a two-page spread from the Asufa haggadah: on the left, an illustration of the characters of the Exodus as if they are on a Star Wars movie poster; on the right, the text of the "Vehi She'amda" portion of the seder
Each two-page spread of the Asufa haggadah includes different artwork by a different Israeli artist, including this one, in which artist Tomer Ben Yair depicts the characters from the Exodus story as if they're on a Star Wars movie poster.

AI rushes in, but the best of 2023’s new haggadahs are human-made

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Like the fractious Israelite rabble that joined in the Exodus from Egypt, the annual mishmash of new haggadahs has washed up on my desk once again. Each one adds to the riot of voices that have seized the Passover seder as their own over the generations. Among this year’s crop are haggadahs that are learned, liberatory, stylish — and, perhaps inevitably, AI-generated.

One of four alternate covers of the 2023 Hebrew-only edition of the Asufa haggadah
One of four alternate covers of the 2023 Hebrew-only edition of the Asufa haggadah

The Asufa haggadah is an annual release by the Israeli arts collective Asufa, which has earned its place on this list for a fifth year. This haggadah includes the complete traditional Hebrew text of the seder, each two-page spread adorned with a colorful, full-bleed illustration by a different artist. The result is a brilliant clash of art styles that mirrors the clash of voices in a lively seder.

This year, you have two options: the new all-Hebrew edition with all-new art, and the Hebrew-English version. This is only the second time Asufa has produced a bilingual edition. Like the first one, this one includes some of the best art from the last few years of the Asufa haggadah, including a personal favorite that renders the characters of Exodus as a Star Wars–style epic, with Moses wielding a staff that glows like a lightsaber.

cover art for Haggadah Min HaMeitzar“Haggadah Min HaMeitzar: A Seder Journey to Liberation,” subtitled “A Traditional and Radical Haggadah in Four Voices,” is a very fine addition to the floppy paperback, progressive, heavy-on-the-commentary haggadah subgenre. “The seder can be awe-inspiring and transcendent, cozy and comforting, overwhelming and infuriating” the author Gabriella Spitzer writes in the introduction. “This Haggadah does not hide the beauty or the challenges in our tradition. Instead, it provides commentary and perspectives to help us all find new meaning.”

The commentary is organized into “four voices,” a tactic that fits nicely in a ritual replete with fours — questions, cups, children, etc. The four voices are Chag HaCheirut (festival of liberation); Chag HaMatzot (festival of matzah, this strain of commentary is about Passover as an “embodied” holiday); Chag HaAviv (festival of spring, commentary about climate); Chag HaPesach (festival of Passover, this commentary is about narrative and history). Pick one voice and stick with it throughout the seder, or mix and match as you go — either one would result in a deep and thoughtful seder.

The four voices reflect the author’s interests and identity as well: Spitzer is a Boston-area artist and Torah scholar whose work touches on queer and environmental themes. This haggadah is explicitly queer, evident in the commentary as coming organically from the author/editor’s own experience.

cover of the "fuck visibility! trans liberation haggadah"The queerness of “fuck visibility! a trans liberation haggadah” is its raison d’etre. This is the haggadah of the Pink Peacock, a queer, Yiddishist, anarchist, pay-what-you-can café in Glasgow, Scotland. It reads like a powerful, liberatory scream — a community currently under threat, responding in the language of liberation and ritual. It is as shocking and radical a read as I imagine the early feminist haggadahs were when they were new in the 1970s.

This is a haggadah that opens with Hinei Mah Tov, followed by a “blessing for trans,” which proudly declares, “holy and blessed are we, for being different from the cis.” And that’s followed by a “daloy politsey” (“down with the police” in Yiddish) blessing. It also includes several handy vegan recipes.

It isn’t the right haggadah for me to use at my seder (as made clear by the occasional directions about which parts of this haggadah are not for me, a cis person, to participate in). But it is a powerful piece of Jewish liturgy to behold in a moment when trans people are so thoroughly under attack in our society.

“The Chabad.org Haggadah” is as you would expect: well designed, inviting, easy to understand — and unabashedly Chabad. This year marks its third edition. Its overall approach is summed up nicely in this explanation of zeroa, the shank bone, on the seder plate: “Literally, the front leg of a sheep or goat. Since that probably won’t fit, any piece of meat will do. Chabad custom is to use a chicken neck.” So this haggadah gives you the basic explanation, the practical explanation and the sometimes slightly unusual Chabad explanation. If you or your family are new to the seder and want to explore it from an Orthodox perspective, this haggadah may work for you.

a two-page spread that includes an illustration of a woman lighting candles and an illustration of a seder plate
The seder plate page of “The Chabad.org Haggadah”

the cover of the Shakespeare HaggadahAmong the crop of new haggadahs every year, there are always the shlocky, pop culture-y entries. They are cute. Sometimes. (See last year’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”–themed haggadah by Dave Cowen. Do not see this year’s new Kanye West haggadah by… Dave Cowen? These annual columns are like a time warp.) It’s hard to call Shakespeare pop culture in the 21st century, but the new edition (ahem, “second folio”) of “The Shakespeare Haggadah” hits the same sort of pleasures, if you’re in the know. If you love the Bard and don’t need your haggadah to bring its own Jewish depth to the seder, this one may work for you; I certainly got a kick out of it.

There are two partially AI-written haggadahs making the rounds this year. One, by Haggadot.com, is positioned somewhat comedically, while the other, Haggad.AI by Royi Shamir and Yitz Woolf, wants to be taken seriously. Haggad.AI is replete with “original” “commentary” created by ChatGPT and “original” “artwork” by Midjourney. (Its most attractive feature, its clean but fun, modern layout, was done by traditional biological beings.)

The plagues spread in Haggad.AI
The plagues spread in Haggad.AI, with artwork generated by Midjourney from the prompt: “Egypt, passover, ten plagues, Blood, Frogs, bodyLice, Gnats and Flies, Diseased Livestock, Boils, Hail and Thunder, Locusts, Darkness, and Death of Firstborn, medieval style, fresco style”

Some of the art is cool, but I find it hard to take the bland, midrash-style commentary by ChatGPT seriously. I have imagination enough to entertain the future possibility of an AI with neshamah enough to write a haggadah, but ChatGPT just isn’t it. (An index in the back of the haggadah lists all the prompts fed into Midjourney and ChatGPT to produce the AI-generated material.)

A final note of practicality: If you want everyone at your seder to use the same haggadah, that can get pricey. The Jewish Community Library of San Francisco offers Haggadot in a Boxfull sets of a single haggadah you can borrow. They have several to choose from, but my favorites are “A Different Night: The Family Participation Haggadah” and its follow-up, “A Night to Remember.”

Corrected March 28 at 3:57 p.m.: This piece originally stated, incorrectly, that the Midjourney prompts used in Haggad.AI were not listed in the haggadah.

David A.M. Wilensky
(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
J. The Jewish News of Northern California Staff Headshots.
David A.M. Wilensky

David A.M. Wilensky is director of news product at J. He previously served as assistant editor and digital editor. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @davidamwilensky