Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach

haggadah-216 The Story Behind The Haggadah

This haggadah grew out of my desire for a seder text that cherishes the tradition and also augments that tradition with contemporary poetry, moments of mindfulness, and a theology of liberation. It evolved out of a haggadah I created for home use, which in turn evolved out of the Williams College Feminist Seder project of which I was a part in the early ’90s.  I’ve been sharing the haggadah on my blog and on the web for a long time. It’s been used all over the world, from Massachusetts to California, London to Australia, Alaska to Niger. I’m gladdened and gratified that so many people resonate with it.

As of March 2020, version 8 has been slightly updated to version 8.2. Here’s the latest edition of the PDF: VRHaggadah (pdf). And here’s the cover: VRHaggadahCover (pdf)

As of March 2021: Here’s a slide deck of the haggadah — this link will enable you to make a copy before editing. 

FYI: Bayit’s pre-seder materials (included in this deck) are intended to flow directly into karpas. The slide deck also includes the “old” karpas slides that were already in the haggadah. So you’ll likely want to delete a few slides as you figure out which of the karpas slides you want to keep. (You may of course also want to add your own slides reflecting things you love that aren’t in my deck.)

Media Mentions:

Which Haggadah is Right for You?, Andrew Field, The Jewish News, 2020. “Barenblat’s Haggadah… is reverent toward tradition without being afraid to augment it with poetry, mindfulness and discussions about oppression. For the devout, the feminists and/or the mystics.”

A Powerfully Relevant Haggadah to Download, Sue Tomchin, Jewish Women International, 2017.  “[W]e want to introduce you to a valuable resource, especially if you want to add punch and poetry to your Seder…The VR Haggadah contains the essential Seder elements, but isn’t rooted in any one branch of Judaism. And one doesn’t have to be affiliated to find it meaningful. Though not a feminist Haggadah as such, women will find themselves reflected in the text through poetry and readings by Barenblat and others.”

A Place at the Table: The New American Haggadah, Erica Meitner, The LA Review of Books, 2013. “Our Jewish community is a motley crew of Israeli expats and refugees from Jewish hometowns married to non-Jews, all of us employed by the large state university in town: physicists, economists, liberal arts professors, administrators, business school faculty, and school teachers. // The one thing all of my Seders have in common since I’ve left New York is the ubiquitous photocopied Haggadah, the manual for the Passover Seder. Because I’m a poet and English professor moonlighting part-time as a doctoral student in religious studies, I’m usually in charge of the Haggadah. For the past two years we’ve been using a hacked-up-and-amended version of the free-to-download The Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach, assembled by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. Her politics resemble those of most of the liberal egalitarian academic Jews at our Seder, so it’s an easy fit.”

Praise for the VR Haggadah:

I just went through your hagddah and as always – most impressed by your inspiring, clear, funny, deep and accessible teachings. — Amichai Lau-Lavie, Lab/Shul

There are so many stunning poems in ‘s latest Pesach Haggadah I don’t know what to do with myself. – Rachel Rose Reid

It’s an amazing Haggadah – honoring the ancients while reaching deep into the heart of the present moment with a resonant vision for the future – I feel blessed to be gifted this incredible resource! — Zelig Golden, Wilderness Torah

I wanted to thank you for creating your Haggadah. Someone in my office brought it to my attention. I lead a small seder for my very elderly parents and immediate family, and also lead a large seder for my father’s extended family — there were 38 this year, including 8 little children… When I read yours I loved it and decided to modify it to include some of our own traditions. I used it at both seders this year — kept your cover page and your last page so there was complete crediting! — and it went over really very well. In particular, the way you handle Israel and “next year in Jerusalem” is great… So I just wanted to let you know that your work impacted a lot of people in a very positive way and I’m grateful that I found it and to you for creating it. — Ed Case,

