The Haggadot commissioned by wealthy patrons in the Middle Ages are among the most beautifully decorated Hebrew manuscripts, and the Brother Haggadah – so-called because of its close relationship to the Rylands Haggadah in the collection of the John Rylands Library, Manchester – is one of the finest to have survived.
Created by Sephardi – or Iberian – artists and scribes in Catalonia in the second quarter of the 14th century, it sets out the liturgy and sequence of the Passover Seder, a ritual feast by which Jewish families give thanks for the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt as described in the Book of Exodus. The manuscript prescribes all eight days of the associated feast, and includes liturgical poems, most of the morning liturgy, biblical readings and a previously untranslated commentary on the Haggadah.
This finely produced facsimile edition includes an introduction by Marc Michael Epstein, who sets out the background to the Passover and provides an analysis of the manuscript’s iconographic scheme. Jeremy Schonfield focuses both on the texts and on how the manuscript was used as a physical object. Following are essays on the provenance of the Brother Haggadah by Ilana Tahan, and on the Shaltiel family, former owners of the manuscript, by Eliezer Laine. The book also contains a translation of the poems and commentary in the manuscript by the late Raphael Loewe (d. 2011), former Goldsmid Professor of Hebrew at University College London, and a translation of the Haggadah liturgy.
This book is both a visual treat and an important work of scholarship that will delight and inform all those engaged with Jewish art, history and faith, and anyone interested in the best of medieval art.