Just in time for Pesach: A unique, extensive collection of Passover Hagaddahs has been put on display in Jerusalem for the past few weeks. The collection – displayed prior to its' online auction at the Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem this Wednesday – consists of thousands of books and manuscripts, but the collection's origins can be traced back to one single collector who gathered the hagaddahs over the course of many years.
The result is a vast and diverse collection of hagaddahs from across the Jewish world, of varying themes and spanning many centuries and generations.
Among the items on display are handwritten hagaddahs, influential hassidic hagaddahs, hagaddahs with emendations and signatures, ancient and rare printed hagaddahs, first editions of important commentaries, translations into different languages, illustrated artistic haggadahs, bibliographic editions, and more.
The hagaddah – which recounts the Jewish journey from slavery in Egypt to exodus and redemption – is a central feature of Seder Night, the first (and in the Diaspora, also the second) night of Passover during which Jewish families gather to mark the exodus from Egypt.
Over the years, the Passover hagaddah has become one of the most widely-printed Jewish books. According to bibliographical research, by 1960 about 4,730 different types of hagaddahs were printed all around the Jewish world. Since then, countless more have been published.
Arutz Sheva got a glimpse at the rare collection displayed at the Kedem Auction house – and after hours of burrowing, we returned with a number of Hagaddahs concealing some intriguing stories of their own:
War Hagaddahs – written by the German and British armies
During the First World War, over a million Jewish soldiers served in the armies of Britain, France, Germany, Austro-Hungary, Russia and the United States. Often, during the clashes between the Allied forces and the Axis powers, Jewish soldiers on both sides of the trenches would face off against each other.
One interesting subtext to the already intriguing story of Jewish soldiers during the war is the story of the books they were carrying with them in their bags. As it turns outs, many Passover haggadahs were among those books – an incredible testament to the determination of Jewish soldiers on both sides to observe their traditions even in the extreme conditions of trench warfare.
As a result, almost every national army would issue special editions of the haggadah to their Jewish troops.
One such instance is the "Kriegs-Haggadah" (War Haggadah), issued in both Hebrew and German for the soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian and German armies during the war. These editions were imprinted with the portraits of the Austrian Caesar Franz Josef and the German Caesar Wilhelm.
Conversely, their brothers on the British side would carry the "Special Service for Passover Evening" Hagaddah edition, issued in Calcutta India by the "Jewish War Services Committee for India."
"And you shall tell you children" – even under Nazi rule
In recent years, many children's hagaddahs have swept the market. Unsurprisingly perhaps, considering the hagaddah's emphasis on imparting the story of the exodus to the next generation, this is not a new trend.
Like the hagaddah itself, the Seder's unique character has led many communities to issue special Hagaddahs for children, some of which date back hundreds of years.
One very unique example is the colorful Hagaddah for children with "moving pictures" initially published in Berlin in 1936, after the Nazis rose to power. The cutout, movable pictures were meant to encourage children's participation during the Seder.
An even earlier child-friendly hagaddah on display is a 1865 edition, published in Thessaloniki, then under the control of the Ottoman Empire.
The words "Under the government of our king Sultan Abdülaziz (Praised be his name)", are written on the front page, informing that this is also a "Hagaddah for the babies of the school (…) for the students to learn".
Hassidic Rebbe – Warsaw Ghetto warrior
Sometimes the uniqueness of a book doesn't derive from its content, design, place of printing or year of publication, but from the person who once owned it.
Such is the case with two hagaddahs published in 1914, which belonged to two hassidic Rebbes (grand rabbis) who perished in the Holocaust.
This is a somewhat tragic, personal display. The two rebbes' handwritten signature can be found in the hagaddahs, which are still stained with wine presumably spilled during the Seder meal.
One of them belonged to Rabbi Avraham Yehuda Dancyger, the Rebbe of Alexander, and includes his signature on the last page together with a handwritten dedication.
Rabbi Avraham was the Rebbe of the Alexander Hassidim of Lodz, Poland. He died at the Chelmno death camp in west Poland.
