of Montreal, and was the director of the World Council for Torah Education. He studied with Nechama Leibowitz for several years, and has written To Study and to Teach: The Methodology of Nechama Leibowitz, which is scheduled for publication.

Hardcover, 159 pages
ISBN: 965-7108-38-1
Publication: March 1, 2002

Praise for Studies on the Haggadah:

[Studies on the Haggadah] includes the full text of the Haggadah in Hebrew and in English translation. The English question and answer commentary includes questions on a variety of levels designed to bring deeper meaning to the Pesach seder for participants of all ages and backgrounds. Studies on the Haggadah also includes brief biographical information on the more than thirty Rabbinic, medieval, and modern commentators cited throughout the text. 

Studies on the Haggadah is certain to bring greater meaning to the Pesach seder. It can also serve as an excellent resource for teachers in search of new and engaging material on the haggadah for instructional purposes. …It is, therefore a welcome innovation to apply Nechama's work to the Pesach seder.

Lookstein Jewish Education Digest

Studies on the Haggadah: From the Teachings of Nechama Leibowitz edited by Yitshak Reiner and Shmuel Peerless includes the traditional text with commentary in the form of questions and suggested answers. The editors, former students of Leibowitz, who died in 1997 and was one of the outstanding Torah teachers of this generation, drew the more than 100 questions from her study sheets and other writings as well as from personal conversations; they also added a few questions to fill in gaps. Their answers are based on her analysis of text, which calls on medieval and modern commentaries, supplementary biblical texts and midrashim. The approach of the late scholar is very much in keeping with the spirit of the Haggadah in posing challenging questions. 

Danny Levine of J. Levine Books and Judaica sells hundreds of Haggadahs in his store and says that this is the first time he is carrying an edition where he actually studied with the commentator (he spent 1975-76 in Jerusalem). “This really brings her teachings on the seder alive, and the new book is great to make a seder come alive.” He adds that the 160-page book “is not very thick, but it’s very deep.” 

Sandee Brawarsky

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