500 years of tradition

A medieval manuscript and a family-friendly edition are two of this year’s new Haggada offerings.

Red Sea A Happy Passover Haggadah_ 521 (photo credit: Monicka Clio Rafaeli)
Red Sea A Happy Passover Haggadah_ 521
(photo credit: Monicka Clio Rafaeli)
AHappy Passover Haggada makes a colorful addition to any Seder. With its exciting illustrations, the Haggada is appealing to both children and adults alike. Rabbi Marc Angel provides a readable translation, with a few introductory remarks, and includes customs for both the Sephardi and Ashkenazi heritages. But the real advantage is Monicka Rafaeli’s fresh illustrations that jump off the pages, making it a friendly, beautiful Haggada. Rafaeli, who worked on the Haggada for more than three years, uses vibrant colors, images and fonts, giving the traditional text a modern look.
Portions of the book are transliterated, so for those unfamiliar with the original Hebrew and Aramaic, or who have difficulty getting the words out, there is just enough transliteration to sing the well-known songs and recite some blessings, while the rest can be read in English. The Four Questions, Dayeinu, and some of the Hallel are spelled out, with a transliteration guide at the end of the book to ensure proper pronunciation. Its sturdy format also makes it accessible to any age, child or adult.
A welcome addition is the Grace after Meals, which appears in both Ashkenazi and Sephardi versions, leaving no guest out. The illustrations are lively and cheerful, and coupled with the clear text and transliterations, this Haggada is as friendly as it is beautiful, and makes a great gift for any home.
What’s known as the Washington Haggada was actually written more than 500 years ago in Germany.
This medieval illuminated manuscript was authored by the prolific scribe and illustrator Joel ben Simeon. The Haggada eventually made its way to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, from where its present name originates. The new version, published by Harvard University Press, contains a lengthy introduction by David Stern and Katrina Kogman-Appel, which sheds light on the history of the famous illustrator and analyzes this precious piece of Judaica.
Stern, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, provides a scholarly look at the history of Haggadot in general, of which more than 4,000 editions have been published since the late 15th century – when Jews first began printing books – and of ben Simeon’s text in particular. In addition, the book includes an English translation, rendered by Stern, including notes from the manuscript’s margins.
Kogman-Appel, an associate professor at Ben-Gurion University, provides a fascinating analysis of the calligraphy and illustrations, which are as much a commentary on the text as they are a work of art. One such example is ben Simeon’s depiction of the wicked son as a knight and the simple son as a jester.
The work is illuminating in more ways than one, and includes a color facsimile of the original 38 pages, as well as a description and explanation of each of the 11 illustrations.
This academic review leaves one excited about medieval manuscripts, and wanting to delve into additional works created by ben Simeon.