Apr 2, 2007

I prefer the Maxwell House Coffee version, too

Mark Oppenheimer doesn't like the proliferation of Passover Haggadot, the book that's read at the seder. There are feminist versions, vegetarian entrees. You name it there's likely a Haggadah for it.
Many Jews think that if only they could tweak the liturgy just so (or associate the religion with enough Hollywood stars) they would feel better about Judaism. Such longings misunderstand the complex nature of religion. Liberals' desire for religion purely in service to social justice is as wrongheaded as conservatives' conception of religion as social control, and "relevance" is not the only test to apply. Religion makes some of us better people some of the time, but that's not all it's good for. You could found a religion whose core teachings included universal health care and a woman's right to choose, but it would have all the aesthetic grandeur—and durability—of the Green Party. I try to work for peace, animal rights, and higher taxes, but while my Judaism supports those values, I got them from my secular mom and dad. Judaism, to me, is other things: a reminder of my grandmother when I say the mourner's prayer in her memory once a year, a closeness to my neighbors, several of whom will attend a Seder at my house. It helps me appreciate the art of Genesis, say, or Bernard Malamud. Religion is richer, and more interesting, than its implications for public policy. Passover is, too.

Like me, he prefers the Maxwell House Coffee version, which was created in 1934. A blue-covered paperback with a lot of thou shalts and such, it's the version we always used at my grandmother's house when I was a kid.

I thought I was the only one attached to it. But it seems others are, too. Enough to spend pretty big money for a vintage, coffee-stained booklet that your mother or grandma got for free.

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