April 2014: From TBS President Bryan H. Pines

April 2014: From TBS President Bryan H. Pines

I have been collecting Passover Haggadot for many years. I am most intrigued by the thousands of versions available. The obligation to retell our children of the exodus from Egypt may have been an influence in why the manuscripts are highly illustrated. When studying the printed versions of the Haggadah through the ages, we develop an appreciation of how the celebration of Passover has been continuously evolving. Our sense of freedom is challenged and our solidarity within the community is contested.


         One of the first known printed versions is The Sarajevo Haggadah originating from Spain in the 14th Century. It is a magnificent illuminated Sephardic manuscript that survived the Spanish Inquisition. It was sold to the National Museum of Sarajevo in 1894. As with most Sephardic Haggadot, the illustrations are at the front of the book rather than throughout the text. It is fortunate that the manuscript survived the Nazi invasion during WWII, as well as the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

         The Bird’s Head Haggadah is one of the earliest known Ashkenazi Haggadot from Eastern Europe in the 14th Century. Possibly from the 2nd Commandment forbidding graven images, all of the illustrations depicting humans have animal heads. This illuminated manuscript is on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

         The Washington Haggadah, whose name was given since its home is at the Library of Congress, is an impressive document. The beautiful illustrations depict ordinary day-to-day life in European Jewish communities as the artist traveled during the late 1400s. The text is a traditional Ashkenazi Haggadah.

         Two more contemporary influences on Haggadot have been the Holocaust and Zionism. A poignant example is A Survivors’ Haggadah, which was written in German concentration camps during the winter of 1945-1946. These survivors created and illustrated this Haggadah in preparation of their first Seder after liberation. This manuscript can be a supplement for every Passover Seder.

         Marc Chagall was commissioned to create the illustrations found in the Chagall’s Passover Haggadah. The beautiful drawings depict the exodus from Egypt in a characteristically flowing Chagall style. We can only be reminded of our hopes to celebrate Passover next year in Jerusalem.

         Women At The Seder: A Passover Haggadah is a traditional text with an emphasis on recognizing the achievement of women in Jewish studies. Our Jewish community is constantly evolving and transforming where women have emerged as leaders in prayer.

         Last year, the Adult Education Committee held a discussion led by Dr. Henry Cohen, on the Moss Haggadah. It was thrilling to observe an original copy of the magnificent manuscript. David Moss is a gifted contemporary artist whose brilliant interpretation is unique.

         Just as we rethink and examine the story of Passover, and recapture the spirit of our freedom, by honoring the past and fulfilling our obligation to retell our exodus from Egypt, we enthusiastically look to the future to improve the lives for generation to generation. My favorite Haggadot are the ones made by my children in Hebrew School and the Maxwell House Haggadah from my own childhood. I hope that by examining these beautiful manuscripts that I have discussed, you will be inspired to write, illustrate or contemplate your own quest for freedom.

Bryan H. Pines,

TBS President