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STUDIES ON THE HAGGADAH: From the Teachings of Nechama Leibowitz
 
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Editors: Yitshak Reiner and Shmuel Peerless

* How does the Torah help us to understand why we drink four cups of wine at the Seder rather than five?
* Why does the Haggadah present the four sons in a different order to which they appear in the Torah?
* Why does the Haggadah provide the wicked son with an answer that is given in the Torah to the “Child who does not know how to ask”?
* “And he went down to Egypt: compelled by the Divine decree.” Where in the Torah do we find this decree?
* What unites the plagues in the three groupings in Rabbi Yehudah’s acronym (DeTzaKh ADaSh, BeAChaV)?
* What is the difference of opinion among classical commentators regarding the purpose of the Pesach offering in Egypt?

The essence of the educational approach reflected in the Pesach Haggadah is the question and answer method. Studies on the Haggadah is based on the teachings of one of the outstanding Torah teachers of our generation, Nechama Leibowitz, presenting over 100 analytical questions relating to the Seder and the Exodus from Egypt. Questions extracted from Nechama’s renowned weekly Torah study sheets (Gilyonot) guide the reader through an analysis of the Haggadah text, and the sources upon which it is based, including supplementary biblical texts, Midrashim, and medieval and modern commentaries. Suggested answers are provided by two of Nechama’s students, Yitshak Reiner and Shmuel Peerless. Studies on the Haggadah will provoke discussion and infuse greater meaning into the Pesach Seder.

Nechama’s approach is based on the principle of active learning. The cornerstone of her methodology is the presentation of questions on the Biblical text and relevant commentaries that require the learner to independently analyze and draw conclusions. The Gilyonot (study sheets) on the weekly Torah portion, prepared by Nechama over a thirty-year period, contain textual comparisons, stylistic literary analyses and commentaries that are designed to foster an in-depth study of the sources and raise probing questions. Nechama’s approach to Torah study is thus very compatible with the methodology reflected in the Haggadah. As such, it is helpful and challenging to apply Nechama’s work to the Pesach Seder.

This Haggadah collects questions relating to the Seder from Nechama’s Gilyonot and other writings, and organizes them according to the text of the Haggadah. It includes questions and suggested answers on the text of the Haggadah itself as well as the Biblical verses upon which the Haggadah is based. The purpose of this Haggadah is to enable individuals and families to engage in a meaningful study of the story of the Exodus from Egypt before, during, and after the Seder night experience.

Nechama Leibowitz (1905–97) was among the outstanding Torah scholars and teachers of our generation. Her unique instructional methods are utilized by many contemporary Torah educators throughout the world.


Rabbi Yitshak Reiner studied with Nechama Leibowitz for many years, and is currently involved in the publication of her Gilyonot along with study guides and suggested answers. He has served as the director of the Department for Seminars and Advanced Courses in the Department of Education of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem, and was also the principal of the Tahkemoni Jewish Day School in Antwerp, Belgium.

Rabbi Shmuel Peerless is the director of the Center for Jewish School Leadership at Bar-Ilan University’s Lookstein Center. Previously, he served as the educational director of the Hillel Academy of Dayton, Ohio and the Hebrew Academy of Montreal, and was the director of the World Council for Torah Education. He studied with Nechama Leibowitz for several years, and has written To Study and to Teach: The Methodology of Nechama Leibowitz, which is scheduled for publication.

Hardcover, 159 pages
ISBN: 965-7108-38-1
Publication: March 1, 2002

Praise for Studies on the Haggadah:

[Studies on the Haggadah] includes the full text of the Haggadah in Hebrew and in English translation. The English question and answer commentary includes questions on a variety of levels designed to bring deeper meaning to the Pesach seder for participants of all ages and backgrounds. Studies on the Haggadah also includes brief biographical information on the more than thirty Rabbinic, medieval, and modern commentators cited throughout the text.

Studies on the Haggadah is certain to bring greater meaning to the Pesach seder. It can also serve as an excellent resource for teachers in search of new and engaging material on the haggadah for instructional purposes. …It is, therefore a welcome innovation to apply Nechama's work to the Pesach seder.

Lookstein Jewish Education Digest

Studies on the Haggadah: From the Teachings of Nechama Leibowitz edited by Yitshak Reiner and Shmuel Peerless includes the traditional text with commentary in the form of questions and suggested answers. The editors, former students of Leibowitz, who died in 1997 and was one of the outstanding Torah teachers of this generation, drew the more than 100 questions from her study sheets and other writings as well as from personal conversations; they also added a few questions to fill in gaps. Their answers are based on her analysis of text, which calls on medieval and modern commentaries, supplementary biblical texts and midrashim. The approach of the late scholar is very much in keeping with the spirit of the Haggadah in posing challenging questions.

