HAGGADA hə gä’ də (the noun הַגָּדָה derives from נָגַד, H5583; to narrate, to explain). It is a technical term describing a traditional genre of rabbinic lit. The counterpart of haggadah is halakah. Whereas the latter denotes the authoritative rabbinic teaching in respect to the Mosaic law as deposited in the Mishnah, the former is a didactic discourse mainly concerned with edification. It is based upon homiletical exegesis and has a moral purpose in view. The Talmud consists of both parts: the homiletical narrative and the legal decisions supported by tradition. The haggadic sections are usually introduced by the formula “as it is said,” “as it is written.” The Midrashic lit. is haggadic in the sense that it consists of homiletical exegesis reinforced by myths, legends, fables, parables, and obiter dicta, from a variety of sources. In some pious circles there was the tendency to treat haggadah with equal respect as the halakic part of rabbinic law, an attitude criticized by Maimonides. Though part of the Jewish tradition, haggadah has no binding authority. (This is contradicted by Solomon Simon who gives instances to show the stringency of haggadic tradition [cf. Judaism, Summer [1963], pp. 300, 304, 306].)

Some Jewish scholars hold that the haggadic lit. was aimed mainly at the common man (but this is contradicted by C. G. Montefiore: “It seems to me that a large part of what has been preserved and written down of Haggadic literature must have been necessarily intended not for the populace, but for the inner smaller circles of students and disciples and for the delectation of the Rabbis themselves” [A Rabbinic Anthology, XVII]).

The term occurs in a threefold context:

(a) Haggadah describes the fixed traditional narrative of the Passover seder, i.e., the “order” of the meal as recited on the first two nights of Passover, with the story of Exodus as its central theme (cf. Exod 13:8).

(b) The homilectical and didactic part of the Talmud as distinct from the “code of action,” which deals with the halakic aspects of the Mosaic law.

(c) The homiletical exposition of Scripture as deposited in the Midrashim. In this context haggadah denotes the moral teaching and religious edification resulting from a search (darash) of Holy Writ.


H. L. Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (1931), 7; A. Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud (1932), XXXIIIff., 146; C. G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology (1938), XVIIf.; Jewish Encyclopedia VI, 141; The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, ed. by Werblowsky and Wigoder (1966), 166.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


See Talmud.