How a coffee company and a marketing maven brewed up a Passover tradition: A brief history of the Maxwell House Haggadah

The haggadah has been the focal point of the Jewish holiday of Passover for more than a millennium. The book details the Seder meal ceremony, during which families recount the biblical story of God rescuing the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

Today, thousands of haggadahs exist, each with prayers, rituals, and readings tailored to a particular type of Seder – from LGBTQ+ affirming to environmentally conscious. However, for decades in the United States, one of the most popular and influential haggadahs has been a straightforward version with an unlikely source: the Maxwell House Haggadah, created in 1932 by the coffee company and a Jewish advertising executive.

The Maxwell House Haggadah was published for the first time in 1932. Advertising by Joseph Jacobs
Its history demonstrates how Jews modernised and adapted to their new country while still maintaining their traditions. However, coffee has no ritual connection to Passover. Thus, what accounts for the Maxwell House Haggadah’s enduring popularity?

Competition in the coffee industry
One possible explanation is advertising: a field that has become so pervasive and powerful in people’s lives that it is almost imperceptible. As a scholar of American Jewish visual culture and communication, I have examined the influence of marketing on Americans’ religious and cultural identities.

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