Passover 2020 and The Iconography of the Plagues

The Golden Haggadah, second quarter of the 14th century, Spain, British Library MS Additional 27210, 12v. Four plagues: frogs, lice, “arov” (wild beasts), and murrain.

As we endure the pandemic of COVID-19, the plagues from the story of Exodus and the Haggadah acquire a different meaning. The iconographic representation of the plagues can already be found in medieval illuminated Haggadot, like the 14th-century Spanish haggadot: Golden Haggadah and the “Brother Haggadah,” now at the British Library. Both begin with a sequence of magnificent illuminations depicting the story of Exodus.

The “Brother Haggadah”, third quarter of the 14th century, Spain. British Library, MS Oriental 1404, fol. 5r. Plagues of boils (top) and hail (bottom)

The “Brother Haggadah” has depicts eight of the ten plagues, skipping the first (blood) and the last (the killing of the first born). Both the Golden Haggadah and the “Brother Haggadah” were were commissioned by affluent Spanish Jews. These are two of several surviving illuminated haggadot from Spain. Among the other known Spanish haggadot are the so-called Sarajevo haggadah and the Rylands haggadah from the the John Rylands Library in Manchester.

Histoire de la Bible et de l’Assomption de Notre-Dame, France, Paris, between 1390 and 1400
The Morgan Library and Museum, New York, MS M.526, fol. 14r

Christian illuminated bibles, especially the so called moralized bibles, also included illustrations of the plagues. Here is a late 14th century French bible, now at the Morgan Library, Histoire de la Bible et de l’Assomption de Notre-Dame, France, Paris, between 1390 and 1400 (MS M.526). Folios 12r-14v depict the scenes from Exodus relating the ten plagues. Here is the plague of locust. On top right Moses speaks with Pharaoh, depicted as a king, and at the bottom right Moses speaks to God, who is depicted as Christ.

The iconography found in many modern haggadot does not draw from these medieval examples, but rather from the iconography developed in the printed haggadot of the early modern era. This is the case for the 1946 Haggadah from Cairo. Below are images of the first five plagues: blood, frogs, lice, ‘arov (wild beasts/swarms), and murrain.

Below are images from a haggadah issued for the first Passover after the end of World War II. It was published in a Displaced Persons Camp in Fernwald in 1946. The Haggadah’s wine stains show it was used for a Passover seder (below). The pages below illustrate the dependence of modern haggadot on premodern iconography. The bottom image, marked by wine stains, shows the section shefokh ha-matkha (“Pour forth thy wrath”) section of the Passover Haggadah, which must have been particularly meaningful in 1946.

The break away from that “traditional” imagery came only from the more artistic modern haggadot, such as the 1969 El Al Haggadah.

Haggadah shel Pesah (Hagada for Passover) edited by Shaham Lewenson, Printed for El Al 1969. Fordham University, SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1969 1

To see more –though not all– examples of Haggadot from the Fordham collection, see the catalogue of the exhibition “Haggadah and History,” which was on view in 2019.

In Honor of Martin Luther King Jr’s Day 2020

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Day we wanted to highlight The Freedom Seder: A New Haggadah from in our Judaica collection. The Freedom Seder was held at the Lincoln Temple, a black church in Washington, DC, in 1969 and was attended by hundreds of participants, Jews and Christians, black and white.

Passover of 1968 came on Aprl 12, just eight days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and three days after his funeral. Days after the “Holy Week Uprising” was quelled. That year, Arthur Waskow, one of Jewish peace activists at the time and a future founder of the Shalom Center, felt that the Passover holiday spoke to the struggles of the time. As he told NPR’s Code Switch, for that Passover, “I wove the story of the liberation of ancient Hebrews from Pharaoh with the liberation struggles of black America, of the Vietnamese people, passages from Dr. King, from Gandhi.”

