Hag­gadah and History

Yosef Hay­im Yerushalmi
  • Review
By – June 25, 2012
Two great Hag­gadah col­lec­tions — one at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty, the oth­er at the Jew­ish The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary of Amer­i­ca— form this large-for­mat book, con­sti­tut­ed in its entire­ty of the plates of its 1975 first edi­tion, which itself was a fac­sim­i­le edi­tion. Print­ed Hag­gadahs appeared almost simul­ta­ne­ous­ly with Gutenberg’s inven­tion. This book moves in chrono­log­i­cal order, includ­ing non-tra­di­tion­al edi­tions dat­ing to 1975. Edi­tor Yerushal­mi laments, despite near­ly 500 pages, that more ear­ly and recent Hag­gadahs could not be shown. 

Each plate, with the first dat­ed 1480, is ana­lyzed on its fac­ing page — the dress, arti­facts on the illus­tra­tions, and artis­tic style. Read­ers will find, among the more famous, the Prague, Man­tua, Sara­je­vo, Augs­burg and Venice edi­tions illus­trat­ed and described. 

As the most pop­u­lar and beloved of Jew­ish books” famil­iar to chil­dren, the Hag­gadah has been trans­lat­ed into 35 of the lan­guages of exile spo­ken by Jews and has been print­ed in over 3,500 edi­tions, all retelling our sem­i­nal sto­ry of the Exodus. 

It is star­tling to real­ize that the under­sized edi­tions wide­ly dis­trib­uted in the mid-20th cen­tu­ry by Amer­i­can food com­pa­nies were actu­al­ly fac­sim­i­les of some of these ear­ly clas­sics, with their dis­tin­guished prove­nances ignored. By reis­su­ing Hag­gadah and His­to­ry, JPS per­forms a gen­uine schol­ar­ly and com­mu­ni­ty service.
Arlene B. Soifer earned degrees in Eng­lish, and has had many years of expe­ri­ence as a free­lance writer, edi­tor, and pub­lic rela­tions professional.

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