Danny Levine of J. Levine Books and Judaica sells hundreds of Haggadahs in his store and says that this is the first time he is carrying an edition where he actually studied with the commentator (he spent 1975-76 in Jerusalem). “This really brings her teachings on the seder alive, and the new book is great to make a seder come alive.” He adds that the 160-page book “is not very thick, but it’s very deep.”

Sandee Brawarsky
The Jewish Week

The Haggadah that is capturing the Passover 5762 spotlight comes from...Urim. Framed around the teachings of Jerusalem Bible scholar Nehama Leibowitz, Studies on the Haggadah applies her didactic approach to the Seder night. [It] contains over 100 analytical questions relating to the Seder and the Exodus.

The questions are extracted from Leibowitz's weekly Torah handout sheets, and guide Seder participants through an analysis of the Haggadah text using midrashim, as well as medieval and modern commentaries.

Two of Leibowitz's loyal students, editors Yitshak Reiner and Shmuel Peerless, provide English translation throughout and give suggested answers to such classic questions as: "What is the textual difficulty in Bereishit 2:1-3?," which records that the creation of the world was completed on the sixth day, and then proceeds to say that God completed creating on the seventh day.

The Haggadah includes a touching remembrance to Leibowitz, who died at 92 in 1997, and whose yahrzeit date is on March 18.

Jerusalem Post

Before her death in 1997, Nechama Leibowitz was perhaps the best-known Bible teacher in Israel, if not the world. Her terse essays on the Five Books of Moses, always followed by questions for the reader to unravel, drew on the classic rabbinic commentators as well as modern trends in literary criticism and linguistics. She was no liberal, but she invited a wide-open discussion of text across religious and ideological boundaries and remained throughout her life a role model for Jewish educators, especially women.

In Studies on the Haggadah: From the Teachings of Nechama Leibowitz, editors Yitshak Reiner and Shmuel Peerless have distilled Leibowitz's teachings on all aspects of the Seder observance, from the four cups of wine to the bitter herbs. The full text of the Haggada is included, but the book will be most useful in the hands of a good Seder leader, who can offer up Leibowitz's insights and challenge the guests to find new meanings in passages they have read - or, more likely, skimmed - dozens of times.

Andrew Silow-Carroll
Forward

Studies on the Haggadah: From the Teachings of Nechama Leibowitz, edited by Rabbis Yitshak Reiner and Shmuel Peerless, is a special treasure. Nechama Leibowitz was one of the most beloved, most revered, most widely influential Torah scholars and teachers of the past century.

Born in Latvia in 1905, she moved to Israel in her mid-20’s; she lived there – never departing – until her death in 1997. Her students number in the thousands and have themselves perpetuated their teacher’s teachings and approach to Torah study specifically and to pedagogy generally throughout the world.

Leibowitz’s teaching style, perhaps best described as aggressive Socratic, was based on the principle of “active learning,” as the editors of the Haggadah termed it. She had deep respect for her students, who hailed from every walk and stratum of life. She challenged them to dig even deeper into the text, to probe past the surface, to awaken a quiescent curiosity in the life-affirming search for greater personal meaning and insight into the Torah’s Divine instruction.

For more than 30 years, Leibowitz prepared weekly gilyonot, study sheets, on the weekly Torah portion. Rabbis Reiner and Peerless have collected, from Leibowitz’s gilyonot and from some of her other writings, questions relating to the narratives in the Passover seder, organizing the material according to the prescribed formula of the seder.

The editors provide readers with Leibowitz’s commentary, her questions and even some suggested answers through to the Maggid portion of the seder, that is, until the start of the festive meal. The last entry of commentary before the meal is typical of the level of the discussion throughout the Haggadah.

“The performance of the seder, including the engaging [in] discussion and analysis of the Exodus, is designed to have us relive the liberation from Egypt annually. This experience engenders both an ethical imperative and a theological imperative. Nechama related to both in her studies in Shemot.”

The editors then provide examples of both these imperatives and conclude their commentary with these lofty notions, the last ones on the page.

Like a key that unlocks the door to a room of buried treasure, Haggadat Nechama enables the reader to touch, as if holding in her hand, newer, more shining and beautiful jewels of understanding into the paradigmatic learning experience we call the Passover Seder.

Mordechai Ben-Dat
The Canadian Jewish News

Dr. Nechama Leibowitz was the first internationally acclaimed female Torah scholar. She was born in Riga, Latvia, into a family who valued intellectual Torah knowledge. Her brother was the late Torah scholar Yeshayahu Leibowitz. Although women were traditionally offered less access to Torah study, Nechama’s family were enlightened enough to regard her as an intellectual equal.

