Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

Not just pretty Pesach pictures

    The Medieval Haggadah

    Marc Michael Epstein

    Yale University Press, £45

    Many of us may have reproductions of illuminated medieval haggadot such as the Bird's Head (now out in a rather enchanting children's pop-up edition) or the Golden Haggadah. They are probably the only memento we have of a distant age. But though we may admire the artwork, we probably treat it as little more than decorative.

    In this sumptuously produced, scholarly book, Marc Epstein, a professor of religion at Vassar College in the USA, explores the iconography of four haggadot (three of which are in the UK) analysing the cultural background, social milieu and religious agenda of the creators.

    The illustrations are a form of visual midrash, he says, which act as a commentary on the text.

    They are "a way of telling the tale of the relationship of Jews with God, their neighbours and each other through the exeg
    esis of the narratives of sacred scripture".

    For example, the griffin heads in the oldest known work, the Ashkenazi Bird's Head, which is dated to around 1300, could have mystical connotations. Or they could represent a combination of the features of lions and eagles, alluding to the saying in the Ethics of the Fathers that one should be as light as an eagle and brave as a lion to perform the will of heaven.

    Epstein argues that while Jews had been interested in religious art in late antiquity, this declined under the influence of Islam, but revived in Christian Europe. Using images "was already a stretch" in terms of Jewish law, so they "had to have meaning to justify their use".

Books

Review: The Honey and the Sting

Simon Rocker

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Review: The Honey and the Sting
Books

Review: Feminist Rereadings of Rabbinic Literature

Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Review: Feminist Rereadings of Rabbinic Literature
Books

David - The Divided Heart

Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Thursday, May 28, 2015

David - The Divided Heart
Books

Review: The Wed-Locked Agunot

Simon Rocker

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Review: The Wed-Locked Agunot
Books

Review: Naming God

Simon Rocker

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Review: Naming God
Books

Leviticus: the call of love

Simon Rocker

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Leviticus: the call of love
Books

Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Re...

Anonymous

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Re...
Books

An Orthodox view of other faiths

Rabbi Harvey Belovski

Monday, July 6, 2015

An Orthodox view of other faiths
Books

How barmitzvahs boomed

Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild

Thursday, January 1, 2015

How barmitzvahs boomed