Caryl Herzfield’s illustration for the cover of the Lieberman Open Orthodox Haggadah

The Lieberman Open Orthodox Haggadah
By Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld
The Orlofsky Edition
Gefen Publishing House, 2015, Pp 178

Reviewed by Carol Novis

Every year brings its new crop of Haggadot – some traditional, some with their own particular points of view. Since 1482, when the first recorded Haggadah was published in Guadalajara, an estimated 3,000 different versions have been printed.

Last year marked the introduction of the Lieberman Open Orthodox Haggadah, by Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, a traditional Haggadah with a special emphasis on pluralistic issues within Judaism.

Open Orthodoxy is a movement within Orthodox Judaism that combines halachic adherence with openness in many areas. For example, women are encouraged to learn on the same level as men, to take leadership roles and, if they wish, to study to become Maharats, or female spiritual leaders. The plight of agunot* is seen as urgently needing a solution; in fact the Haggadah is dedicated to agunot. Inclusiveness is also an aim, meaning that minorities such as the mentally challenged and members of the gay community are looked at sympathetically within the context of Judaism. Many of its rabbis even support the Women of the Wall (anathema to Haredim) and agree with the feminist tradition of placing an orange on the seder plate to symbolize the women’s place in Judaism. Some also interpret “kol isha” – hearing a woman’s voice – liberally; which is to say, applying the prohibition not to ordinary singing but only to singing intended for sexual stimulation.

Given this open approach, I was interested in what this Haggadah, so empathetic about “the other”, would have to say about the passage “Pour out thy wrath upon the nations,” or, indeed, whether it would be left out entirely. The passage is left in, but Rabbi Asher Lopatin explains it by saying that it does not apply to all non-Jews, but calls Jews together to stand up for their dignity, focusing on casting out the bad to enable the good – the Jews – to praise God.

Issues are discussed in relation to the traditional Haggadah text, which sometimes means that there are articles and comments that, however interesting, have only a slim relationship to the text of the Haggadah itself.  These are called Open Orthodox Discussions. For example, one writer links the need to speak out against evil in the world, as Moses did about Pharoah, to celebrating Martin Luther King Day, which is said to be entirely consonant with the Jewish tradition.

There are essays throughout the Haggadah by a variety of writers including Rabbi Avi Weiss, who posits a fascinating theory that the patriarch, Yitzchak, had characteristics often found in individuals with Down’s Syndrome. From this he concludes that those who are mentally or physically challenged can be in some senses our teachers.

This Haggadah presents the traditional text, but it also includes a great deal more. For those who are open to a pluralistic approach to Judaism, the Lieberman Haggadah offers much food for thought.


*A halachic term for a Jewish woman who is "chained" to her marriage.

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Carol Novis

Carol Novis grew up in Winnipeg, Canada and studied English Literature at the University of Manitoba. She subsequently lived in Ottawa, London, England, Cape Town, South Africa and...

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