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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.
This haggadah manuscript was copied and illuminated in Catalonia, north east Spain in approximately 1320 CE. The Hebrew text which reads from right to left, was written on vellum pages in a Sephardi square script. The Golden Haggadah takes its name from the 56 miniature paintings at the beginning of the book that depict scenes mainly from the Book of Exodus, set against gold-tooled backgrounds.
On each page are four miniatures which should be viewed in a particular order starting with the top right picture, followed by the top left image, then the lower right image, and lastly, the lower left miniature.
Browse through the entire manuscript on the Digitised Manuscripts website.
See more of the Golden Haggadah at our award winning Turning the Pages™.
Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.
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The illuminated Haggadot of medieval Spain are some of the most personal manuscripts made for Jewish patrons in the collection of the British Library. Dr Julie Harris searches for clues on who these splendid manuscripts were commissioned for.
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