Saul Raskin, Haggadah shel Pesah (New York, 1941). Fordham University, + SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1941 2
Saul Raskin Haggadah for Passover (New York, 1941), Fordham O’Hare Special Collections: + SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1941 2

In 1969, the anniversary of Dr. King’s death fell on one of the days of Passover, and Arthur Waskow along with other activists organized the Freedom Seder. For that occasion, Waskow created a “new Haggadah,” one that combined traditional elements with those relevant to the times, using the Saul Raskin Haggadah, which he had been given in 1946 for his bar mitzvah, and adapting it by adding new voices, among them Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt, Abraham Lincoln, Nat Turner, Emanuel Ringelblum, and of course Martin Luther King Jr.:

No, the moments of resistance have not been bloodless. The blood of tyrants and the blood of freemen has watered history. But we may not rest easy in that knowledge. The freedom we seek is a freedom from blood as well as a freedom from tyrants. It is incumbent upon us not only to remember in tears the blood of the tyrants and the blood of the prophets and martyrs, but to end the letting of blood. To end it, to end it! For as one of the greatest of our prophets, whose own death by violence at a time near the Passover were member in tears tonight—as the prophet Martin Luther King called us to know: “The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But the principle of nonviolent resistance seeks to reconcile the truths of two opposites-acquiescence and violence. The nonviolent resister rises to the noble height of opposing the unjust system while loving the perpetrators of the system. Nonviolence can reach men where the law can not touch them. So—we will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will not hate you, but we cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws. And in winning our freedom we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process.”

The Freedom Seder Haggadah was first published in the Ramparts magazine, and, according Waskow, this was “the first Haggadah, certainly the first widely circulated, that celebrated the liberation of other peoples as well as the liberation of the Jewish people.”

The Shalom Center, founded by Rabbi Waskow, has posted a 10 minute video of the 1969 seder:

A New Exhibit at O’Hare Special Collections: Media Technology and the Dissemination of Hate

by Magda Teter, The Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies

Technological advances can lead to positive social change. Technological innovations have helped create, preserve, and disseminate knowledge. In medieval Europe, the introduction of paper lowered the costs of manuscript production and record keeping. The invention of movable type and the printing press in the middle of the fifteenth century made books more easily accessible. The innovations in the production of paper in the nineteenth century, and in printing methods made newspapers, postcards, and color books possible. Photography, radio, and films facilitated new forms communication of news and entertainment. In our lives the Internet has provided new ways to communicate and learn. But along positive change, technological advances have often also been harnessed to less laudable goals, allowing for access to and dissemination of not only “useful” or “respectable” knowledge, but also of hateful stories, derogatory images and stereotypes.

In June 2019, the Council on Foreign Relations concluded that “Violence attributed to online hate speech has increased worldwide.” Twenty-first century media technology has been shown to facilitate dissemination of hate–bullying on social media; chat groups that allow for racist and antisemitic individuals to find like-minded communities; bots amplifying hateful messages. But while the media technology we live with is new, the phenomenon of harnessing new technology for hateful purposes is not. Anytime communications technology advanced, hatred spread as well. The exhibition explores how different technological breakthroughs facilitated the propagation of hate: in Europe—anti-Jewish and antisemitic images and tales, in America—antisemitism and racism.

Bible moralisée/Bible de Saint Louis (Facsimile edition, M. Moleiro, 2000-2004; original, 13th century, between 1226 and 1234, now at Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada, in Toledo)+ SPEC COLL LEACH 2000 2 V.1

Derogatory anti-Jewish iconography emerged at the end of the 12th century not to channel anti-Jewish sentiments but rather to amplify Christian piety. With time this anti-Jewish imagery gained more explicit hateful meaning. Still in the Middle Ages its reach was relatively limited— church art seen only locally, or precious manuscripts seen by few, such as here the splendidly illuminated Bible moralisée—the medieval picture bible—made for King Louis IX of France between 1226 and 1234, on display here. 

The breakthrough came with the invention of the printing press in the middle of the fifteenth century, which resulted in the first mass produced commodity—the printed book. Along came also cheaper pamphlets and broadsides. While the printing press allowed for the diffusion of knowledge, laws, and devotional texts, the new technology was also employed to disseminate anti-Jewish images and texts. These previously localized, or obscure, images or tales now had a broader reach. Books, even those that only tangentially discussed Jews, helped spread ideas and images—often false and spurious—about Jews and Judaism to a much wider audience. On display is the lavishly illustrated Nuremberg Chronicle, published in 1493, which included, among thousands of other stories, some eleven stories about post-biblical Jews, all of them spurious and derogatory. While there were books specifically focused on anti-Jewish content, sometimes books not meant to convey explicitly derogatory ideas captured the state of current knowledge, effectively replicating biased epistemological models, the works of Johannes Buxtorf or Bernard Picart in Fordham’s collection can serve as examples.

