Judaica Online Exhibitions

Penn Library Exhibitions

Printers Mark by Van Bashuysen
From Written to Printed Text:
The Transmission of Jewish Tradition

An Exhibition of Books and Manuscripts
from the Library of the
Center for Judaic Studies

Why is this Book Different From All Others?
The Passover Haggadah

The Passover Seder is one of the most widely celebrated and best known of all Jewish rituals. The telling and remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt has filled the eve of the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month of Nisan around the world for the past two millennia. The guiding text for this tradition, the Haggadah, has had a particularly long and illustrious career in the history of written texts. The same text has been directing Jews through the Passover ritual from the tenth century until the present day. With more than four thousand known printed editions in existence today, the Haggadah has been reprinted more often, in more languages and in more places than any other classical Jewish work.
While scholars have begun to examine the impact of printing on this text, few have tried to assess how printing may have changed the general experience of the Passover Seder. In the era before the printed Haggadah, few at the Seder table would have had a Haggadah to guide them through the ritual. With the advent of print, however, it became more common for every participant in the Seder to have his or her own Haggadah. How might have the dissemination of Haggadahs throughout the world changed the experience of the Seder? How may have the proliferation of illustrated and translated Haggadahs impacted on the experience of the Passover ritual?
Items on Display:  
  1. Haggadah fragment.
Manuscript on Paper.
Egypt. Eleventh Century

Originally, the Haggadah text was included within prayer books. This is one of the oldest existing fragments of the Haggadah text known to scholars today. It was found in the Cairo Genizah and dates back to the eleventh century. This Haggadah demonstrates how the written text guiding the oral retelling of the exodus from Egypt was far from uniform in the eleventh century. For example, this Haggadah text presents the ancient Palestinian rite of the Passover service which not only omits the "four sons" but has only three of the ritual questions instead of the now traditional four.
  2. The Sarajevo Haggadah.
Manuscript on parchment,
Northern Spain, Fourteenth Century.
[Facsimile edition: Tel Aviv: Masada, 1963.].

During the following centuries, the Haggadah appeared in various manuscript forms. Because of its exquisite illumination, the Sarajevo Haggadah is one of the most famous Jewish manuscripts of this period. Found in Sarajevo in the late nineteenth century, this Haggadah was produced in Northern Spain some time around 1350. Upon its discovery in 1894, the Sarajevo Haggadah revolutionized the study of Jewish art by challenging the widely held notion that the Jews did not illustrate their religious texts. With its illustrations, it was a harbinger of many Haggadahs of the later Middle Ages, in which illustrations played an important role. Illumination not only stimulated the curiosity of those who were not learned in the texts of the Haggadah, but also has played a critical role in the Seder ritual for all participants in helping them to fulfill the central commandment of the Seder: envisioning themselves as if they had actually participated in the exodus from Egypt.
  3. Haggadah shel Pesah.
Prague: Gershom Cohen, 1526.
[Facsimile edition: Berlin, 1926.]

4. Haggadah shel Pesah.
Prague: Gershom Cohen, 1526.
[Facsimile edition: Jerusalem, 1973.]

Playing a pivotal role in the development of the illustrated Haggadah was Gershom ben Solomon ha-Kohen's Haggadah, published in Prague in 1526. Typography of this Haggadahwhich alternates small and large letters, and contains inverted letters at the end of many lineswas a common feature of texts produced by scribes and preserved the look of manuscript Haggadahs. Kohen's Haggadah included sixty woodcut illustrations and played a critical role in establishing the iconographic genres among Haggadahs well into the twentieth century. One example is the four woodcuts on the pages describing the famed "four sons." Not only are all the sons clothed in Renaissance fashion, but more importantly the "wicked son" is depicted as a traditional soldier of the period. While his uniform would change to fit current fashions, the wicked son appeared for many centuries in the form of a soldier, thus linking wickedness with war for the Jewish people in the early modern and modern periods. In addition, one can see several pages later a pictorial rendition of Pharaoh in a tub, a theme which is present in Haggadahs well into the twentieth century. Drawing on the rabbinic legend that Pharaoh bathed in a tub filled with the blood of Jewish children in order to cure himself of a disease, the Prague Haggadah offers a pictorial tradition which enabled all participants at the seder table to appreciate rabbinic interpretations and tradition.
  5. Seder Haggadah shel Pesah.
Venice: Giovanni da Gara, 1609.
[Facsimile edition: Jerusalem, 1974.]

