Precious Haggadot, from 12th-Century Cairo to Spain on the Eve of Expulsion

April 2 2021

The National Library of Israel, not surprisingly, holds the world’s largest collections of rare Haggadot—as the texts of the Passover seder’s liturgy are known. Oldest among them is an incomplete, but entirely legible, 12th-century folio, which Maya Margit describes:

Handwritten on parchment, the precious fragments [of this Haggadah] were discovered among the 400,000 pages and fragments that make up the Cairo Genizah, an astounding collection of Jewish texts that were kept in the storeroom of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo, Egypt.

“The liturgy for Passover is the single most commonly printed and published work in Jewish tradition, more than a prayer book, more than a Bible,” [said the curator, Yoel Finkelman].

Some of the most compelling historical Haggadot appear to be quite simple at first glance. This is undoubtedly the case with one of the most prized Haggadot in the National Library’s collection, an extremely rare book printed in 1480 in Guadalajara, Spain, only twelve years before the expulsion of the Jews from the country. The 1480 Haggadah is not only the oldest printed Passover text in the world but also a one-of-a-kind copy that was created only a few decades after the invention of the printing press.

“This is the beginning of the transition from the Haggadah as a luxury item that a family might barely be able to afford, if at all, . . . to something that could be mass-produced more cheaply,” Finkelman explained. “As you can see just by glancing at it, it’s a very simple layout. It’s the beginning of [printing] technology.”

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Read more at Jewish Journal

More about: Cairo Geniza, Haggadah, Rare books

How the Death of Mahsa Amini Changed Iran—and Its Western Apologists

Sept. 28 2022

On September 16, a twenty-two-year-old named Mahsa Amini was arrested by the Iranian morality police for improperly wearing a hijab. Her death in custody three days later, evidently after being severely beaten, sparked waves of intense protests throughout the country. Since then, the Iranian authorities have killed dozens more in trying to quell the unrest. Nervana Mahmoud comments on how Amini’s death has been felt inside and outside of the Islamic Republic:

[I]n Western countries, the glamorizing of the hijab has been going on for decades. Even Playboy magazine published an article about the first “hijabi” news anchor in American TV history. Meanwhile, questioning the hijab’s authenticity and enforcement has been framed as “Islamophobia.” . . . But the death of Mahsa Amini has changed everything.

Commentators who downplayed the impact of enforced hijab have changed their tune. [Last week], CNN’s Christiane Amanpour declined an interview with the Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, and the Biden administration imposed sanctions on Iran’s notorious morality police and senior officials for the violence carried out against protesters and for the death of Mahsa Amini.

The visual impact of the scenes in Iran has extended to the Arab world too. Arabic media outlets have felt the winds of change. The death of Mahsa Amini and the resulting protests in Iran are now top headlines, with Arab audiences watching daily as Iranian women from all age groups remove their hijabs and challenge the regime policy.

Iranian women are making history. They are teaching the world—including the Muslim world—about the glaring difference between opting to wear the hijab and being forced to wear it, whether by law or due to social pressure and mental bullying. Finally, non-hijabi women are not afraid to defy, proudly, their Islamist oppressors.

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Read more at Nervana

More about: Arab World, Iran, Women in Islam