Hartmann Schedel, Weltchronik, also known as the Nuremberg Chronicle, originally published in Nuremberg in 1493 in both Latin and German, republished in German in a full size facsimile edition in 1933.
19th-century technology made publishing daily newspapers, postcards, posters, leaflets, songbooks, joke books, and other ephemera, possible. These too were harnessed to propagate hateful stereotypes.

But until the nineteenth century book production was still quite expensive: paper was made through a protracted process from rags, text had to be set from individual types, and any illustrations had to be either carved in wood to make woodcuts, or engraved on copper plates. But in the nineteenth century, wood pulp paper, lithography, rotary press, and offset printing made printing cheaper and more widely available. This facilitated the development of daily newspapers, with front-page color images, as well as postcards, posters, songbooks, joke books, and other ephemera. These too were harnessed to propagate hateful stereotypes much more widely through news and entertainment.

Irene Harand, Azoy? Oder Azoy? Der Emes vegen anti-Semitism [This? Or That? The Truth concerning anti-Semitism.] (Vienna: Karl Popelka, 1933). First published in German as “So? oder so? Wahrheit über den Antisemitismus” (This? or that? The Truth about Antisemitism). The title of the publication “This? Or That?” is tied to the cover design, presenting a choice between “this,” represented as a swastika or “that,” represented by the scales of justice. It was also issued in Yiddish (on display) and in Polish. A recent acquisition.

But these hateful challenges did not go unanswered. Jews, as well as non-Jews, often became allies in the fight against hatred, turning to religious values for moral support, celebrating festivals together, and organizing for a better future.

The Common Road to Freedom Passover Haggadah (Prepared for the Religious Action Center of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1985). First edition, prepared the Shabbat Hagadol Social Action Sabbath in 1985. In English with some Hebrew. It is an example of a joint response to racism and antisemitism. A recent acquisition.

The exhibition “Media Technology and the Dissemination of Hate” is on view until May 31st, 2020 at the O’Hare Special Collections at the Walsh Family Library at Fordham University, Rose Hill Campus.

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The exhibition was co-curated by Sally Brander FCRH ‘20, Clare McCabe FCRH ‘20, and Magda Teter, the Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies, with contributions from students in Professor Teter’s seminar on antisemitism (HIST 4308) from Fall 2018 and 2019, and assistance and support from Linda Loschiavo, the Director of the Walsh Family Library and Vivian (Wei) Shen of the O’Hare Special Collections.

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The exhibition would not have been possible without the generosity of Mr. Eugene Shvidler, whose gift to Fordham’s Jewish Studies program helped start Fordham’s Judaica collection.

Jewish High Holidays in Christian Eyes

by Magda Teter, the Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies

From the earliest days of Christianity, Christian communities grappled with Jewish holidays. Should they be observed or not? Soon, they were rejected. Passover came to be redefined as Easter; the Sabbath moved to Sunday as the day of the Lord. But as Jews continued to observe their festivals—sometimes developing new rituals—some Christians continued to follow them. Preaching in 387, just before High Holidays, which he described as “the feast of Trumpets, the feast of Tabernacles, the fasts,” a Christian leader in Antioch John Chrysostom was exasperated. “The festivals of the pitiful and miserable Jews,” he noted in his homily, “are soon to march upon us one after the other and in quick succession: the feast of Trumpets, the feast of Tabernacles, the fasts. There are many in our ranks who say they think as we do. Yet some of these are going to watch the festivals and others will join the Jews in keeping their feasts and observing their fasts. I wish to drive this perverse custom from the Church right now.” It was a difficult task, many Christian considered synagogues holy places because of the scrolls they held, and respected Jewish holidays. As a result John Chrysostom did everything possible to disparage both Jewish rituals and their synagogues, producing some of the most anti-Jewish writings in Christian history, though because they were written in Greek they became lost to the Roman Latin world.

Still, Jewish holidays continued to be subject of Christian interest and derision, seen a proof of the absurdity of their observance of Jewish law. Some of the earliest printed anti-Jewish books focus on Jewish ceremonies, and especially those of the High Holidays. At the beginning of the sixteenth-century, a new genre of literature developed, called by scholars “polemical ethnographies of Jews.” Victor von Carben and Johannes Pfefferkorn pioneered the genre in the German vernacular, and Antonius Margaritha perfected it. In 1508, Pfefferkorn published a pamphlet Ich heyss eyn buchlijn, which came with five woodcuts, four of which were full-page, representing scenes of Jewish ceremonies related to the High Holidays. In all of them, Jews appear blindfolded performing ritual acts on Rosh Ha-Shana and Yom Kippur, such taschlikh (a symbolic casting off of sins), kapparot (a ritual of atonement), and malkot (a ritual flagellation). The goal was unmistakably to ridicule and highlight the strangeness of Jewish observances. The woodcuts in Pfefferkorn’s booklet were some of the earliest visual representations of post-biblical Jews disseminated in Europe.

