Replicas of 600-year-old Sarajevo Haggada go on sale

Haggada survived Inquisition, Nazis, Bosnian war; replicas, like original, are printed on calfskin.

sarajevo haggada 88.298 (photo credit: AP)
sarajevo haggada 88.298
(photo credit: AP)
It has survived the Spanish Inquisition, Nazi invaders, the Bosnian war and the ravages of centuries. Now, for the first time, replicas of the 600-year-old Sarajevo Haggada are being sold to the public. The replicas took 18 months to make, and now 613 reproductions of the original, handwritten document - which is housed at Sarajevo's National Museum - have been printed and put up for sale, said Jakob Finci, the head of Bosnia's Jewish community. "We decided to print 613 replicas, as there are 613 mitzvot," Finci said Tuesday after bringing the first copy to Sarajevo. Written in Hebrew on bleached calfskin, the manuscript dates to before the expulsion of Spanish Jewry and describes events ranging from the Creation to the Exodus from Egypt to the death of Moses. The original is kept in a climate-controlled room shared by manuscripts from Bosnia's other religions - Islam, Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism. The 109-page text known as the Sarajevo Haggada was presented as a wedding gift in the 14th century to a couple in Barcelona. A small wine stain on one of the pages may have come from a glass raised at a Seder dinner. On another page, a small child tried out some handwriting. The replicas - printed on calfskin, with leather covers - look exactly the same as the original, Finci said. The community has already received orders for more than 100 of the copies, at $1,475 each, he said. When Spain expelled its Jews in 1492, a refugee brought the book to Italy. A rabbi later brought the Haggada to Bosnia and it passed down through his family until a descendant, Joseph Kohen, sold it to the National Museum in 1894. The museum kept the treasure in a safe until World War II, when a Catholic museum director and his Muslim colleague saved the book from a Nazi officer who came to pick it up. The two men spirited the book through German checkpoints and carried it to a village in the mountains above Sarajevo, where a Muslim cleric kept it hidden beneath the floor of a mosque until the war ended. It was then returned to the museum safe. When Bosnia's war erupted in 1992, the museum was on the front line. Braving Bosnian Serb sniper fire, a museum official crawled to the gallery, picked up the Haggada, crawled back and hid the manuscript in a safe at the National Bank. The Haggada remained there after the war ended in 1995 while the museum underwent repairs from war damage. It went back on display in January 2002.