The Medieval Haggadah Anthology is a unique and glorious haggadah. A handsome oversized volume, it is illustrated with digitally remastered art from thirty-five outstanding medieval manuscripts selected by David Holzer to illustrate preparations for the seder and for every step of the text. Holzer was a student and shamash (attendant) of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, known as the Rav, who many consider the outstanding rabbi of Orthodoxy in the twentieth century, and thus had many conversations with him. Drawing on years of conversations with Rabbi Soloveitchik, Holzer has assembled a kind of archive, “The Rav Thinking Aloud Series,” of which the haggadah is the fifth volume. It includes many previously unpublished transcripts which are presented here in modified verbatim form.
Paging through The Medieval Haggadah Anthology is a visual and literary delight. The illustrations, each thoughtfully identified in small type by its side, are stunning and charmingly document Pesach customs from the thirteenth through sixteenth centuries. Each page has a brief section of the haggadah in a handsome Hebrew typeface and then has the Rav’s commentary. His observations, offered in an appealing conversational style, are steeped in centuries of rabbinic interpretation and intimate knowledge of the texts, and they cast an extraordinary light on a rich array of details and points of disagreement among the rabbis. Bringing to bear his own passions for medieval manuscripts and the teachings of the Rav, Holzer adds knowledgeable comments on the art and, where necessary, clarifications of the Rav’s comments.
This haggadah, with its glossy outsized pages and brilliant art, does not seem meant for the seder table. However, for readers who enjoy Talmudic discussion and absorbing artwork, it will provide hours of pleasure and many fresh insights. Holzer’s interesting introduction describes step-by-step preparations for the seder illustrated with contemporary photographs side by side with medieval illustrations. A brief chapter at the end of the book has insights on the seder from the Rav. A bracing prologue to the seder. Full Hebrew haggadah test with no transliteration; all commentary in English.
Maron L. Waxman, retired editorial director, special projects, at the American Museum of Natural History, was also an editorial director at HarperCollins and Book-of-the-Month Club.