In 1919 she began studying German language and literature at Berlin University, culminating in a doctorate in 1930 in Techniques of Judeo-German Bible Translation in the 15th and 16th centuries as exemplified by Translations of the Book of Psalms. She then made Aliyah, teaching in the Mizrachi Teachers’ Seminary. She also was a regular Bible commentator on Israel radio and was appointed Bible professor at Tel Aviv University. Her love of Israel was so great that she refused to leave the country to lecture abroad.

In her teaching, she developed a unique approach in which she compared commentaries on a biblical verse and asked students to submit their responses to her textual queries. These were published in a series of gilyonot (study sheets) on the weekly sedra which lined the walss of her modest Jerusalem apartment.

The editors of this new Haggadah, both former students of Nechama, who died in 1997, have extracted relevant material from the Gilyonot applicable to the Seder night text. This work is an extremely impressive feat of scholarship as well as an easy-to-follow companion for the Seder service.

Doreen Wachmann
Jewish Telegraph

Urim Publications has scored a hit with this latest Haggadah (I liked their Rabbi Carlebach one last year). Little did I know that the late Ms. Nechama Leibowitz was one of Israel’s most popular and respected teachers of Jewish theology. Two of her students have compiled this classic haggadah based on her Torah study sheets (Gilyonot). The seder is supposed to be a symposium for eating and active learning, so the format of this Haggadah is a winner, because it consists of Ms. Leibowitz’s (1905-1997) probing questions and answers, that will force the seder participants to learn, to draw conclusions independently.

For example, for the Maggid, or the telling of the story of the Exodus, Nechama asks: Why does the passage switch from second person singular to second person plural when your read: “In order that you [singular] may tell your child…that you [plural] may know that I am the Lord.”; or for The Four Children, she questions how the rabbis deduced who was the simple and who was the wise child. When responding to the child “Because of THIS, God did for me when I went out of Egypt…”, Nechama questions what THIS refers to, and asks the reader to compare the commentaries of Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and Rabbi Marinus. When discussing the sojourn of 400 years, Nechama questions the meaning of the cantillation notes and the placement of the “etnachta” and how it changes the meaning of the passage. She asks you to contemplate why Rashi wrote that the store cities of Ramses and Pitom already existed. You are also asked to compare the strategies of Pharaoh and Haman to those of Gog and Magog. The section on the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart discusses free will, and brings in comments by Sforno and Resh Lakish to help the reader reach a fuller understanding. I recommend one copy for the seder leader or life experiences melamed (not morah), however it is not for the neophyte, since it requires some grounding in Talmud to get the most out of the book.

Larry Mark
MyJewishBooks.com

Passover is one of the most important and elaborate religious festivals. Its celebration begins on the evening of the 14th of Nisan (first month of the religious calendar, corresponding to March-April) and lasts seven days in Israel.

The Haggadah is a book containing the liturgy for the Seder service on the Jewish festival of Passover. The Seder is a ceremonial evening meal that commemorates the Exodus from Egypt and includes the reading of the Haggadah and the eating of symbolic foods. Only unleavened bread may be eaten throughout the festival, in memory of the fact that the Jews, hastening from Egypt, had no time to leaven their bread. Jewish law also requires special sets of cooking utensils and dishes be used. These may not be contaminated by use during the rest of the year.

The purpose of this book is to encourage a study of the story of Exodus from Egypt. The questions are from Nechama's weekly Torah study sheets prepared over a thirty-year period. She came to learn Torah from medieval commentators. She also was known for how she valued people and this was a reflection of her deep humility. Sources include biblical texts, Midrashim, and medieval and modern commentaries. Yitshak Reiner and Shmuel Peerless give answers. Nechama Leibowitz (1905-97) used unique instructional methods and her approach was based on active learning. Through this book you will be able to independently analyze and draw your own conclusions.
Some of the questions include:

How does the Torah help us to understand why we drink four cups of wine at the Seder rather than five?
Why does the Haggadah present the four sons in a different order to which they appear in the Torah?
"And he went down to Egypt: compelled by the Divine decree." Where in the Torah do we find this decree?
What is the difference of opinion among classical commentators regarding the purpose of the Pesach offering in Egypt?
Some of the features of this book include a chart for the Order of the Seder. Information on how to light the candles, how to recite the kiddush, songs to sing at various times and how to break the matzah.

There is an interesting section on the purpose of the ten plagues. An in-depth study and probing questions that will encourage students to internalize the message presented. For anyone who is new to the Seder traditions.
Rebecca Reads
Top Ten Reviewer for Amazon.com


The learned market segment which traditionally leans to Artscroll has other options to expand their Seder fare. Studies on the Haggadah from the teachings of Nechama Leibowitz draws from Leibowitz’s classic chumash studies to provide new insights.
Deborah Stone, Australian Jewish News