Project of IISHJ

The Humanist Haggadah – Excerpt

Humanistic Judaism, Spring/Summer 1979, (vol. 7 no. 2, p13-15)


Passover is the celebration of life. The story of life is a long story. It is an epic tale of over two billion years. We have deep roots and many memories. We have lived in the sea and flown through the air. We have faced many enemies and survived many struggles. We have learned to endure. We are proud survivors. We are human.

Passover is the celebration of life. The story of the Jewish people is the victory of life. Against the fury of destiny, against the odds of history, the Jewish people has survived. We are an old people, tested by the cruelty of circumstance. From the birth of our nation to the very present, death has pursued us with relentless fury. But we have chosen to live. Neither Pharaoh nor Caesar nor Hitler can destroy our will to survive. The memories of destruction are matched by the experience of a good world. We have endured slavery and humiliation. We have also enjoyed freedom and power. Our ancestors traveled the planet in search of safety and liberty. We are here today because they never lost hope.


Are there any questions?



(The Four Questions Follow in the Text)

Why is this night different from all other nights?

On all other nights, we eat either bread or matsa. Why, on this night, do we eat only matsa?

On all other nights, we eat ordinary greens. Why, on this night, do we eat bitter herbs?

On all other nights, we do not dip food in any condiment. Why, on this night, do we dip food twice?

On all other nights, we do not hold a special feast. Why, on this night, do we hold a special celebration?


MAGGID (Story)

These questions are important questions. But before I answer them, let me tell you the story of Jewish hope.

Our forefathers lived in the land of Israel. But their children have wandered the earth to look for freedom and dignity. Our roots are in Israel. But our branches travel the surface of the globe.

Some of our ancestors traveled to Egypt. It was a time of famine and they were hungry. The king of Egypt welcomed them and gave them food and shelter. In later years, an unfriendly king became the Pharaoh of Egypt. He made them slaves and burdened them with heavy work. But they resisted despair choosing hope, they fled from Egypt. They returned to Israel and created a free nation. Passover celebrates their will to live.

 Our forebears also traveled to America. The rulers of Europe were often cruel and hateful to the Jews.

They drove them from land to land and filled their lives with terror. Our fathers and mothers did not despair. Having heard of a free land across the sea, they pursued their dream. They endured the danger of long voyages and unknown places before they reached their destination. Their exodus from persecution, was an epic drama. Never before in the history of our people had so many traveled so far to find their liberty. Because of their foresight, we are here tonight to celebrate our freedom in a free land.

We cannot forget the bold rebirth of the state of Israel. What began as a vision of dreamers became a reality of practical men and women. Some came to avoid hatred. Others came to build love and unity. They traveled from the four corners of the earth seeking what no other land could give them; the power of roots and the dignity of belonging.

The search for freedom is also the will to live. The exodus from Egypt is one of many victories. In every century we have chosen to survive. Passover celebrates this undying resolution which unites our past with our present, and our present with our future.


AKHAVA (Second Cup of Wine)

The fate of every person is bound up with the fate of the Jewish people. And the destiny of the Jewish people cannot be separated from the destiny of all humanity. We are a world people, living in many lands and among many nations. The power of science has shrunk our planet and has made all of us the children of one human family. Since no one of us can survive alone, we must all learn to live together. Brotherhood is born of shared need and shared danger. Passover celebrates this human will to live. We can no longer be fully Jewish unless we recognize that we are also fully human.


We seek freedom for Israel.

We seek freedom for all nations.

We seek freedom for all the world.





(All present raise their goblets and drink the second cup of wine.)


AYLEEYAHOO (Cup of Elijah)

Life is hope. Without the vision of better things, we suffer from boredom and despair.

Throughout the history of our people the name Elijah has been the sound of hope. Elijah was a leader and prophet in ancient Israel who led a people’s rebellion against a wicked government. Tradition says that he never died and that he will return some day to announce freedom for all the people of the world.

The cup of Elijah is the special cup of hope. It reminds us that hope is something we have with us here and now. Hope is not a feeling we wait for. It is a commitment to the future we help to create.

The song of Elijah is the song of hope. As we sing it, let us open the door of our house and invite Elijah to enter.


We welcome Elijah.

Elijah is our name for hope.

We welcome hope.


(The door is opened.)






(The door is closed. All present raise their goblet and drink the fourth and last cup of wine.)

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Note on sources: The Jewish Humanist  was the monthly newsletter of The Birmingham Temple. The periodical Humanistic Judaism was the quarterly journal of the Society for Humanistic Judaism. The Center for New Thinking was Wine’s adult learning program beyond Humanistic Judaism. Selections from Wine’s books are appropriately cited.
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