Monday, April 9, 2012

Haggadah and Zionism (and Rav Kasher)

Pesach is the "Zionist" holiday par excellence. Not just as events originally unfolded in ancient times, but also as refracted through a twentieth-century lens by modern Zionist re-interpreters. In the early decades of the twentieth century it was not uncommon to find "Hatikva" appended at the conclusion of printed Haggadot and the great popular Haggadah artists of mid-century (e.g., Szyk and Forst) blended ancient and contemporary themes into a continuum of imagery.
Even Rav Kasher was swept up in this euphoria of Haggadah Zionism. Many are familiar with his encyclopedic Haggadah Shelemah (1967), but his earlier Eretz Yisrael Haggadah (1950) has fallen by the wayside. It happens to be one of my favorites for various reasons,* one of which includes its Zionist pathos. For Rav Kasher, Pesach was about yestzi'as mitzrayim (exodus), but also contemporary shoah (Holocaust) and tekumah (national renaissance). He even promoted the idea that the era was ripe for the adoption of a fifth cup of wine as part of the standard Haggadah ritual. Rabbinic literature long knew of a fifth cup, reflecting a fifth language of redemption--ve-heveisi ("and I will bring"). Living in the very midst of post-1948 kibbutz galuyos (ingathering of the exiles), what better way could there be to recognize the aschalta di-geula (flowering of the redemption) than by drinking a fifth cup of wine with a separate beracha in order to commemorate ve-heveisi!**
Well here we are more than half a century later. For most of us the Haggadah is once again nothing more than a document of ancient history. We mumble through hashta avdei le-shanah ha-ba'ah benei chorin ("this year we are slaves, next year we will be free people") and sing le-shana ha-ba'a be-yerushalayim ("next year in Jerusalem") without really thinking about it. Personally, I have barely been able to get myself to sing the latter for the last few years. Has it really become a matter of ilu nasan lanu es artzos ha-beris li-peletah ve-lo hevi'anu le-medinas yisrael--dayenu!?
* It is printed on heavy stock paper; includes a simple and accessible commentary; contains an appendix with realia, etc.; and is adorned with a wonderful bifolio steel engraved illustration. The Hebrew-only edition contains additional material in the appendix. Whereas Haggadah Shelema is an academic-type publication appropriate for scholars engaged in research and laypeople preparing for the seder, the Eretz Yisrael Haggadah is a great table-side haggadah. (Later editions were printed on poorer paper and reproduced the bifolio engraving in a less-than-pleasing manner.)
** Rav Kasher's Haggadah Shelemah contains an expanded essay on the Fifth Cup, but in this work he retreated somewhat from his initial support for instituting the practice. The instructions in the haggadah text itself don't refer to it and in the appended essay he seems to argue that it is a good idea to drink a fifth cup but not to recite a beracha (one should have the fifth cup in mind when reciting the beracha over the fourth cup). The essay makes no mention of the modern post-1948 ve-heveisi and in general the edition is devoid of any Zionist character. One should, however, be cautious in attributing this apparent volte face to him having experienced a change of the heart with regard to modern Israel. Indeed, after the Yom Kippur War Rav Kasher published a tract to refute claims that the 1973 war proves that the Zionist endeavor lacks Divine approbation.

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