The Sarajevo Haggadah

Haggadah

Facsimile of the 14th century manuscript in the Bosnian National Museum

Looking for a lost goat in 1947, a young Bedouin shepherd slipped into some caves near the Dead Sea and found the earthen jars that contained the Dead Sea Scrolls. In Cairo a sacred book repository in the rafters of a historic synagogue yielded not just religious texts, but ancient secular chronicles and commercial accounts, as well. These upended previous understandings of medieval Jewish history around the Mediterranean. In much the same way, the Sarajevo Haggadah surfaced by chance in the 1890s, in the hands of a local Sephardic (Spanish Jewish) boy who wished to sell it for family income. As a genre, the Jewish Haggadah retells the Exodus from Egypt and "orders" the commemorative Passover meals in Jewish homes each spring. The Sarajevo Haggadah was traced to northern Spain circa 1350. Its Passover narrative is preceded by much more than a likely series of illustrations from Exodus, however. A complete set of half page plates in Gothic style depicts the entire biblical story from Genesis through Deuteronomy. Thus, in its main feature, the Sarajevo Haggadah is an illuminated codex of the Jewish Bible, overturning assumptions that such artistic reproductions ceased in Jewish Antiquity and did not carry over to the Middle Ages.

Our facsimile of the Sarajevo Haggadah will enrich teaching, learning, and research in Jewish Studies, Religion, History, Art History, and Spanish. In Jewish history and Hebrew language courses, students will be able to engage with a visual rendering of the Bible through the medieval overlay of gentle faces in robed figures on deliberately alternating blue and rose backgrounds. The elements from the Old Testament and from Jewish Midrash (rabbinic commentary on the Bible) in some of these frames will signal connections between Jewish historical and religious imagination in diverse contexts. Spanish students will have a visual accompaniment to medieval Iberian literature, particularly since the decorated letters in the Passover narrative have been likened to those used in the multicultural court and translation school of Alfonso X, "The Wise," in thirteenth century Spain.

Sources
Roth, Cecil. Introduction to Facsimile of Sarajevo Haggadah. Translated from German by Nadja Kramer.

Gitay, Zefira. "The Image of Moses in the Spanish Haggadot," in Yedida K. and Norman Stillman eds., From Iberia to Diaspora: Studies in Sephardic History and Culture . Leiden: Brill, 1999. 515-524.

Stacy N. Beckwith
Assistant Professor of Hebrew

Die Haggadah von Sarajevo

Leipzig: E.A. Seemann Verlag; Belgrade: Verlag Jugoslavija, 1967

Special Collections ND3385.H4 H145 1967