A Medieval Italian Haggadah with Lavish Illustrations of Passover Preparations—and the Slaughtering of Pigs

April 11 2019

Composed in the city of Milan and richly illuminated, the Lombard Haggadah is the oldest known stand-alone Italian manuscript of the seder liturgy. Susan Moore describes the artifact, which will be on display in New York City next week:

[The Haggadah’s] seder illustrations are essentially domestic, familial images: we witness the preparation of the meal, prayers and blessings, the ritual of hand-washing, readings, and scenes of the table of seated figures and of the meal itself. Some 75 pale, delicate—and damaged—watercolor washes over pen and ink outlines occupy the margins of almost every page. . . . Particularly striking is one elegant servant in fashionable bi-colored garments—one pointed leg clothed in pink hose, the other in red—bearing an enormous bunch of maror, the bitter herbs that are an essential part of the sacred meal, intended to symbolize the bitterness of enslavement.

It seems probable that the manuscript was made for a wealthy Jewish individual during the last decade of the 14th century, a period that saw a wave of immigration of northern European Jews to Lombardy, but not to the city of Milan itself, as a result of the welcome extended by Duke Gian Galeazzo Visconti. Its figures and imagery are entirely characteristic of the international gothic style, and what is fascinating is that it is essentially no different from Christian Latin manuscripts of the same period in terms of execution, presentation or detail, even if the script and specific narratives differ. . . .

The manuscript also peculiarly, if not uniquely, depicts the Labors of the Month, [a common medieval motif involving depictions of activities associated with each month]. The scenes of agricultural work represented in this visual calendar are a curious inclusion given that urban Jews [almost never owned land] and presumably did not slaughter pigs in December.

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More about: Haggadah, Italian Jewry, Manuscripts

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat