Monday, February 18, 2013


  1. The Function of the Illustrations in the Passover Haggadot

    The Seder service is of a familial and domestic nature, and it is celebrated with great ceremony. The participants dress festively and are seated at a table set with special Passover dishes. The Haggadah too is written in splendid letters and is decorated with lovely illustrations and indeed, once it was separated from the annual compendium of prayers to become a composition in its own right, The Haggadah became one of the principal vehicles for artistic expression among the Jews.

    The Haggadah is intended for all members of the family; men, women and children. Its illustrations are of an essentially didactic nature. The panels depicting the various "signs" of the Passover meal concretize the service for its participants. For the children, who are not expected to know how to read, the pictures tell the full story of the Haggadah while it is being read. As is written on the title-page of the Venice Haggadah of 1609; With some depictions of the signs and wonders, which were done to our forefathers in Egypt, on the sea and in the desert, as well as the Seder Kadesh Urhaz ( order of the Passover ceremony), and the ten plagues in picture form; and historical initials instructing the performance of customs, and many other very beautiful things."

    In the colophon of a German Haggadah of 1732, the scribe, Abraham of Ihringen, quotes a Mishnah recorded in the Haggadah: Whoever dwells and draws on the exodus from Egypt, is praiseworthy and excellent." In fact, most of the artists whose illustrations decorate Haggadot took great pains to make their meaning and reasons clear. Their purpose, however, was not exclusively didactic. From earliest times Judaism loved to "beautify" the commandments. On the title page of the Venice Haggadah of 1609 Israel Zifroni, the printer, praises the Lord for having made him publish a book of such beauty.

  2. The Spanish Haggadah is generally composed of three parts; the text, biblical miniatures taking up entire pages, and a collection of 'piyyutim' (liturgical poems) to be sung in the synagogue. The few illustrations are mainly of biblical scenes taking up whole pages. Among extant Spanish Haggadot we should mention the Sarajevo Haggadah (Barcelona. 14th century), the Kaufmann Haggadah (Spain, end of the 14th century), and the "golden Haggadah" (Spain, probably Barcelona, c 1320).

    The "German" Haggadot originated in Germany and France. They are decorated with illuminations in the margins and around the text. In an early group of these Haggadot, among them the Dragon Haggadah (France, 13th century) and the "Birds' Head Haggadah" (south Germany, c 1300), biblical scenes and depictions of customs appear in the margins together with detailed illustrations of the text itself. A later group Haggadot, the Yahuda Haggadah (south germany, mid 15th century) among others, contains a continuous series of biblical illustrations with no direct relation to the text. An exception in this group is the Darmstadt Haggadah (Germany, first half of the 15th century)