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    Illustrated Haggadot

    Bookshops, library shelves and family heirlooms all accord pride of place to illustrated Haggadot.

    A page from the Darmstadt Haggadah

    A page from the Darmstadt Haggadah

    The pictures are usually of medieval origin, though the more recent versions intersperse the age-old Haggadah text with scenes from modern Jewish history, especially the Israeli experience.

    Some of these Haggadot are really too beautiful to use. Others are too complicated to be practical: imagine trying to weave your way through pages of illustrations in order to find the Seder procedure and text.

    However, it is not merely the question of practicality that these Haggadot raise. They force us to ask the question of whether they infringe the rule in the Torah about not making the form of anything in heaven or earth.

    As the Haggadah is not a sacred book in the same sense as the Tanach, considerable licence was allowed by the rabbis. An example is the Darmstadt Haggadah with many beautifully coloured illustrations on its 58 parchment pages. They depict animals and human beings including the company at Seder and even people going hunting, though the hunting is certainly a halachic problem – someone said that a Jew who says he enjoys hunting cannot really be Jewish!

    The illustrated Haggadot tell us about where Jews have roamed, and about the story of Jewish culture. They take us to Holland, Russia, the early kibbutzim – and even outback Australia. The Spanish Haggadah in a British library shows Rabban Gamliel sitting on a seat under a canopy that resembles evangelists and scribes in Christian art; the Sarajevo Haggadah shows the rasha as a Moorish warrior; 19th century Haggadot depict him as a supporter of the Haskalah.

    Whichever Haggadah you use is your choice, but if you have one with illustrations you might find yourself discussing the pictures as well as Yetzi’at Mitzrayim.

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