The 17th-Century German Former Minister Whose Illustrations Graced America’s Best-Known Haggadah

Aware that Ashkenazi custom forbids the consumption of legumes on Passover, Maxwell House decided in 1932 to publish and distribute haggadot for the holiday—aiming to reassure Jews that coffee beans were not beans by either rabbinic or botanical standards. Henry Abramson tells the remarkable story of the artist behind the images reproduced in the early editions of this now-famous bilingual guide to the seder.

The . . . illustrations were taken from the classic Amsterdam Haggadah of 1695, the work of an unusual former German minister and convert to Judaism who took the name Abraham bar Jacob.

Only a few tantalizing details of bar Jacob’s life are preserved. Born in 1669, most likely in the Rhineland region of Germany, he moved at the age of twenty-six to liberal Amsterdam, where he studied Judaism and became a convert.

Bar Jacob’s illustrations were technically superior to the Venetian illustrations that were popular at the end of the 17th century. Freshly drawn on copper plate, they captured so much detail and emotion that they were reprinted in dozens of editions of haggadah over the next four centuries. . . .

While his artistic originality is demonstrated in complex images that detail biblical scenes such as the rescue of baby Moses from the Nile or the adult Moses striking the cruel Egyptian taskmaster, bar Jacob also had an ability to recognize powerful imagery elsewhere and incorporate it into the Jewish narrative. By modern standards, this would be considered plagiarism (or at least “sampling”), but it was standard fare in printing at the turn of the 18th century.

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Read more at Jewish Star

More about: American Jewish History, Conversion, Haggadah, Jewish art

Is the Attempt on Salman Rushdie’s Life Part of a Broader Iranian Strategy?

Aug. 18 2022

While there is not yet any definitive evidence that Hadi Matar, the man who repeatedly stabbed the novelist Salman Rushdie at a public talk last week, was acting on direct orders from Iranian authorities, he has made clear that he was inspired by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s call for Rushdie’s murder, and his social-media accounts express admiration for the Islamic Republic. The attack also follows on the heels of other Iranian attempts on the lives of Americans, including the dissident activist Masih Alinejad, the former national security advisor John Bolton, and the former secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who was held hostage by the mullahs for over two years, sees a deliberate effort at play:

It is no coincidence this flurry of Iranian activity comes at a crucial moment for the hitherto-moribund [nuclear] negotiations. Iranian hardliners have long opposed reviving the 2015 deal, and the Iranians have made a series of unrealistic and seemingly ever-shifting demands which has led many to conclude that they are not negotiating in good faith. Among these is requiring the U.S. to delist the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its entirety from the State Department’s list of terror organizations.

The Biden administration and its European partners’ willingness to make concessions are viewed in Tehran as signals of weakness. The lack of a firm response in the shocking attack on Salman Rushdie will similarly indicate to Tehran that there is little to be lost and much to be gained in pursuing dissidents like Alinejad or so-called blasphemers like Sir Salman on U.S. soil.

If we don’t stand up for our values when under attack we can hardly blame our adversaries for assuming that we have none. Likewise, if we don’t erect and maintain firm red lines in negotiations our adversaries will perhaps also assume that we have none.

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Read more at iNews

More about: Iran, Terrorism, U.S. Foreign policy