For the second seder this year, I knew that I was going to have a diverse group of guests and was looking for a haggadah that would help make it traditional enough for everyone to experience a ritual that would be recognizable to Jews anywhere, but accessible enough for everyone to connect without difficulty. With your help, it was an amazing experience for all – 6 Jews (secular to Orthodox, Ashkenazi and Sefardi, American and Finnish), 3 Tibetan Buddhists, 1 French Catholic, and 1 German Presbyterian. If that were not enough, dayenu, one of the non-Jewish guests was so moved by the seder that she brought two passages from your haggadah to the board meeting at the foundation where she works the following day and used them to open their grantmaking agenda. I heard about this from the foundation’s founder and executive director when I went there for an interfaith meeting of religious feminists a couple of days later. They were also deeply moved and are now on my guest list for next year. — Becky, The Pareve Baker

I wanted to find a version [of the haggadah] that captured the beauty and soul of Pesach to my English-speaking non-Jewish partner and I am delighted to have stumbled across your work. – Noa For years, I have been trying to add readings or construct a haggadah that linked the mythical journey from slavery and idol worship to our personal journeys from inner enslavements toward liberation. I was never quite happy with the product. I came across yours, and we used it this year — it was exactly what I had been looking for, and really helped to make our Pesach more meaningful. – Alexander

I was blown away by the insights and freshness that I found in your haggadah. – Tony I am in the process of converting, and I have struggled to find a haggadah that reflects not only my Judaism, but my feminism and my politics. This is finally one that I can share with my family as I lead my own seder for the first time. Thank you for offering the world this method of telling the story of our freedom. – Natalie

I found your Haggadah on the internet and I just have to say thank you! Thank you for lifting my spirit and giving me strength for the journey. Thank you for sharing. — Chaplain Hilda

After much research and attempts to make my own Haggadah, I stumbled upon yours! THANK YOU!!!!!! What a beautiful haggadah. People were moved, engaged, involved and present! Thank you, thank you and thank you!!! — Sandy

We used the Velveteen Rabbi Haggadah at our first night seder and it was a big hit! I’ve been getting texts and emails from my guests since monday saying that it was the best seder they’ve ever been to and how they could get copies of the haggadah!– Yakov

This year I insisted my family use this feminist pacifist Haggadah instead of our long-time family Haggadah (militarist and patriarchal) or the replacements my father got a few years ago (militarist, patriarchal, and subtextually racist). I expected to have to fight, but my father made three copies of my print-out without any argument, and then … apparently liked it so much he used it for the second seder, too, even though I wasn’t there to force him to. — coffeeandink

I’ve been using your Haggadah (combined with a few others) for the past few years in my seders of 20-something transient types, and each year, people are struck by how thoughtful, relevant, and engaging the readings you’ve compiled are. Thanks for the work that goes into putting it together! — Josh

It is a beautiful haggadah. Worth reading and studying and using. — Rick

A friend hated breaking from the reading in order to eat! — Lorelei

Incredibly well-honed and interesting and real. — Sandy.

I wanted to let you know we used your hagaddah this year at our family’s seder. We seem to use a new one every year because we can’t find one that’s just right, but I think we’ve found it now, in the VR hagaddah. I particularly liked your reminders about the types of enslavement we should be aware of in modern times, your essay about being mindful when eating during Passover, as well as your note on Israel, and what we mean when we use the word Israel in the context of the seder. With my Palestinian Muslim boyfriend at the table with us, it was important to make that distinction to help him feel more comfortable. We also really liked your comment about Moses, and why he isn’t a more focal part of the story. Last year, when my boyfriend and I did a small seder with just the two of us, he asked me why Moses wasn’t featured more fully, and I had no answer, nor did I really notice his absence to be honest! This year, he got his answer from the hagaddah – so that’s another reason he really liked it as well. — Harmony

