New Haggadah draws on commentary by ‘the Rav’
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New Haggadah draws on commentary by ‘the Rav’

Rabbi Menachem Genack has edited a new Passover Haggadah with commentary by the late Rabbi Joseph D. Soloveitchik. “The Seder Night: An Exalted Evening” is in its second printing after only three weeks on the market.

Genack, an Englewood resident who is rabbi of Cong. Shomrei Emunah there, as well as CEO of the OU Kashrut Division and general editor of the OU Press, was one of the foremost disciples of Soloveitchik ““-a leading talmudist and philosopher in the milieu of Yeshiva University and centrist American Orthodoxy, where he is respectfully referred to as “the Rav.”

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But Genack believes there is a wider appeal to Soloveitchik’s insights.

As quoted in the book, the Rav viewed the seder night as “a night of ecstasy, love, and gratitude,” a time when “the Jew is God-aware and God-loving; he suddenly reminds himself of the many acts of endless kindness for which he is indebted to his Maker.”

Soloveitchik described the Haggadah as “a blend of storytelling, Torah teaching, and eating the symbolic food-items; it is a fusion of the spoken word and the physiological functions of eating and drinking.”

“The Rav was a very compelling person with a compelling message,” said Genack. “He was an astounding genius who … revolutionized the methodology of Torah study and also had a Ph.D. from the University of Berlin in philosophy.

“Choosing from his wide writings, we’ve tried to capture his voice and felt that it would be meaningful to all readers even if they can’t relate to the halachic [legalistic] parts of the Haggadah. He brings depth and understanding in a new dimension.”

In conjunction with K’Hal Publishing, the OU previously released Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur prayer books with Soloveitchik’s commentaries, co-edited by Dr. Arnold Lustiger of Edison and Rabbi Michael Taubes of Teaneck, with an introduction by Genack. The new Haggadah, published in partnership with Ktav Publishers, is the first OU Press title.

Soon to be released are a Soloveitchik bentscher – a grace-after-meals booklet -edited by Clifton resident Rabbi Daniel Besser and Kinot (Lamentations and other elegies) for the Ninth of Av edited by Englewood resident Rabbi Simon Posner. Future volumes are to include the Five Books of Moses; a weekday prayer book; and a Purim Megillah, all with Soloveitchik’s commentaries.

OU President Stephen Savitsky said these publications are in keeping with the organization’s objective “to bring all Jews closer to their heritage.”

The Haggadah is an especially meaningful addition to the corpus, said Genack, because the Rav died during Passover 18 years ago, at the age of 90.

Despite the passage of time, he added, Soloveitchik’s commentaries on the holiday, its laws, and the seder ritual “deepen the experience of the seder night in a way that is relevant in contemporary terms.”

Designed by Teaneck resident David Olivestone, Genack’s colleague at the Orthodox Union, the book uses a contemporary style of English transliteration for Hebrew words in the commentary, while the body of the Haggadah text appears in Hebrew and English on facing pages. In keeping with Soloveitchik’s written convention, biblical personalities and books of the Bible are referred to by their common English names.

The source for each commentary is cited. “[W]e have quoted extensively, sometimes in slightly abridged form, from the Rav’s written works,” writes Genack in the preface. Those works are listed in full at the end of the volume. In addition, Genack gleaned material from audiotapes and lecture notes.

“We worked on the project for two and a half years,” said Genack. “Part of our challenge was sorting out the material and deciding what to put in. We didn’t want to engulf the reader; the Rav had so much to say about Passover that you could drown in it. It was part of his skill to know just how much a listener could handle at once and we tried to emulate that.”

“The Seder Night: An Exalted Evening” is available in Judaica stores nationwide for a list price of $25, at Amazon.com, and at ou.org/haggadah.

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