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Book of the Week — Seder hagadah shel pesach

וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי. וַיְכֻלּוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ וְכָל־צְבָאָם. וַיְכַל אֱלֹהִים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וַיִּשְׁבֹּת בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי מִכָּל מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה. וַיְבָרֵךְ אֱלֹהִים אֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אוֹתוֹ כִּי בוֹ שָׁבַת מִכָּל־מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת.

And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. And the heaven and the earth were finished, and all their host. And on the seventh day God finished His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because He rested on it from all of His work which God created in doing (Genesis 1:31-2:3).

Seder hagadah shel pesach
London: Eugrammia Press, 1970
BM675 P4 N35

Produced near Barcelona, in the Catalan area of Spain in the early fourteenth century, this manuscript is referred to as the “Golden Haggadah” because of the extensive use of gold leaf its illuminations.

“Haggadah” means “narration” and is a Hebrew service-book used in Jewish households on Passover Eve at a festive meal to commemorate the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. The Haggadah is one of the most frequently decorated Jewish texts, used primarily in private homes as a way to educate young people. The Golden Haggadah also contains liturgical Passover poems according to the Spanish, or Sephardic, rite.

The manuscript is illustrated with a series of fourteen full-page miniatures depicting scenes from the Books of Genesis and Exodus, from Adam naming the animals to the dance of Miriam after the passage through the Red Sea. The illuminations were produced by at least two artists. The Biblical picture cycle precedes the text, a manuscript design feature also found in Latin Psalters from France and England between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. Painting technique, figure style and approach to perspective all reflect the tastes of Gothic Europe.

Jewish illuminators were careful not to use the iconography used in Christian manuscripts. The depiction of Moses before the Burning Bush, for instance, looks very much, in this manuscript, like a depiction in a French thirteenth century manuscript. References to the crucifix, however, were quite noticeably left out, suggesting the independence of Jewish artists from their Christian counterparts.

Many documents of Sephardic culture survive from the Christian period of Spain, including several illuminated Passover Haggadah. The original Golden Haggadah is now held in the British Library (MS 27210). Facsimile edition of five hundred and twenty copies. Rare Books copy is letter ‘A’.

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