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Should the Hagadah be Recited in Hebrew?


Question:

I remember as a child sitting at my family's Seder and not being able to understand a word of what was going on because the Haggada was read in what sounded like Hebrew or Yiddish or both. Now that I am college I want to make a Seder with my friends, but some of them (who read and understand Hebrew) say it has to be read in the original and that the translations are only to help people understand what they are reading in Hebrew. Is that true? It seems that the main thing is that the meaning be conveyed from generation to generation. How can that be if people don't understand and therefore don't enjoy the experience?



AskTheRabbi.org answered:

First of all, I'm sure you are grateful to your parents (and their parents and their parents...) for having had a Seder even in a language you didn't understand. For that reason you know that you are a Jew, and that Jews make a Seder, and that as a Jew you want to understand the Seder that you'll do. When you call your family to wish them a happy Passover may I suggest you thank them for imparting you with an appreciation of Judaism, nostalgically recall with them the special times you've had together on Passover in the past, and tell them that you'll miss them this year on Passover.

As far as reading the Haggada in Hebrew is concerned, whenever possible, it is very nice to include the original flavor of the Holy language to the Seder and other ceremonies. Grappling with reading and comprehending Hebrew can serve as a challenge to spur our Jewish learning and help us appreciate that Jewishly, there is still very much for us to learn. This might also serve as an impetus to invest time in preparing for the Seder beforehand to become familiar with what we'll be doing.

That being said, you are certainly correct that the purpose of the Haggada is to pass the message of Passover from generation to generation — haggadah means to relate and publicize. Therefore it can (and should) be said in any language in order for the participants to understand what's being 'passed on'. This is particularly true regarding children. The Haggada should be said not only in a language they understand, but in a way they can relate to — with challenging questions, songs, drama and suspense.

Many people try to find a workable balance between reading the Hebrew vs. comprehension. Each section can be read and translated; some can be read in the original while others not; or most can be in another language while central parts are recited or sung in Hebrew — like the four questions. Here it is important not only to understand the questions, but to hear the answer. At the Seder, surprise your friends who know how to read the questions in Hebrew by asking them if they know the answer to the questions even in English. Do your homework!


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