by Henry Poehlein FCRH ’22
Printed in Amsterdam in 1782 by Yohanan Levi Rofe and his brother-in-law Barukh, Haggadah shel Pesah: an merkung Enyeh Hagodeh oyf zolkhe ahrt in es Taytshe izt nimahlen in der velt geyezn is a Passover Haggadah with contains two sections, one written in Hebrew containing the Haggadah with commentaries, and the other, written in Yiddish containing Jewish songs and commentaries pertaining to the Passover holiday.[i] It also contains a kabbalistic commentary by Elhanan ben Moses of Schnaittach (Elḥanan Shnaṭikh), Arba’ Yesodot.
The book itself is not fancy in any way. It has a simple dark brown cover with no writing on it, with leather spine, which has faded Hebrew characters on it, and very small toolings. The book is 24 centimeters wide and contains 54 leaves. A book this size would not be able to fit into a pocket but could most likely be used in a household at the Passover Seder. The book is must have been used relatively often or for a long time, as many pages have dirt marks on them, water and wine stains, and ripped corners. Some pages are completely discolored from the stains. Some of the stains appear to be from water. Other stains are darker and look like wine, not unusual for Passover Haggadot. Some drop stains in yellow color; they appear to be wax from a candle. On one page, there are three small burn holes (fig. 1). The condition of this book clearly indicates frequent usage and handling.
The typeset used shows many fonts, distinct for Hebrew and Yiddish sections. The printer uses larger fonts at the beginning of a section, or verse and as titles (fig. 2). The printer uses bigger fonts as he states the laws in the second half of the book. A section from Elḥanan Shnaṭikh’s commentary on the Haggadah has a classic layout with a central text surrounded by commentaries (Fig. 3)
In the book there are no annotations of any kind. There is one word handwritten in the book, along with a few drawn lines. There is also no color in this book, and almost no illustrations, indicating that it was not expensive. The one decorative element in the book is in black ink and looks like a bush of some kind. The illustration is also not very large, taking up less than a quarter of a page.
Although most of the pages are in poor condition, the binding of the book is still very tight, and indicates that the book has been recently rebound.
Passover is a Jewish holiday, which reminds Jews of their ancestors’ history as slaves in Egypt and how they managed to survive and flee. The celebration usually takes place around the dinner table, as family members get together and read from the Haggadah. The holiday continues to be widely celebrated across the Jewish community, as recent studies show that over 90% of all Jews celebrate yearly.[ii] To celebrate Passover, however, a family must have a haggadah. During Passover, family members are asked to spill droplets of wine on the book itself, which explains many, but not all, of the stains in the book.
The Haggadah with Shatnikh’s commentary Arba Yesodot was four times in the eighteenth century: 1782, 1788, and 1789 in Offenbach, and the 1782/3 Amsterdam edition, discussed here. The printer Yoḥanan Leṿi Rofe in Amsterdam came from a family of printers and booksellers, who began printing in Amsterdam in mid-eighteenth century: Hirsz Levi Rofe, Yohanan’s brother, and Barukh, their brother-in-law.[iii] In 1797, Yohanan was joined by his son Benjamin, and they continued to print together till 1818.[iv] It is clear that they specialized in prayer books and liturgical texts for Ashkenazi Jews across Europe.
Their books were published in Hebrew and Yiddish, the most common language spoken by Jews of northern and eastern Europe. The use of the Yiddish language has been used for centuries, with the first known writing dating back to the 14th century.[v] This language was used predominantly by Ashkenazi Jews, and the language itself combined both Hebrew and German.[vi] After printing was introduced in the Jewish community in the 15th century, the majority of works printed were in Hebrew, however, it was not long until works were translated and printed into Yiddish, the first book in Yiddish was published in 1534 in Cracow.[vii] Although this new, exciting idea of printing brought with it many books for people to buy, certain communities did not always agree with what was printed.
The book discussed here incorporates both Hebrew and Yiddish, making the laws and meaning of Passover accessible for those who may have only spoken Yiddish (Fig. 4).
Henry Poehlein is a senior at Fordham University. He wrote this paper in the fall of 2018, during his first semester at Fordham in Professor Magda Teter’s class HIST 1851 “Jews in the Modern World.”
Shnaṭikh, Elḥanan. Hagadah Shel Pesaḥ : An Merkung Eyneh Hagodeh Oyf Zolkhe Ahrṭ in Eś Ṭayṭshe Izṭ Nimahlen in Der Ṿelṭ Geṿezn … Ez Zaynen Arbaʻ Yesodot Ṿe-Arbaʻ ʻamude ʻolam Nehmlekh Dizeh Yesod Ha-Yirʼah Yesod Ha-Ahavah Di Andere Tsvey Yesod Ha-ʻavodah Yesod Ha-Berakhah Geheysn Ṿerdn. Nidpas be-Amśṭerdam : Be-vet uvi-defus Yoḥanan Leṿi Rofe ṿe-giso Barukh ṿe-aḥiṿ, 543 [1782 or 1783], 1782.
Shoham, Hizky. “You Can’t Pick Your Family:Celebrating Israeli Familism around the Seder Table.” Journal of Family History 39, no. 3 (2014): 239-60.
Weinstein, Miriam. Yiddish : A Nation of Words. South Royalton, Vt. : Steerforth Press., c2001.
[i] Hagadah Shel Pesaḥ : An Merkung Eyneh Hagodeh Oyf Zolkhe Ahrṭ in Eś Ṭayṭshe Izṭ Nimahlen in Der Ṿelṭ Geṿezn … Ez Zaynen Arbaʻ Yesodot Ṿe-Arbaʻ ʻamude ʻolam Nehmlekh Dizeh Yesod Ha-Yirʼah Yesod Ha-Ahavah Di Andere Tsvey Yesod Ha-ʻavodah Yesod Ha-Berakhah Geheysn Ṿerdn (Nidpas be-Amśṭerdam : Be-vet uvi-defus Yoḥanan Leṿi Rofe ṿe-giso Barukh ṿe-aḥiṿ, 543 [1782 or 1783], 1782), Non-fiction.
[ii] Hizky Shoham, “You Can’t Pick Your Family:Celebrating Israeli Familism around the Seder Table,” Journal of Family History 39, no. 3 (2014).
[iii] Sefer Magishe minḥah (Amśṭerdam : Be-vet uvi-defus ha-meshutafim Hirts Leṿi Rofe ṿe-ḥatano Ḳashman mokhre sefarim, 514- [1753 or 1754]); Maḥzor ke-minhag Polin, Raisen, Liṭa, Fihem, Merherin (Amśṭerdam : Yoḥanan Leṿi Rofe ṿe-giso Barukh ṿe-eḥaṿ Hirts mokhre sefarim, 526 )
[iv] Zot Ḥanukat ha-bayit (Amsṭerdam : be-vet uvi-defus Yoḥanan Levi Rofe u-veno Binyamin, 557 ); Seder tefilot mi-kol ha-shanah : ke-minhag Ashkenaz u-Folin (Amśterdam : Yoḥanan Leṿi Rofe u-veno Binyamin, 1818).
[v] Miriam Weinstein, Yiddish: A Nation of Words (South Royalton, Vt. : Steerforth Press., c2001).
[vii] Magda,Teter, and Edward Fram, “Apostasy, Fraud, and the Beginnings of Hebrew Printing in Cracow,” AJS Review 30, no. 1 (2006): 31-66.