Exhibit shows how Passover was artistically reinvented through the years

Martin Luther King Jr. “The reason I’m a rabbi now is because of ‘The Freedom Seder,’” said Waskow, who was ordained in 1995, 26 years after his haggadah was published. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
That may not be all too surprising, given that some of the artists commissioned to illustrate these books were likely Christians, said Marc Brettler, professor of Judaic studies at Duke. Ramparts magazine and later Holt, Rinehart and Winston published the haggadah, which wove together the traditional liturgy alongside texts by King, Henry David Thoreau and Mahatma Gandhi, among others. “The theme of the exhibit is to show how the haggadah has changed,” said Rachel Ariel, librarian for Jewish studies at Duke who curated the exhibit. Dozens of such books, spanning the 14th to the 21st centuries, are on display at a Duke University gallery and they showcase the artistic imagination used in the service of Passover, which is probably Judaism’s most widely observed holiday. Photo courtesy of David M. Illuminated versions began appearing two centuries later. Thomson There’s Ben Shahn’s haggadah (1966), featuring watercolor drawings mostly done in the 1930s. This includes a 1946 haggadah published in Munich right after the Holocaust that depicts the terrible bitterness Jews had just experienced, in dark, black and white woodcuts by Hungarian survivor Miklos Adler (under the pen name Ben Benjamin). One famous early version on display depicts the Israelites with human bodies but heads that look like birds with sharp beaks and animal ears. He was working as a civil rights activist in Washington when the Rev. “My kishkes (or gut) began to say, ‘This is Pharaoh’s army on the street,’” he said. To hear Rabbi Arthur Waskow tell it, the Passover story forever changed his life. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
And then there’s a series of civil rights and post-civil rights era haggadot. Image courtesy of Micah Press
In the Duke exhibit, “The Freedom Seder” is open to the title page, an illustration of a mustachioed black man, possibly King himself, and what looks to be a jail cell in the background. It was commissioned by the U.S. The exhibit includes versions from China, India and Israel, not to mention the countries where Jews were most populous such as Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. A secular Jew, he was on his way to a seder, or Passover meal, a week later when a Jeep with a machine gun and soldiers on the street quelling a riot cut him off. I was possessed.”
(“Capturing the Moment: Centuries of the Passover Haggadah” will be on display near the entrance to Duke University’s Perkins Library through June 11)
Religion News Service graphic by T.J. “It doesn’t say you can’t make any images at all. It’s a 19th-century legend, myth and falsehood that there’s no artistic visual tradition in Judaism.”
Other medieval versions depict Jews as courtly men and women of their time. “Capturing the Moment: Centuries of the Passover Haggadah” includes luminous illustrations of the central text: decorative gold-embossed calligraphy, mythical animals, and representations of Jews, young and old, male and female, baking matzo, fleeing Egypt, crossing the sea, celebrating the festive meal. The Let My People Go Haggadah, 1972. There’s a “Let My People Go” haggadah from 1972 that intended to raise awareness of the plight of Soviet Jewry. “There’s so much variety.”
The haggadah was first compiled as a pamphlet or book around the 11th century. And there are collections of themed haggadot that adapt the ancient story of Exodus to present-day liberation stories. “Jews commissioned them and told them what to draw. Indeed, many know parts of the Passover manual they will be reciting — called a “haggadah” — by heart. Among them: “The Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb,” a 1988 vegetarian manifesto, and “Like an Orange on a Seder Plate: Our Lesbian Haggadah” (1999). But the images used to illuminate this ancient text, embellished with hymns, songs and prayers, tell an additional story. Published in 1310 in southern Germany, the so-called “Birds’ Head Haggadah” is a mystery to most scholars. DURHAM, N.C. was murdered on April 4, 1968. (RNS) The text of the story is familiar to most Jews gathering around the table Monday (April 10) to recount the biblical story of their liberation from slavery in Egypt. Some have posited that because of the second commandment of the Hebrew Bible, which forbids graven images, the Jews producing this haggadah resorted to portraying their ancestors with bird heads. “It was writing me as much as I was writing it. Its black-and-white cover is a sketch of the onion domes of Russian Orthodox churches with a long row of anonymous-looking stick figures lining up at a side door. “In some cases, scholars believe that Christian illustrators were working under Jewish patronage,” Brettler said. That each new generation reimagines the universal message of liberation is a testament to the power of the story. It is the story of Passover told visually through the ages. Photo courtesy of David M. “The commandment just says ‘Don’t make a graven image of God to worship,’” said Bland. The Birds’ Head Haggadah. versions. The haggadah came alive. “I was shaken. Some illuminators were clearly influenced by Christian artistic motifs.”

Over the years, Duke University acquired more than 450 haggadot (plural of haggadah) from five continents in several different languages, including Russian, Italian, Yiddish, Ladino and Arabic. Army and intended for survivors in displaced persons camps. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
But scholars such as Kalman Bland, professor emeritus at Duke’s Department of Religious Studies, have debunked that view. The “Darmstadt Haggadah” of 1430, for example, shows Jews in medieval robes and gowns holding a book, presumably the haggadah — and conversing about it in a Gothic architectural setting of pointed arches and vaulted ceilings. There’s been Jewish art from the very beginning of days. One panel that stands out is of a group discussion around a long table that may be intended to look like a Passover seder but distinctly resembles Christian drawings of Jesus’ Last Supper. I went away totally changed.”
Later that year he began writing “The Freedom Seder: A New Haggadah for Passover” recruiting his friend, visual artist and jazz flutist Lloyd McNeill, who was not Jewish, to illustrate it. The Darmstadt Haggadah. But some of the most memorable are 20th-century U.S. Photo courtesy of David M. The Freedom Seder Hagganah from 1970.