We’re grad students as were all our guests, and while my friend and I, and a few others, are Jewish, the majority of our guests are Christians, Agnostics and even Atheists. So, it was with some trepidation that we hosted a seder, but we really wanted to share this important time with our closest friends. Everyone said afterward that they found something meaningful and inspiring to take away from the night, and that they were sincerely grateful to have been included. So thank you for your wonderful haggadah that inspired people holding so many different beliefs to come together in such a joyful celebration! — Alaina

The seder went BRILLIANTLY! Folks loved your haggadah (although we did shorten it a bit since there were 50 people and it was a bit mayhem-like). There were some smiling moments of, “hey, this isn’t my grandma’s haggadah!!” and then huge grins. — danah

My wife and I used your Velveteen Rabbi Haggadah for our Seder last night and had the most incredibly gratifying experience. Everyone loved it. We were all so grateful for the absence of sexism and the persistent call for peace – we had everyone eat an olive when we introduced that feature on the Seder plate. We are so grateful to you for putting this together. — Clifford

Your haggadah is stunning and I am so excited that you posted it; I have been having a ton of anxiety about not having the time to put together my own seder this year, and low and behold — your haggadah gets posted. And I am liberated! — Ellen

This haggadah is truly amazing. Passover has always been my very favorite holiday, but as my political sensibilities have evolved, the celebration has become tinged with the constrictions of patriarchy and culture-boundness. I have longed for newer traditions that might challenge my family to collectively expand our understanding of oppression, and what our role is in interrupting it for not just Jews, but for all who suffer. — Bree

Thank you for putting your wonderful Haggadah up on the web. I plan to use portions of it to supplement our seder here. I want you to know that I used your opening benediction in the Haggadah as our Prayer at the Anchor today. Every noon meal at the Naval Academy is opened with a benediction and since Pesach is right around the corner I chose to remind our midshipmen students of the teachings of Passover. Thank you for your prayer, it was perfect. — Rabbi Daniella Kolodny (US Navy rabbi)

Thank you so much for making your wonderful Haggadah publicly available. I led Seders using it two nights in a row (in Michigan, in case you are keeping track of where it has been used) for very different audiences. One was only for my immediate family: my spouse, my parents, and my sister, and the other was for a group of 20 at my aunt’s house. Both groups really liked it, and it definitely felt like we were “setting our seders free” as in the Reb Zalman quote you referenced on your blog. The poetry was especially well received. — Mike

My wife and I live in London, in the far western suburbs. Googling “Haggadah” I came across your Haggadah. I want to tell you that we all loved it, and it really added enormously to our Pesach. For the first night I copied some of the poems which we read (we always go round the table with everyone that wants to reading a bit). On the second night we went straight through it. — Rolfe

Along with a college friend, I hosted a seder for the first time this Passover – we invited five of our non-Jewish friends. Not wanting to buy any haggadot, I searched and searched online, and so many of them had really dry English readings, which is not good when most of your participants do not know Hebrew and have never attended a seder before. But I was delighted when I came across your haggadah! It is such a beautiful compilation of readings, and really gets across the universal message of freedom inherent in Passover. It made for a wonderful seder. — Molly

We used your updated haggadah in a seder of friends this passover and I’m writing to thank you for putting in the time and effort to create such an accessible and meaningful haggadah. The seder was a huge hit. About half the attendees were Jewish–and we were impressed by the clear language and the inclusion of the classic parts of the seder (including the key Passover songs) that we care about. Many of our other guests had never attended a seder before, so the clarity of the story telling was very important to us. It was such a pleasure to have a text that lent itself well to communal reading by everyone present. I didn’t have to worry that my religion was being presented in a way that made me feel uncomfortable and I didn’t need to wade through readings that feel irrelevant to the meaning of passover. Everyone loved the story of the orange on the seder plate–I had only heard the apocryphal story about a rabbi saying a woman belongs on the bima as much as an orange belongs on the seder plate — and enjoyed learning the fuller meaning behind the orange. I also really enjoyed your poetry and the ways that you kept the seder story current–which of course it is. — Kate (Anchorage, AK)