- The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative, and Religious Imagination by Marc Michael Epstein
(New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011), 344 pp.
Since approximately 1300, the production of the Haggadah (the text of the annual paraliturgical Passover seder ritual) as an entity separate from the prayer book has been a continuous cottage industry. There are several thousand cataloged editions, and, with the liberties being taken to align the Haggadah with an ever-expanding marketplace of contemporary religious and social concerns, the number increases at a dizzying rate. What accounts, in part, for the ubiquity of the Haggadah is the rich commentary history, some of which takes pictorial form. Epstein combines erudition and his characteristic verve to explicate the ways that lavish illustrations in four of Europe’s earliest Haggadot (pl.) added multiple layers of meaning and interpretation to the Passover seder. We thus find ourselves immersed in the world — real and imagined — of medieval Jews who used their Haggadah illustrations to negotiate status, anxiety, and eschatological longing, themes that modern readers of the Haggadah will find familiar. In any [End Page 334] case, nobody could ask for a better introduction to the complexity of these richly illuminated medieval books.
Adam Cohen, associate professor of art history at the University of Toronto and, currently, a visiting fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem, is the author of The Uta Codex: Art, Philosophy, and Reform in Eleventh-Century Germany and One Hundred Illustrated Haggadot (forthcoming). He is coeditor of Gesta, the journal of the International Center of Medieval Art.