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

April 2, 2021 | Maya Margit
About the author:

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.”

Read more on Jewish Journal: