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Manuscripts

Birds Head Haggadah
Facsimile
13th Century

Probably the oldest surviving Ashkenazi (German) illuminated Haggadah manuscript, it was copied in the south of Germany in the late 13th century by a scribe named Menahem. Its illumination consists mainly of marginal text illustrations depicting scenes from the Book of Exodus, the Passover ritual, and eschatological scenes. There are only two full-page miniatures, one at the beginning and one at the end of the manuscript. The illustrations are not arranged in chronological order, but rather according to the text of the Haggadah.

Most of the human figures have pronounced birds' heads, although other methods of distorting human heads are used, such as blank faces, heads covered by helmets, and a servant with a bulbous nose. In the above scene we see the baking of matzah (unleavened bread) by figures with human bodies and birds' heads. It is thought that these distortions were necessitated by the illustrator's strict compliance with the biblical prohibition of graven images, understood to include the realistic depiction of the human form. This stringent understanding of the law represents the exception rather than the rule in medieval Haggadah illustration.

Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Darmstadt Haggadah
Facsimile, Leipzig, 1928
Scribe: Israel b. Meir of Heidelberg
ca. 1430

An early 15th century manuscript copied around 1430 in square Ashkenazic script. Its decorations contain initial word panels, a few fully framed borders, and two full-page miniatures. What is astounding about the above full-page miniature is the adaptation of medieval Christian iconography for the purposes of illustrating the importance of study and discussion in the celebration of the Passover Seder. Every figure-both men and women-is holding a book-presumably a Haggadah-and is involved in discussing the Exodus from Egypt. This camaraderie is particularly highlighted in the scene in which a group of men and women is sitting at the Seder table engrossed in the recounting of the miracle of the redemption from Egypt. In so doing they are enacting the passage in the Haggadah that states that "he/she who elaborates on the Exodus from Egypt is to be praised."

Darmstadt, Hessische Landes-und Hochschulbibliotek

Sarajevo Haggadah
Facsimile
14th century

The Sarajevo Haggadah is a 14th century illuminated manuscript consisting of 34 full-page miniatures, an illuminated Haggadah text, and hymns and Torah readings for the Passover week. The miniatures display a variety of subjects, from the creation of the world, to Moses blessing the Israelites, to illustrations of the Temple, and the interior of a Spanish synagogue. Brought to the former Ottoman Empire by Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, the Haggadah was acquired by the Sarajevo Museum in 1894. In the illustrations above, God appears to Moses in the burning bush and below Moses and Aaron confront Pharaoh and transform their staff into a snake which then devours the snakes of Pharoah's magicians.

This Haggadah was almost destroyed during the bombardment of Sarajevo in 1994 but was miraculously saved by two devoted staff members of the demolished museum where it was housed.

Zemaljski Museum, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina

Sarajevo Haggadah 2
Facsimile
14th century

The upper half of illumination depicts a picture of the first plague: the waters of the Nile turn into blood, and below it is a depiction of the plague of frogs.

Rylands Haggadah
Facsimile
London: Thames and Hudson, 1988
Catalonia, 14th century

The manuscript includes no colophon, or owners' or other identificatory marks. It was purchased by the John Rylands Library in 1901 having previously belonged to the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres. It is one of the Spanish Haggadot that contain full-page miniatures in addition to text illustrations. The full-page miniatures depict episodes from Exodus onward, starting with the call to Moses (fol. 13v) and ending with the crossing of the Read Sea (fol. 19). Of all the known Spanish Haggadot, the iconography of the biblical miniatures in this manuscript is by far the closest to the biblical narration and depicts almost no legendary (midrashic) episodes.

Above, the miniatures on the left depict Moses and Aaron's reunion in the desert as Moses returns to Egypt to take up his mission; below, Moses turns his staff into a snake, as a sign for the Israelites that God did indeed send him.

The John Rylands University Library, University of Manchester, England.

Kaufmann Haggadah
Facsimile
14th Century Spain

One of the finest examples of the illuminated Haggadah, the Kaufmann Haggadah is composed of 2 parts: 14 full page miniatures, and a decorated text. The episodes depicted in the miniatures recapitulate the Exodus story beginning with the discovery of the infant Moses in the Nile and ending with Miriam's song by the Red Sea. Also included is a miniature of preparations for Passover. The text decorations are quite elaborate, and in addition to the conventional representations of the rabbis in Bene Brak, the four sons, matzah and bitter herbs, include biblical episodes already depicted in the full page miniatures. Scholars theorize that three artists collaborated on the illustrations. Unfortunately, the miniatures were rearranged at some point in the volume's transmission, and as a result they are out of order.

Above, Moses turns his staff into a snake as a sign for the Israelites that God sent him (Exodus 4:31). Below is a depiction of the first plague--the waters of the Nile are turned into blood (Exodus 7:21).

Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Frankfurt Haggadah
Facsimile
Written and illuminated by Jacob ben Michael May Segal in 1731.

On the left we see Sarah listening from behind the wall as Abraham welcomes the three angels who have come to tell him of the impending birth of a son, Isaac (Genesis 18:10-12). Though the biblical event took place in an arid and barren landscape, the illustrator of this Haggadah transfers the scene to a rather lush mediaeval Europe.

Jewish Museum of the city of Frankfurt, Germany.

Copenhagen Haggadah
Facsimile
Written and illustrated in 1739 in Altona-Hamburg by the artist Philip Isac Levy (Uri Pheibush son of Isac Eisik Segal) 1720-1795.

Although the Haggadah primarily deals with events recounted in the Book of Exodus, themes from the Book of Genesis also appear, particularly events from the lives of the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. On the left we see an artistic rendition of the rabbinic account concerning Abraham smashing his father's idols.

Royal Library and the Jewish Community of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Mainz Haggadah
Copied by Moses ben Nathan Oppenheim
Mainz, 1726

Manuscript on vellum with twelve half-page miniatures and a number of smaller miniatures in color.

Above we see an illustration of Pharoah and his army drowning in the Red Sea (Exodus 14:28).

Gift of Mrs. Rebekah Kohut
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

Moravian Haggadah
Alexander Karl Floersheim Haggadah
Facsimile
Amsterdam, 1737

Inscribed in Hebrew on the title page is: "Amsterdam letters":"In Anno Mundi(5)497 (1737)." It is not known who the scribe was, in what city it was copied, or for whom it was prepared. The colored illuminations are based on the Amsterdam engravings.

Above we see a graphic depiction of the episode recounted in the Haggadah in which five of the greatest sages of the Second Temple period celebrated Passover together in the city of Bnei Brak and discussed the exodus till the early hours of the morning.

Courtesy of Palphot Ltd., Israel.

Szyk Haggadah
Illustrator: Arthur Szyk,
Translated into English by Cecil Roth
Jerusalem: Massada Press, 196?

Arthur Szyk (1894-1951) illustrator, miniaturist, and cartoonist was born in Lodz, Poland and studied in Cracow and Paris. He was known for his refined draftsmanship and calligraphy, in the style of medieval manuscript-illumination. His Hebrew lettering was superbly decorative and his illuminations sometimes showed a close acquaintance with Jewish legend.

On the left is Szyk's illustration of Moses striking the Egyptian taskmaster (Exodus 2:12).

Moss Haggadah
Shir ha-ma'alot le-David
Commissioned by Beatrice and Richard Levy
Facsimile
Bet Alpha Editions, 1987

The art of the illuminated Haggadah was revived in recent times almost single-handedly by artist and calligrapher, David Moss. In his lavishly illustrated Haggadah, we find a modern reworking of the medieval illuminated Haggadah. Moss says of his work: "I decided my Haggadah would both celebrate and embody the ingathering of our exiles. Just as Israel is drawing together Jews from all our scattered diaspora, so must my Haggadah become a compendium of artistic and literary traditions brought by these communities. In this it is significantly different from a medieval Haggadah, which was always created within a specific local style. By contrast, my Haggadah deliberately brings together the widest possible range of local diaspora traditions. It is neither a Spanish, German, Italian, nor Yemenite Haggadah, although something form each of these communities is to be found among its many sources. Mine is a Haggadah of ingathering."

Above, Moss' theme of ingathering is exemplified in his illustration for the passage in the Haggadah which states that "in each generation each person must see him/herself as if he/she had been redeemed from Egypt." The portraits of the men and women are drawn from the diverse diasporas of the Jewish people through the ages.

Reproduced courtesy of David Moss.

Moss Haggadah 2
Shir ha-ma'alot le-David
Commissioned by Beatrice and Richard Levy
Facsimile
Bet Alpha Editions, 1987
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