Development of the Haggadah

   On Passover night we are commanded “ v’hee’ga’deta ” “and you shall tell,” the story of the exodus. (Notice the shared root of hee’ga’deta and Haggadah.) The Passover Haggadah serves as a step-by-step guidebook for telling the story of Passover.
   Before the destruction of the Holy Temple, most Jews traveled to Jerusalem in order to offer a young lamb for their Passover sacrifice. Because the Pascal lamb had to be eaten before midnight, it was a common practice for several families to purchase a lamb and partake of the festive meal together. This meal was followed by a retelling of the exodus, a discussion about the Midrashim (earliest form of oral law attached to the Torah) describing the exodus, and a recitation of the ten plagues. These early Seders also incorporated the other basic mitzvot (commandments) of the Seder as set down in the Talmud: the eating of matzah, the eating of maror (bitter herbs) and the drinking of four cups of wine.

   In 70 C.E., the Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people were dispersed throughout the vast Roman Empire. Since dispersion led to assimilation, the sages noticed that the people were neglecting or forgetting the laws. The dissipation of learning and knowledge caused by the diaspora was reflected in all aspects of Jewish life, from kashrut (dietary laws) to the rituals of the holiday. It was time for the Jewish oral law to be written down -- so the rabbis codified the laws into the Mishna and then the Talmud.
   By the year 200 C.E., a set order of questions and discussion ( Mah Nishtana -the Four Questions) was established. This order is recorded in the Haggadah. The oldest existing Haggadah that has been found is from 8th or 9th century Palestine. While there have been changes, modifications and additions over time (as people have added prayers of devotion and songs of praise), the basic Haggadah has not changed. With the advent of the printing press in the Middle Ages, a set text was established. The basic text was taken from the prayerbook of Rav Amram Gaon, who headed the Babylonian Yeshiva of Sura between 856-876 C.E. While certain parts of the Haggadah, such as Chahd Gad’ya (“One Kid”), were not added until later in history, the strength of the tradition has set these as permanent parts of the Haggadah.

haggadah Section: Introduction
Source: National Jewish Outreach Program's Beginners' Haggadah