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March 26: The Maxwell House Haggadah

March 26, 2014
800px-Barack_Obama_hosts_a_Seder_dinner_2009-e1363796784635The creator of the Maxwell House Passover Haggadah, Joseph Jacobs, a former advertising manager with the Jewish Daily Forward who founded his own advertising firm in 1919, died at 75 on this date in 1967. Jacobs created the Maxwell House Haggadah as a publicity tool for the coffee company in the 1930s. More than 50 million copies have been printed to this day, making it the most widely used (and most complained about) haggadah in the world. In 2011 it was redesigned, with a more modern translation. The campaign began when “Jacobs noticed that coffee sales among Jews fell considerably during Passover because they believed the coffee bean was a legume and thus not kosher for Passover . . . The agency hired an Orthodox rabbi who declared the coffee bean was . . . actually a berry or a fruit . . .” President Obama used the Maxwell House Haggadah at his White House seders in 2009 and 2011. “Eliminating words like ‘wherefore’ (for why) or ‘heavy bondage’ (for slavery) were obvious. . . . Also obvious was adoption, whenever possible, of language that is not gender-specific, especially when referring to a Deity who is not gender-specific. ‘Everyone should be comfortable using the Haggada,’ said [Henry] Frisch [a retired high school teacher who did the translating].” —The Jewish Week
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