The second hagaddah belonged to Rabbi Yisrael Shapira of Grodzinsky. Rabbi Yisrael was both a scholar and, at the end of his life, a Jewish warrior too, taking part in leading the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. He perished at the Treblinka Death camp.
The first ever hassidic hagaddah
In 1794 – when names of hassidic leaders like Rabbi Levy Yitzchak of Berdichev, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi and Rabbi Nachman of Breslov still referred to the living – in the city of Lemberg (then part of the Austrian empire and today known as Lviv, in the Ukraine) the first hassidic haggadah was printed.
The hagaddah, named "The Heirloom of Benjamin", was printed by the students of the Maggid of Mezritch and the Magid of Zaliztsi. The endorsement (haskamah) of Rabbi Levy Yitzchak of Berdichev also appears in the hagaddah, expressing the legendary hassid's hopes that it will "bring many back from sin."
A Hidden Jew's hagaddah
Over the years, the Passover hagaddah has become more than just a book used during Seder night; it has become something of a Jewish symbol.
One hagaddah which starkly testifies to this status was published in 1928 in the city of Porto in Portugal, under the name "Haggadah Shel Pessah Le'Anusim (The Hagaddah of the forcibly-converted Jews)."
The Haggadah was published by one Arthur Carlos De Barros Basto, known by his Hebrew name: Avraham Israel Ben-Rosh (1887-1961).
The story of Ben-Rosh is fascinating in its own right. An officer in the Portuguese army, Basto was a hero of the 1910 revolution and the First World War. While in his adolescence, he discovered he was a descendant of the Anusim of Spain – Jews forcibly converted to Christianity during the Inquisition – and consequently sought to reconnect to his Jewish roots and traditions.
Ben-Rosh established a Jewish community and synagogue in his home town of Porto, and was the leader of the Anusim who returned to Judaism. In an incident which led some to dub him "the Portuguese Dreyfus", an anti-Semitic plot against him resulted in a show trial and dismissal from the army.
His name was cleared only relatively recently, restoring his rightful status as a hero in Portugal once again.
Ben-Rosh published the hagaddah for the benefit of the members of the community he established.
Passover Seder in the city of Monopoly
In 1496, in the Italian port city of Monopoly, a dignified elderly Jewish man finished writing a new piece, the hardships of a life of wandering, exile and suffering etched into his aging features.
The man was Rabbi Yitzchak Don Abarbanel, one of the leading Jewish luminaries of his generation – and a Jewish leader who in many ways personified what it meant to be a "wandering Jew" in exile.
The 30 years which preceded that day were filled with hardships for him and his fellow Spanish and Portuguese Jews: At first, he was appointed as the minister of the treasury to the King of Portugal; later, due to a plot against him he was forced to flee, and eventually settle in the city of Toledo, Spain, where he was again appointed as the minister of the treasury.
However, after eight years he was exiled again along with most of his community as part of the expulsion of Jews from Spain.
He then settled in the city of Naples where he was also again appointed to head the treasury – but yet again, he was forced to flee.
Finally, Abarbanel settled in the city of Monopoly. The book he finished writing that day was the "Passover feast", a commentary on the Passover Hagaddah. The book was meant to plant the hope of salvation in the hearts of his fellow Jewish exiles and persecuted brethren, and to maybe even bring back those who were pushed away from their Judaism – the Anusim – due to the hardships they suffered in exile.
The book was printed in 1545, not far from where it was written, in the city of Venice.
From a Master of the 'Kinetic Arts'
One of the most well-known and prominent artistic hagaddahs are the ones designed by Israeli artist Yaakov Agam.
Agam is considered a pioneer of the Kinetic arts – a form of art which centers on movement and its effects.
Agam's hagaddah, in which each page is 0.15 IN on 0.19 IN, depicts the "four sons" in a contemporary, creative design. The pages were made using special silk pints, engraved with the artist's signature.
One for each plague
Along with the Hagaddahs are various works of art related to Passover, such as "The Ten Plagues".
Each Plague was given a separate lithographic painting by renowned German artist Rafaello Busoni. The lithography was published in a special edition of two hundred copies, each signed with the artist's handwritten signature.