The Albany Hagadah
Perusing the window or shelves of seasonal items at your local Jewish bookstore these days will bring you face-to-face with dozens of Passover Hagadot. The story of how one unique Hagada came into being follows:

The Passover seder begins with the familiar story of the five great Sages: Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Joshua, Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Tarfon at an all-night seder two millenia ago in the city of B'nai Brak.

Twenty centuries later, six young Talmud students at the Albany, New York Yeshiva High School Boys Division worked to reconstruct that event by exploring the circumstances and personalities of the Sages who attended that seder.

Working under the direction of Rabbi Yisroel Rubin, Chabad director of the Capital Region who serves as the Rosh Yeshiva and Talmud instructor, the students recently published their own 200 page "Albany Hagada."

Rabbi Rubin is a soft-spoken, energetic, highly creative individual whose weekly schedule looks like something out of a nightmare day- timer.

The Hagada project was sparked by a question that Rabbi Rubin threw out to his class: "The Sages talked all night, but what exactly did they say? Let's get a 'transcript' by researching their lives to find out more about them and what actually happened that night in B'nai Brak."

The research took Rabbi Rubin and his students through hundreds of commentaries, with a special emphasis on notes in the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Hagada.

Hagada illustrations usually depict the Rabbis in B'nai Brak seated calm and relaxed. But The Albany Hagada sees them as expressing opposing schools of thought, whose interpersonal dynamics fueled the all-night debate.

"They say that two Jews have three opinions. (Some disagree, saying that three Jews have five opinions). Seeing the Exodus from different angles and perspectives is the spice of the story, which energized their seder," explains Rabbi Rubin. Indeed, these Sages are quoted in arguments on Passover issues such as the afikoman deadline, the Hagada text, the number of cups of wine, etc.

The Albany Hagada offers us a virtual seat at the B'nai Brak seder, so we can almost hear the thunderous debate shatter the stillness of the night, and see the Sages' brilliance turn darkness to dawn.

While respectful of each other's views, their crossfire reverberated with controversy that raged until morning. Interestingly, despite the Sages' differences, they chose to leave their own cities to celebrate the seder together in B'nai Brak. Students were assigned to prepare biographies on the five rabbis, while one student "interviewed" Ben Zoma, who is quoted in the story.

Rabbi Rubin was amazed at the results. "The Passover story is usually transmitted from the old to the young, but this interaction was a welcome reverse. To quote the Talmud: 'I have learned most from my students.' "

The young scholars learned a lesson in research, critical thinking and detective work. "We picked up clues about the Sages and their sayings, looking around as if we were at an Indiana Jones archaeological excavation. To connect with these Rabbis and see them come alive was very exciting," said Jacob Morganbesser.

"Rabbi Eliezer was very insistent in his views," said student Moshe Barouk, 15, from Florida. "It was impossible to change his mind, so he was eventually excommunicated. Actually, we had to figure out how Rabbi Eliezer was able to join this seder with his colleagues."

Levi Simon, 16, discovered that Rabbi Joshua was a Levite who played instruments in the Holy Temple. This demonstrates that even Levites must relive the Exodus, although they didn't suffer so hard under Egyptian slavery.

"Studying for the project wasn't easy. We had to look through hundreds of books to find clues, but getting there was half the fun," said Simon.

The Albany Hagada also includes a commentary on the eternity of Moshiach climaxing the B'nai Brak story, plus Chasidic insights in English by Rabbi Moshe Rubin (Rabbi Yisroel Rubin's father), of blessed memory.

The Hagada concludes with an interesting comment on the end of the story, when the students came to tell their Rabbis that morning had arrived:

"The students did not mean to interrupt their masters' discussion. On the contrary, they continued their masters' message and mission. They recognized that it was their Rabbis' talk of the Redemption that allowed them to see the light, an eye-opener to the dawn of a new day after the exile's dark night."         Reprinted from The Albany Times Union 

"Marbeh L'saper" - "The Albany Haggadah"

Rabbi Israel Rubin, wrote a scholarly work titled "Marbeh L'saper" or "The Albany Haggadah" which reconstructs the discussion of that famous seder using Talmudic archeology and knowledge of the Talmud stories and statements regarding these Rabbis


Rabbi Israel M. Lau The Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel

'I join the great Torah masters in approving Rabbi Rubin's scholarly work of deep thought and illumination."

Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu The Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel

"Rabbi Rubin adds generously of his own to the earlier commentaries of Roshonim and Acharonim in a clear and pleasant style ...May his wellsprings spread forth!"

Rabbi P. Hirshprung Chief Rabbi of Montreal

"Rabbi Rubin's excellent ideas deserve deep study.  They should be published for the public benefit..."

Rabbi Aaron Sloveichik Yeshivas Brisk

"Glancing through your book, I saw precious gems and beautiful interpretations. May you continue to publish more in all areas of Torah."

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz Jerusalem, Israel

"Hundreds of commentaries on the Haggadah and Avot draw from its inspiration, revealing one of more facets of hidden wisdom.  Every age and place faces different problems and there is a need for renewed insights. Rabbi Rubin's work on Haggadah and Pirkay Avot creates a new story to our tall tower of knowledge.  Building upon previous works, he adds his own scholarly insights, weaving old and new into an important commentary."

This Hagada & Pirkei Avot commentary are available from:

The Pirkay Avoth Institute                                                                         122 South Main Ave. Albany, New York 12208                                              email: [email protected]