Monday, March 29, 2010

Birds Head Revisited

Tonight is the first night of Passover and Jews worldwide, will be participating in a Seder. There are basically three components to a Seder—a story, wine (you are supposed to drink four glasses), and food. The ratio of storytelling, drinking, and eating, varies greatly from household to household.

For those not familiar with the Haggadah, it is the book that contains the story of how the Jews, after being enslaved in Egypt were liberated by God. Traditional Jewish law has it that it is incumbent upon parents to convey that story to their children as if they themselves experienced God taking them from slavery to freedom. There are numerous interactive components to the Seder in order to keep the children’s attention until the food is served.

I’m guessing that keeping children involved is what prompted illustration of the Haggadah. On account of the commandment forbidding graven images, traditional Jewish texts contain no images whatsoever. In fact, it seems that first illustrated Haggadah c. 1300, was from Germany and didn’t even show human faces. It was called the Birds' Head Haggadah since the characters where shown with heads of birds and other animals. The angels had blank faces.

The actual book resides in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

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