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 14th-century CE manuscript copied and painted in Catalonia shows many iconographic (from iconography: representations of a subject by means of pictures) similarities to the highly accomplished and famous Golden Haggadah. Hence its namesake – the Sister Haggadah. The biblical miniatures in both manuscripts were most likely based on a common model, but the iconography here is simpler and less sophisticated.
The Sister Haggadah comprises 34 full-page panels depicting 86 episodes from the books of Genesis and Exodus, and five ritual scenes. The paintings exhibit Franco-Gothic and Italian elements, the latter being particularly evident in some of the architectural details and in the people’s headgear.