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25.01.2021 | יב שבט התשפא

Hitler’s Passover Haggadah

If you have never heard of Hitler’s Haggadah, you could never have guessed where it was written or what it contained

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היטלר

Without the proper cultural context, one might even find the title to be somewhat offensive. Rest assured, Hitler didn’t own a Haggadah and even if he did, a book hasn’t been written about it.

Hitler’s Haggadah was published in Rabat, Morocco, in Judeo-Arabic, around 1944. An anonymous author does what the sages told us we should all be doing. We should see ourselves as if the traditional Haggadah is about us, about what is happening in our very generation. And indeed, while sticking rigidly to the classic structure of the “Magid” section of the Haggadah, the author rewrites it to tell the story of World War Two, the Holocaust and the Allied victory over the Nazis – all from the view point of a North African Jew.

The text is deep, dramatic and sometimes comical. Its charm is in its simplicity. Above all, it carries an inspiring message of Jewish unity, solidarity & a shared fate. So, for example, in Hitler’s Haggadah, the ones being kicked out of Egypt are the Italian soldiers and this time it is their Macaroni dough that doesn’t have enough time to rise. The inspiration to publish the text may well have been the author’s witnessing the Allied troops kicking Rommel and the Nazis out of Egypt and as such, the innovation in Hitler’s Haggadah is that this time, it is the forces of evil who are taken out of Egypt!

One might think it is tasteless to have chosen such a title but bear in mind that Hitler’s Haggadah was not a traditional Haggadah but more of a supplement, giving a rewritten take, a modern reading of the Magid section. It may well have served North African Jews during years when reading the actual words of the Haggadah, like redemption, seemed so far away. Moreover, a look into the cultural context proves that there were many such similar texts. To mention one – Hitler’s Megillah, the same idea but for Purim and it was actually intended to be read in synagogue!

Although I am a PhD student writing my dissertation on a medieval kabbalist (Joseph ben Shalom Ashkenazi, 1300), my passion for North African Jewish thought comes from an awareness that my Jewish education, and perhaps that of many others, contains very little knowledge of this rich heritage of North African Jewry. As such, beyond a project of weekly YouTube videos offering brief teachings of North African rabbis on the weekly Torah portion (most of whom don’t even have a Wikipedia page!), I decided to translate the fascinating text of Hitler’s Haggadah into English and publish an edition with a Hebrew and English translation along with artistic illustrations. To do so, I initiated a crowdfunding campaign to secure funding for the project and I am happy to say it was successful.

Pictured: the Hitler Haggadah, which is part of the Haberman collection