In 1530, Antonius Margaritha published Der gantz Jüdisch Glaub (The Entire Jewish Faith) and provided a fuller (than Pfefferkorn) description of Jewish customs, including also a translation of Jewish prayers into German. The book also came with woodcuts and became a bestseller. Margaritha’s illustrations were based on Pfefferkorn’s, though they were smaller and a mirror image, suggesting the artist had Pfefferkorn’s book in front of him.

The genre of “polemical ethnographies of Jews” flourished after the beginning of the Reformation in the context of Protestant anti-Catholic polemic and interests, as Protestants began to study “Jewish ritual for the purpose of elucidating the original practices” of early Christians, and, thereby, of pointing to the corruption of the Catholic Church. If von Carben, Pfefferkorn, and Margaritha were Jewish converts to Christianity, soon Christian scholars began to write their own books about Jewish ceremonies and rituals. One of the most successful such books became Johannes Buxtorf’s Synagoga Judaica, whichaddressed explicitly to the Christian reader, promising to “consider” with utmost diligence the “great ingratitude, disobedience, and stubbornness” of the Jews through a detailed description of Jewish ceremonies. He based his description on a wide array of Jewish sources ranging from the Talmud and the Shulḥan ‘Arukh, to prayer books, and Yiddish sources, such as sermons, guidebooks, and minhag books. Buxtorf, a reformed theologian and a professor of Hebrew at the University of Basel, wanted ostensibly to answer a question whether Jews indeed observed “zealously” the laws of Moses.  But, in fact, he sought to expose the “unbelief” of the Jews and show to Christians that Jews of his time no longer obeyed biblical laws but they followed “fables” and other traditions. He wanted to arm Christians with tools against the Jewish “unbelief” and help them avoid the “wrath of God.” The book became exceedingly popular, going through many editions in German and Latin, not least because—with no illustrations and small octavo or duodecimo format—it was inexpensive to print. Only some later, eighteenth-century editions included images.

Bernard Picart, The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Several Nations of the Known World (1733), illustrations of Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur

But some other books were more exquisite. One such work was Bernard Picart’s elaborate depiction and description of Jewish ceremonies, Cèrèmonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde, published in 1723, with high quality copperplates that did not focus just on what Christians thought were absurd practices, and soon also in the English translation as The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Several Nations of the Known World. And though not all Picart’s Jewish figures are portrayed in a flattering way— some even sport a prominent “Jewish nose”–nonetheless these images are not inflammatory, though not devoid of polemical meaning. Like Pfefferkorn and Margaritha before him, Picart included in the first 1723 edition illustrations of Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur, and the rest of High Holidays, but omitted the “bizarre” others emphasized (tashlikh, kapparot, and malkot). (Only a later edition in Paris added these derogatory images).

With these books, some illustrated, western Christian readers now had tools to learn more about Jews. Jewish rituals were now revealed, and the artists made it symbolically known that Christians were now privy to see the internal Jewish practices: many illustrations depict Christians gazing or even participating in the ceremonies: in Pfefferkorn’s and Margaritha’s books it is a Christian synagogue attendant, the only figure not blindfolded; in some of Bernard Picart’s depictions, among Christian figures are prominently located women wearing crosses; in Johann Alexander Boener’s depictions of Jews in Fürth, Christians witness outdoor Jewish ceremonies, as they also do in Paul Christian Kirchner’s Jüdisches Ceremoniel and Johann Bodenchatz’s Kirchliche Verfassung. The presence of the Christians in these illustrations made visible a significant point—they signaled to the readers that Jewish ceremonies, now exposed and witnessed by Christians, were no longer “secret” and concealed. In the long term, the works demystified Jewish practices. Even though these books presented Jews as strange, they also countered the knowledge passed on through anti-Jewish tales in chronicles so ubiquitous in Europe, in which Jews appeared as secretive and dangerous killers to be killed and plundered.