In their new Haggadah, Foer (who edited the text and accompanying commentary) and Englander (who translated the traditional Hebrew and Aramaic text) take delight in the book’s complexities, and they use its contradictions to celebrate the act of reading itself. This is a Haggadah one must literally grapple with: it is large enough that sitting at a crowded table, you’d have to hold it against your body and spread your arms out to keep it open. The text runs in multiple directions: there is the traditional Hebrew text and a parallel English translation printed vertically. At the top of most pages, printed horizontally, there is a time line enumerating signal events in Jewish history—to read it, you have to turn the book clockwise by ninety degrees. The commentary to the main text is contained on horizontally printed pages that require turning the book another ninety degrees, this time counterclockwise, and you encounter blocks of closely printed text floating on the page, inviting a mood-dependent dive-in.
All this crisscrossing text and rotating of the book make us aware of its material qualities—its generous proportions and visual amplitude—while also linking to the kind of reading we do on the Internet, skipping around, following our instincts, finding unexpected connections. It’s a version of the Haggadah particularly suited to our age of distraction, and yet, it also demands serious attention. The turning of the book brings to mind a famous phrase about the Torah by the Talmudic rabbi Ben Bag-Bag: “Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it.”