In Venice in 1609, the press of the Christian Giovanni da Gara, with the help of the Italian Jewish printer Israel Zifroni, produced a Haggadah which also played an important role in the development of the illustrated Haggadah. Encasing every page is a classical architectural border in which there appears a Judeo-Italian translation of the Haggadah text. Other editions produced by this printer contained either Yiddish or Ladino translations. The marvelous illustrations include a depiction of the ten plagues, the first time this was ever illustrated in a printed Haggadah. The Judeo-Italian translation not only provides literal translations of each plague but further describes each in a rhymed couplet.

Figure 12
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6. Seder Haggadah shel Pesah.
Sulzbach: Uri Lipman [Bloch-Frankl family], 1711.
Figure 12.
  7. Seder Haggadah shel Pesah.
Manuscript on paper.
Germany. Eighteenth Century.
[Facsimile edition: Tel Aviv, 1987.]

Printed in Germany in 1711, the first Haggadah displayed demonstrates the growing influence of Talmud printing on the production of other Hebrew texts. In a format similar to the Talmud page, this Haggadah contains two commentaries surrounding the text and some simple woodcut illustrations. The second Haggadah suggests why there was continued production of handwritten and Img0044 hand-illustrated Haggadahs throughout the eighteenth century despite the ascendancy of Jewish printing. Since eighteenth-century printing techniques often could not accommodate people's desire for more elaborate Haggadah illumination, many hand-illuminated Haggadahs were commissioned by wealthy patrons. This work, produced in Altona by the scribe Joseph ben David of Leipnik in 1738, is an example of such a commissioned manuscript which is not only illustrated but also contains the commentary of Abarbanel, an early sixteenth century exegete who was a prominent leader of the exiled Iberian Jewish community.
  8. Seder Haggadah shel Pesach,
Vienna: Georg Holtzinger, 1815.

The goal of this Haggadah, which was issued by the Austrian publisher Georg Holtzinger, was to create a text which everyone could read correctly and understand. Therefore, it not only presents the entire text of the Haggadah vocalized but also contains a Judeo-German translation of the text on the inside section of each page. The translator, Moses Dessoy, included some commentary on the bottom of the page so that all who were reading this text could participate in the different rituals of the seder meal.


Figure 13
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9. Service for the First Two Nights
of Passover with an English Translation
New York: L. H. Frank, 1863.
Figure 13.
  10. The Union Haggadah.
New York: Bloch Publishing Company
for the Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1907.

As printed books became less expensive in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it became more common for everyone at the Seder table to have their own copy of the Haggadah. With many people unable to fully comprehend the text of the Haggadah, translations of the Haggadah became quite common. On exhibit is an early English translation of the Haggadah published in America. Containing no illustrations or commentaries, it provides the reader with only the bare basics: a translation of the Haggadah text and directions as to how to perform the various rituals of the Seder. Translation was not the only innovation incorporated into the Haggadah in America to make it more enjoyable for Jews. Besides abridging the service substantially, the Union Haggadah, the first Haggadah printed by the Reform movement in the United States, also included such things as musical notation for instrument accompaniment, numerous pictures, appropriate poetry readings and an appendix explaining the various rites and symbols of the Seder for those unfamiliar with this ritual.

Bibliography: Yaari, Abraham. Bibliography of the Passover Haggadah: From the Earliest Printed Edition to 1960. Jerusalem: Bamberger and Wahrman, 1960.
  Yerushalmi, Yosef. Haggadah and History: A Panorama in Facsimile of Five Centuries of Printed Haggadah from the Collections of Harvard University and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1975

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