The Real Reason 14th-Century Italian Jews Put a Pig in Their Haggadah

It’s not that they were exceptionally sophisticated or tolerant, as one popular recent article would have it—it’s that they lived surrounded by people who raised pigs.

April 28, 2020 | Marc Michael Epstein
About the author: Marc Michael Epstein is professor of religion and visual culture and director of Jewish studies at Vassar College. He is the author of, among other books, The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative, and Religious Imagination (2011) and Skies of Parchment, Seas of Ink: Jewish Illuminated Manuscripts (2015).

From the Lombard Haggadah. Les Enluminares.

In some American Jewish households, the custom of placing an orange on the traditional seder plate to signify the inclusion of gay and lesbian Jews in the community—an innovation out of whole cloth originally dreamed up, in her own account, by Susannah Heschel—has become a conventional element of Passover observance. But now Adam Cohen, a professor of art history at the University of Toronto, claims to have unearthed another, much earlier, and even more startling Passover-related novelty. He has shared his detective work, as he calls it, with the readers of the Forward in an article bearing a title evocative of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle: “The Curious Incident of the Pig in the Haggadah.”

Welcome to Mosaic

Create a free account to continue reading and you'll get two months of unlimited access to the best in Jewish thought, culture, and politics

Register Already a subscriber? Sign in now