In the beginning of spring, the Jewish holiday of Passover is celebrated with wine, food, and a book called the Haggadah that serves as a guide for the Passover dinner, the seder. The Haggadah contains the songs, stories, and interpretations of biblical events which would be part of the remembrance of the exodus from Egypt, as well as a script for the seder.
Hundreds of elaborately ornamented Haggadah manuscripts survive from the medieval period. At that time, books were expensive, so the people gathered around the seder table could not each have their own copy of the Haggadah. This changed with the invention of the printing press. Since then, families have been buying multiple copies of their chosen Haggadahs for their seders. Different authors, thinkers, rabbis, artists and activists write their own Haggadahs today as they did then, reflecting their beliefs, outlooks and talents. Because of this, a history of the Haggadah is a history of the Jewish people, and also a history of the world.
By looking at pages from Haggadahs from different parts of the globe and from various time periods, one can see how the world changed from the medieval period to the Renaissance, from the Renaissance to the modern period, from the modern period to our current time. Traditions blend into each other and cultures influence each other, and hints of this are often on the pages of the Haggadah.
On the AHA’s Pinterest board, we have collected photographs of Haggadahs from India, Bosnia, Italy, Spain, Germany, Israel, and other parts of the world. The earliest is from 11th-century Cairo and the latest is from the United States in 2012. There are many, many more. A history of the United States could be told through the Haggadahs that have been written and illustrated here, and histories of the medieval Haggadah have also been written, although the whole, complex story can never be told all at once.
Our Pinterest board of the historic Haggadah is only a small sampling, but it highlights beautiful books that tell rich histories in themselves. Readers are invited to share links to their favorite Haggadahs and tell us their stories in the comments below.