Dear Friends,

We are excited to share with you a Scribes of the Seder Haggadah for 2018. See below for more information about what makes this special, including background information on the Cairo Geniza and Passover.

What Makes this Haggadah Special?

We used the power of the crowd to help us create this Haggadah. Volunteers in the Zooniverse Scribes of the Cairo Geniza project (we call them #genizascribes) have been helping to sort through fragments from the Cairo Geniza. As they go, they’re using the talk boards, a forum for tagging and commenting on fragments, to identify special things they see and to ask questions about them. These #genizascribes have been identifying portions from various haggadot using the #haggadah or #passoverhaggadah tags. They made the work of putting together this Haggadah easy!

Combining fragments tagged in the talk boards by volunteers with a few others that our team suggested, we ordered the fragments according to their place in the seder. You’ll notice that the text on these fragments may differ from the modern Hebrew you expect to see in a Haggadah today. First, there are differences due to changes over time and across communities in the ways that the holiday is celebrated. In addition, while all of the fragments may look like they are written in Hebrew, in fact, some are written in Judeo-Arabic (Arabic written in Hebrew Script) and Judeo-Persian (Persian written in Hebrew Script), as well as other languages.

We hope this patchwork haggadah invites people to look critically at the texts that they use on the holiday. If you look carefully, some traditions that we consider part-in-parcel of a seder were not so in the 10th-13th century; three questions instead of the traditional four?; saying the blessing over hand washing during urchatz?

Background

  1. What is a Haggadah? — Haggadah (huh-GAH-duh or hah-gah-DAH) literally means “telling” or “recounting.” A Haggadah refers to the book Jews use on the first and second nights of Passover as the basis of the Passover Seder. Haggadot (plural of Haggadah) have been used for millennia and recount the exodus story of the Jews escaping slavery in Egypt and are interspersed with commentary and a large meal.
  2. What is a Geniza, and specifically the Cairo Geniza? — The Cairo Geniza contains over 350,000 fragments of paper and parchment. Up until the late 19th century, these fragments were housed in the attic of the Ben Ezra Synagogue, located in old Cairo. A Geniza is a temporary storage chamber for worn documents and books that contain Hebrew characters, considered sacred in Jewish tradition.A Geniza is a storeroom or repository for old, used, and/or damaged Torah scrolls and other texts regarded as sacred in the Jewish tradition. This practice originates from the sanctity of G-d’s Hebrew name in Jewish tradition. Due to the sacred nature of religious texts with Hebrew characters, they cannot be haphazardly thrown away; rather, they are placed in a temporary storage space, a Geniza, and then they are buried in a cemetery. However, for unknown reasons the Jews of Cairo never buried the majority of their worn manuscripts. Their uncustomary practices are also found in the content of the manuscripts themselves. They are both of a religious genre and an everyday nature; Prayer books and marriage contracts are intermingled with court petitions and shopping lists. Dating mostly from the 10th-13th centuries CE, the documents from the Cairo Geniza are widely recognized as the most important documentary source for reconstructing the social, economic, political and religious lives of Jews and the other inhabitants of the premodern Mediterranean basin.

How Can You Help?

  1. In the next phase of the Scribes of the Cairo Geniza project, we’ll invite volunteers to transcribe fragments from the geniza based on the sorting that our #genizescribes have done so far. So, keep an eye here, and on Zooniverse for the transcription phase coming in Spring, 2018!
  2. Join Zooniverse and help sort the fragments. You don’t need to be able to read Hebrew or Arabic, and while there may be more haggadah fragments we haven’t found, there are all kinds of interesting texts, both religious and secular in the geniza!
  3. The Hebrew and English text in this Sefaria version are not perfectly matched to the images. But perhaps you’d like to make your own Hagaddah using these texts. Feel free to make an account on Sefaria.org , copy this source sheet, and make it your own! Tag your new sheet with #sederscribes!

Resources

Explore and make your own Haggadah at https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/105137

Visit the full project site at https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/judaicadh/scribes-of-the-cairo-geniza

For more information on this topic, see: An Early Passover Haggadah According to the Palestinian Rite by Jay Rovner in The Jewish Quarterly Review Vol. 90, №3/4 (Jan. — Apr., 2000), pp. 337–396 Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press DOI: 10.2307/145475 Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1454759

For a full list of the fragments used in this project, see the full list here. https://github.com/judaicadh/sederscribes/blob/master/README.md

Credits

Thanks to all of the #genizascribes for their work sorting and identifying fragments. Especially to @dianadavtian, @js613, @joelr, @BarbaraM230, @noamsienna, @emfish1212, @Shir-El, @amoss84, @SarahtheEntwife, @MosheLavee, @jjb516, @dmdubin, @jlocke42, @PhyllisHW for spotting and tagging Hagaddah fragments.

Members of the project team Laura Eckstein, Vered Raziel Kretzmer, Arthur Kiron and Laurie Allen put this patchwork Hagaddah together. Also thanks to the participating libraries for sharing their collections of Geniza fragments.

And Sefaria.org and Zooniverse.org for making platforms that inspire this kind of thing.