June 23, 2024
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The Haggadah About Nothing

Reviewing: “The Haggadah About Nothing: The (Unofficial) Seinfeld Haggadah” by Rabbi Sam Reinstein. Self published. 2021. English. Paperback. 176 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0578832821.

Sometimes in life there are things you need but you don’t realize you need them until they are presented to you. (I believe this is the purpose of advertising: to make you believe you need a product that you never heard of before and had no idea you needed.)

We have such an item here: a Haggadah commentary based on episodes of “Seinfeld.” You can tell by the front cover how funny this book will be. It has an imagined picture of Jerry’s kitchen on Pesach with a sign: “NO CHAMETZ FOR YOU!”

Even better, on the back cover the author did not bother with regular reviews. Rather, he has reviews from the characters themselves. Frank Costanza: “A Haggadah for the rest of us!” Elaine: “Get out! and go get this Haggadah.” (There is also a great quote from Jackie Chiles.)

The author of this book is Rabbi Sam Reinstein, rabbi of Congregation Kol Yisrael, a small Modern Orthodox shul in Prospect Heights. He also works as an actuary. He grew up in Teaneck. His father is Alvin Reinstein, one of the gabbaim at Congregation Beth Aaron for several decades. (They are both otherwise famous for receiving their ordination at Yeshiva University at the same time a few years ago. Sam, at a typical age, and Alvin in his retirement years.)

The volume has not only commentary, but a text of the Haggadah as well, so it can be used at the Seder.

His English translation of the Haggadah must be read carefully, as he sometimes inserts additional phrases into the translation alluding to specific episodes. For example, in the section “Baruch Shomer Havtachto,” he adds a line about Paul O’Neill keeping his promise to Bobby! (Paul promised this hospitalized child that he would hit two home runs in his next game.)

His best insertion, however, is the one in the context of Exodus 2:23. The verse refers to Bnei Yisrael yelling out from their labor. The author “translates”: [They] yelled out “SERENITY NOW!”

Here is a sample from the commentary:

Beginning With Shame and Ending with Praise: The author writes: “It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that “Seinfeld” would be a hit…An NBC internal report dubbed the pilot as “Weak.” Larry David himself reminisced how he told Jerry after the pilot that he was “thinking that [he] wouldn’t see [him] again for another couple of years.” Nine years later, Seinfeld couldn’t have been more popular. 76 million people tuned into the finale…Seinfeld, like the Seder, began with shame and ended with praise.”

The Bitterness of the Maror: In the episode “The Andrea Doria,” George wants to get a new apartment, but the board is planning on giving it to a survivor of the shipwreck Andrea Doria. When he complains to Jerry, Jerry makes him realize that he has had much more pain than that overall and should use the pain for good. The author writes that George does so, “[making] the board cry with his extensive list of excruciating minor encounters, ending it off with the devastating fact that his fiancée died by licking the envelopes to their wedding that he picked out…George realizes that he can use his pain for good.” The author immediately cites Rabbi Norman Lamm, zt”l, for the profound thought that we recite a blessing over the maror because we acknowledge that even from the most bitter things we can extract blessings.

Moshe’s Almost Complete Absence From the Haggadah: Except for one time, Moshe is absent from the Haggadah. The author writes: “It is similarly interesting that Larry David is largely absent in Seinfeld. He has 15 cameos throughout the series, but always as quick things, never as a true character in an episode. Given that Larry and Jerry wrote the show together, why is Larry so absent? [The explanation is that] Larry is a huge character with a large personality. Seinfeld is balanced between the characters and Larry would loom too large, shifting all the focus [on him].” The author continues: “Moshe similarly looms too large over the Exodus story. The story we want to tell on Seder night is one of a people, a nation, and how we fit into that history. Having Moshe present would shift the focus too much from us as a Jewish people. Therefore, he joins us, but only as a cameo.”

The Hand of God: The Haggadah quotes the verse: “Israel saw the Lord’s great hand that he used upon the Egyptians, and the people feared the Lord; and they believed in the Lord…” The phrasing is odd. The Israelites see His hand, which makes them fear and believe in God Himself. How and why does this happen?

The author writes: “I believe something similar… [happens with] Bob Sacamano. In nine seasons we never meet Bob. He is mentioned in 10 episodes throughout the series, but we don’t know what he looks or sounds like…[W]hen Jerry is living in Kramer’s apartment he and Bob get to talking. We never meet Bob, we only see his hand. [Similarly] even with all the miracles going on, the Israelites still never see God. The times when they do are later. The Midrash notes that they saw the Divine Presence when going through the Red Sea and the Biblical account of Mt. Sinai. They, and religious people to this day, believe in God the same way we believe Bob Sacamano exists, by seeing the hand and acknowledging that the hand has an owner.”

—–

Most poignantly, the book is dedicated to Susan Ross, George’s fiancée. George caused her death by buying cheap envelopes for their wedding and she was poisoned by licking the glue.

I would also like to mention the profound essay in the introduction. The author quotes Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l, for the idea that the purpose of remembering the Exodus is to teach us that we are supposed to transform ourselves into being merciful individuals with a heightened form of ethical sensitivity. The author points out that the Seinfeld characters, in contrast, go through nine years and never improve themselves. In fact, they end up in prison in the last episode! We, on the other hand, strive to be better so that “now we are slaves, next year may we be free.”

Aside from Rav Soloveitchik and Rabbi Lamm, the profound insights of many other rabbinic authorities are cited throughout. There is also a section comparing “The Four Humorous Ones” (Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine) to “The Four Sons.” (Jerry is the Wise son.)

Cleverly, the beginning of the book has a blank page with the following comment: “This page was intentionally left blank. All the other pages are about something. This page is about nothing.” Also, there are illustrations throughout that allude to various episodes.

This is a hilarious (and quite philosophical) book that all Seder-attending Seinfeld fans need! (The author can be reached at [email protected].)

The book is available at www.amazon.com  and at The Judaica House in Teaneck.


Mitchell First, an attorney and Jewish history scholar, can be reached at [email protected]. He threw out his TV about 15 years ago, but he did watch and enjoy many episodes for a few years before that.

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