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Seder Night, the lengthy ­ritualistic meal of the first night of Passover, is considered one of the most important events in the Jewish calendar. Mark Gerson’s new work underscores—with great panache and enthusiasm—perhaps the most underappreciated facet of the ­evening: the emotional and intellectual processes submerged within the text of the Haggadah.

Gerson analyzes the text through a constellation of short, punchy, free-ranging essays, each based on one specific line in the Haggadah. The writing is engaging and amusing, and the essays are both short enough to be memorable and substantial enough to convey genuine ideas. It is clear that the author loves the Seder and believes it to be an evening packed with great ideas, in addition to the sentimental songs and baffling rituals. It is ­equally clear that he is deeply intrigued by a range of religious, ethical, historical, philosophical, and psychological ­insights, which he classifies under the rubric of “Jewish Thought.” Finally, he is clearly convinced that these ­insights, these “Greatest Hits of Jewish Thought,” may be read into the Haggadah’s text at the Seder.

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