The haggadah is the service book used in Jewish households on Passover Eve to celebrate the Israelites' deliverance from Egyptian enslavement as described in the Book of Exodus. The reading of the haggadah, which literally means ‘narration’ or ‘telling’, conforms with the biblical commandment ‘And you shall tell your son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt’ (Exodus 13:8).
Traditionally, Jewish families gather together for a special ritual meal called seder meaning ‘order’. During the seder, the haggadah is read, providing the structure for the celebration which is divided into 15 steps. For example, the eighth step involves the eating of bitter herbs, a reminder of the bitter life the Hebrew slaves endured in Egypt.
One of the most cherished texts in Judaism, the haggadah was originally part of the Hebrew daily prayer book, becoming an independent unit around the 13th century CE. Its educational character and the fact that it was specifically intended for use in the home, made it particularly suitable for decoration. Since ancient times the haggadah has thus been one of the most frequently decorated texts in Jewish practice.
According to recent studies, the Brother Haggadah was produced around the 1330’s CE in a style attributable to Catalonia, Spain. It is so called because of its connection to the Rylands Haggadah (held in the Rylands Library, Manchester) and to which it served as model. The manuscript contains three distinct parts: a preliminary cycle of 13 full-page miniatures depicting scenes from the Book of Exodus; the haggadah narrative decorated with elaborate word-panels and marginal illustrations; and a section consisting of liturgical poems meant to be recited during the Passover week. As with other Sephardi haggadah manuscripts of that period, nothing is known about the original commission, therefore the identities of the patron, copyists and illuminators engaged in the production of this striking manuscript remain shrouded in mystery.
Browse through the entire manuscript on the Digitised Manuscripts website.
- Article by:
- Katrin Kogman-Appel
- Jewish Liturgy, Illuminations and the art of writing, Jewish communities
‘On this day you shall tell your son: it is because of what the Lord did for me when I went forth from Egypt (Ex. 13:8).’ Professor Katrin Kogman-Appel considers what it was like to celebrate Passover as a 14th-century CE Sephardic family.