One of the most significant texts in Judaism, the Haggadah is integral to the celebration of Passover, which begins tonight at sundown. Hebrew for “telling”, the Haggadah contains passages from Exodus, as well as a ritual guide to the Seder, the Passover meal, which includes prayers, songs, and commentary. The use of the Haggadah dates back to the tenth century and has not only served a functional purpose, but has been a source of artistic expression.
In the Middle Ages, Haggadot (the plural of Haggadah) were often illuminated, featuring intricate illustrations and designs. One of the most famous examples of illuminated Haggadot is the Rylands Haggadah, a mid-1300s text from Catalonia illustrated with colorful miniatures that tell the Exodus story. The most important Hebrew text in the John Rylands Library, it was exhibited at The Met last year.
Using the Haggadah as an inspiration for fine art continues to this day. Contemporary artist Archie Granot works in the traditional Jewish medium of papercutting. He applied this technique to a commission he received to create a Haggadah. His 55-page Papercut Haggadah uses calligraphic text and shapes in place of the typical symbols to give emotional intensity to the work. Every Hebrew word is handcut, making each word its own individual artistic effort while also part of a whole concept.
The Papercut Haggadah will be exhibited at MOBIA from June 14 to September 29 in our upcoming exhibition, As Subject and Object: Contemporary Book Artists Explore Sacred Hebrew Texts.
Maxwell House has produced a Haggadah, sold in grocery stores with a can of Maxwell House Coffee, every year since 1932. Recognizable to many, this Haggadah, which focuses more on tradition than exegesis, was even used by President Obama last year during the White House Seder. In 2011, Maxwell House’s publication made news when the company decided to use gender-neutral language, translating “God is King” to “God is Monarch”, for example.
Do you have any special memories associated with Passover or the Haggadah? Feel free to share them in the comments section!