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    Conflicting art in the Haggadah

    They say that Jewish art is largely non-existent because the Second Commandment bans the depiction of anything in God’s Creation.

    The Sulzbach Haggadah, 1755

    If this theory is true the Haggadah would be a quite different book, but the fact is that Haggadot are embellished with all sorts of illustrations.

    Not that the artists always agreed with each other. In the Middle Ages, when manuscript illumination was at its peak, there were two main schools of illustration.

    Rabbi Harry Rabinowicz points out in one of his articles, the German school depicted the Seder service – the family at Seder, the four sons, the ten plagues, the rabbis at Bnei Brak, the hiding of the Afikoman.

    The Spanish School concentrated on the Creation, depicting what took place on each of the first seven days of history. Apart from the flora and fauna, we see Adam and Eve establishing human history. We see the animals coming to Adam to receive their names. We see Eve emerging from the rib of Adam.

    Amongst the works of artists who believed that the Second Commandment prohibited depictions of the human shape, we see the so-called Bird’s Head Haggadah, where human heads are replaced by birds.

    Most illustrators, whatever their provenance, depict Biblical themes, though sometimes they give a contemporary appearance to figures from the Bible. Moses, for example, looks like an Amsterdam burgher of the time of Rembrandt!

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