There are a few texts in Judaism in which we simply do not know who the author was, and the Passover Haggadah (story of the exodus from Egypt, including prayers and rituals) is one of them.
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
Take a look at the inside cover of your Haggadah – you won’t find the name of any author! So how did we get the Haggadah that we have today?
The authorship of the Passover Haggadah is a subject which is both intriguing and mysterious, with no clear answers. It is essentially book which has evolved from its original form over time, and continues to do so. Indeed, there may very well be no other text in all of Judaism that has been published so many times, in so many editions, as the Passover Haggadah.
Nevertheless, we can trace the Haggadah from its earliest beginnings. The Haggadah, as is the case with the siddur (prayer book) and even the Tanach (Torah, Prophets and Writings) itself, were all projects that were initiated by the Anshei Knesset Hagedola, the members of the “Great Assembly” – the supreme council of sages that ruled during Temple times in Jerusalem. They were the first to compile and canonize many of the texts that we have today.
The Haggadah, however, was only started during that era but it was not completed until much later. For example, it is evident that the Chad Gadya (“One Little Goat”) poem that is sung at the conclusion of the seder (ritual meal on the first night of Passover) only found its way into the Haggada at a much later time. This is because Chad Gadya was written in Aramaic (not in Hebrew!), which was the vernacular of the Jews of Babylon. Some suggest that Chad Gadya was written by Rabbi Eliezer Rokeach (12th century). On the other hand, the famous and beloved Ma Nishtana (“The Four Questions”), which is generally reserved for the children, is clearly of older origin, as it is taken directly from the Talmud. The song Adir Bimlucha (His Mighty Reign”) originated in the Land of Israel.
The section of the Haggadah which discusses the four rabbis who stayed awake all night in B’nei Brak discussing the Exodus from Egypt is cited in the works of the Tosfot (11th Century). We know that the Avadim Hayinu (“We Were Slaves”) section was written by Rabbi Eliezer Hagadol (2nd Century). The closing passage of Chasal Siddur Pesach (The Seder is Complete”) was added to the Haggadah by Rabbi Yosef Tur-Elam (11th century).
Rabbi Yaakov Moelin, known as the Maharil (13th Century), seems to be the first authority to cite the poem Vayehi B’chatzi Halayla (“And it happened at midnight”). There are a number of other haggadic pieces such as Kamaa Ma’alot Tovot (“How Many Favors He Did For Us”), Vayered Mitzrayima (“They Went Down To Egypt”), Rabban Gamliel (“Rabbi Gamliel”) and Nishmat (“The Soul Shall Praise You”) that can be traced to the Talmudic era. We know that famous commentator Rashi’s Haggadah included the Dayeinu (“It Would Have Been Enough”), a poem which was likely introduced by Rav Saadia Gaon (9th Century).
The first known printed Haggadah as we have it today was made in 1485 in Venice, Italy.