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Illuminated Haggadah, (14th century)

The Haggadah (Hebrew: הַגָּדָה‎, "telling", plural: Haggadot) is a Jewish text that sets forth the order of the Passover Seder. Reading the Haggadah at the Seder table is a fulfillment of the Scriptural commandment to each Jew to "tell your son" of the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt as described in the Book of Exodus in the Torah. ("And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt. " Ex.  13:8)

Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews also apply the term Haggadah to the service itself, as it constitutes the act of "telling your son."



According to Jewish tradition, the Haggadah was compiled during the Mishnaic and Talmudic periods, although the exact date is unknown. It could not have been written earlier than the time of Rabbi Yehudah bar Elaay (circa 170 CE) who is the last tanna to be quoted therein. According to most Talmudic commentaries Rav and Shmuel argued on the compilation of the Haggadah,[note 1] and hence it had not been completed as of then. Based on a Talmudic statement, it was completed by the time of Rav Nachman (mentioned in Pesachim 116a). There is a dispute, however, to which Rav Nachman, the Talmud was referring: According to some commentators, this was Rav Nachman bar Yaakov[note 2] (circa 280 CE), while others maintain this was Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak (360 CE).[note 3]

However the Malbim,[1] along with a minority of commentators, believe that Rav and Shmuel were not arguing on its compilation, but rather on its interpretation, and hence was completed before then. According to this explanation; the Haggadah was written during the lifetime of Rav Yehudah haNasi,[note 4] the compiler of the Mishna. The Malbim theorizes that the Haggadah was written by Rav Yehudah haNasi himself.


The oldest complete manuscript of the Haggadah dates to the 10th century. It is part of a prayer book compiled by Saadia Gaon. The earliest known Haggadot produced as works in their own right are manuscripts from the 13th and 14th centuries, such as "The Golden Haggadah" (probably Barcelona c. 1320) and the "Sarajevo Haggadah" (late fourteenth century). It is believed that the first printed Haggadot were produced in 1482, in Guadalajara, Spain; however this is mostly conjecture, as there is no printer's colophon. The oldest confirmed printed Haggadah was printed in Soncino, Lombardy in 1486 by the Soncino family.

Although the Jewish printing community was quick to adopt the printing press as a means of producing texts, the general adoption rate of printed Haggadot was slow. By the end of the sixteenth century, only twenty-five editions had been printed. This number increased to thirty-seven during the seventeenth century, and 234 during the eighteenth century. It is not until the nineteenth century, when 1,269 separate editions were produced, that a significant shift is seen toward printed Haggadot as opposed to manuscripts. From 1900–1960 alone, over 1,100 Haggadot were printed.[2]

While the main portions of the text of the Haggadah have remained mostly the same since their original compilation, there have been some additions after the last part of the text. Some of these additions, such as the cumulative songs "One little goat" ("חד גדיא") and "Who Knows One?" ("אחד מי יודע"), which were added sometime in the fifteenth century, gained such acceptance that they became a standard to print at the back of the Haggadah.

In recent times, attempts have been made to modernize and revitalize the Haggadah, but Orthodox Jews continue to adhere to the traditional texts.[3]

Illuminated manuscripts[edit]

Rylands Hagaddah pp 19 & 20

The earliest Ashkenazi illuminated Haggada is known as the "Bird's Head Haggada",[4] now in the collection of The Israel Museum in Jerusalem.[5] The Rylands Haggadah (Rylands Hebrew MS. 6) is one of the finest Haggadot in the world. It was written and illuminated in Catalonia in the 14th century and is an example of the cross-fertilisation between Jewish and non-Jewish artists within the medium of manuscript illumination. In spring and summer 2012 it was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in the exhibition 'The Rylands Haggadah: Medieval Jewish Art in Context'.[6][7]

Published in 1526, the Prague Haggadah is known for its attention to detail in lettering and introducing many of the themes still found in modern texts. Although illustrations had often been a part of the Haggadah, it was not until the Prague Haggadah that they were used extensively in a printed text. The Haggadah features over sixty woodcut illustrations picturing "scenes and symbols of the Passover ritual; [...] biblical and rabbinic elements that actually appear in the Haggadah text; and scenes and figures from biblical or other sources that play no role in the Haggadah itself, but have either past or future redemptive associations".[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pesachim 116a
  2. ^ See tosafos bava batra 46b who states that every time the Talmud says Rav Nachman it is Rav Nachman bar Yaakov
  3. ^ See Rashi
  4. ^ As Rav Yehudah haNasi was a student of Yehudah bar Elaay and the teacher of Rav and Shmuel


  1. ^ Taub, Jonathan; Shaw, Yisroel (1993). The Malbim Haggadah. Targum Press. ISBN 1-56871-007-0. 
  2. ^ Yerushalmi pp. 23–24
  3. ^ Yerushalmi p. 98
  4. ^ "Letter to the Editor". Commentary Magazine. August, 1969. Retrieved February 4, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Birds' Head Haggadah, Germany, 1300". Jerusalem: The Israel Museum. Retrieved 2012-03-02. 
  6. ^ Rylands Haggadah in New York; John Rylands University Library
  7. ^ Hebrew manuscripts; the John Rylands Library
  8. ^ Yerushalmi p. 34


External links[edit]