3.5. Haggadah (MS A 422)

Perhaps the most famous manuscript in the whole Kaufmann Collection is the so-called Kaufmann Haggadah (MS Kaufmann A 422). 181 It was produced in 14th century Catalonia. The first scholars to study it considered this manuscript to be of Italian origin. Subsequent research, however, traced its origins to Catalonia. 182 It contains the prayers, poems and narrative texts to be recited on the eve of the festival of the Jewish Easter, Pesach, the Feast of the Passover, 183 in which the participants recall the joy of deliverance from servitude in Egypt, thanking God for his miraculous works. 184 In the 11-15th centuries Haggadahs were not infrequently produced for private, family use – the Kaufmann manuscript also bears the marks of almost excessive use.

Both in the Kaufmann Haggadah and the Sarajevo Haggadah there are conspicuous traces of children's drawings, a fact no doubt indicative of the considerable popularity of these manuscripts among children, which can also be explained, to a certain extent at least, by the important part children play in the traditional rite of Passover. 185 In view of this there can hardly be imagined a sadder scene than when one of the sons of the family appeared at the Sephardic elementary school in Sarajevo with one of the family's most treasured possessions, something they had owned perhaps for a considerable period, forced now to sell it because of straitened circumstances occasioned by the sudden death of their father: the lavishly illuminated manuscript became known as the Sarajevo Haggadah. 186 It may have been in a similar straitened situation that that the Schwarz family parted with the splendid, illuminated Mahzor executed in France around 1300, which they had possessed since 1702 and which was still in their possession in Miskolc, Hungary, in the 1950s. The family later emigrated to Canada and there they sold the priceless manuscript. 187

We can see in our mind's eye the father who is all too fond of showing his children the splendid illustrations, both on the festival itself and at other times too. Young and old alike gather around him after dinner in order to enjoy the paintings: children play a central role in the rite of Passover and what else can arouse their interest but splendid pictures? 188 They are gazing spellbound at the marvellous illustration depicting the Exodus from Egypt: the bearded Moses in his pointed red hat with a feather is leading the Jews, who are carrying dough wrapped in cloths over their shoulders (Ex 12:34-35). On the left an Egyptian city lying on their way can be seen (Baal Zephon? cf. Ex 14:2), its gates closed while from above the inhabitants watch the Jews passing by and knocking on the gates, while a dog wearing a crimson neckband is standing in the foreground. The figure of the dog, which seems to have been treated very well in recent times, is an allusion to the passage: “But against the children of Israel no dog shall stick out its tongue” (Ex 11:7). 189 The exact meaning of the expression is not quite clear, it seems to mean something like “to stick the tongue out, to threat someone.” Our illustration apparently follows the traditional interpretation going back to Rashi quoted above: the dog's tongue seems to be missing. 190 In the background the crowned figure of Pharaoh emerges, pursuing the refugees. 191 Young and old are amazed at the marvellous figures that populate the folios of the manuscript and in this family circle the father is all too willing to yield to their urging and to tell them the stories of the Biblical figures, while the imagination of the young is captivated more by the owls – the latter serves as a decoration for the panel of the son who does not know how to ask. In the former illustration we can see a figure emerging from the decoration in the margin aiming with his arrow at an owl. A very similar scene appears in the 14th century Catalonian Haggadah formerly in the possession of the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres (London), now one of the treasures of the John Rylands University Library (Manchester; Hebrew MS. 6): a fantastic hybrid is aiming with his arrow at an owl from below. 192 In the case of a hunter aiming with his arrow at an owl we are in all probability dealing with a simple decoration in the margin, although there have been efforts to interpret it as the extension of the motif of the rabbit hunt so common in Ashkenazic Haggadahs, which owes its popularity to a Jewish German mnemotechnic pun there. Namely, the initials of the Hebrew names of the ceremonial elements of the twofold benediction at the beginning of the feast of Passover and at the termination of Sabbath add up to an expression which lends itself to a Jewish German interpretation as an acronym: Yayin [wine], Qiddush [sanctification], Ner [light], Havdalah [distinction], Zeman [time] > YaQeNHaZ > Jag'n Has' > Jag' den Has' = Chase the rabbit! The acceptance of this interpretation in our case is seriously hindered by the fact that it only works in a Germanic-speaking context, unless we assume that it was already a popular motif that found its way from one community to the other. 193

In the Rylands Haggadah the motif of the hare-hunt and the hunter aiming with his arrow at an owl appear in fact on the same page (fol. 29v). 194 In Roth's opinion, the hare-hunt may be “no more than a pictorial echo of the widespread European practice of a hare-hunt at this season of the year, at Eastertide: a practice itself doubtless rooted in pagan antiquity. (The hare was in fact the sacred animal of the Teutonic goddess of the spring Eostre or Ostâra, from which derives the name Easter, and in Continental Europe is still as characteristic of the season as the egg, which likewise survives in the Jewish Passover observances).” 195 The hare is of course a well-known symbol of fertility too. Similar decorations are widespread in the margins of Christian manuscripts, too. 196 Staghunting and similar motifs may perhaps allude to the persecution of Jews in Hebrew manuscripts while the hare pursuing the hunter and the dog is a popular motif of the world turned upside down (monde renversé). 197 Incidentally, in Christian manuscripts, owls are frequently used as symbols of the Jews, who – just like the birds of the night – prefer the darkness of error and sin to the light of the Gospel. 198

Young and old are also captivated by the cockfight with the strange semi-nude grotesques riding on them, or the illustration of Pesach: a bareheaded man is leading a lamb on a lead with a knife in his left hand. 199 The fact that the figure of the wicked son is represented by an armed soldier, a mercenary, probably reflects the sad experiences of mediaeval Jewry. 200 On the other hand, the wise son is represented by the beautiful figure of a scholar in a green mantle.

Our manuscript is in rather bad condition. 201 The colours were of inferior quality right at the time of its birth and the manner of its execution also left a lot to be desired. As a consequence of heavy use, the colours and the gold simply fell off in many places. They were subsequently replaced with substances of even lower quality, and this procedure may have been repeated several times in certain parts. The margins of the manuscript are mutilated too: over the centuries the manuscript was rebound, perhaps several times, and on these occasions the margins were trimmed, as a consequence of which the decorations in the margins have been damaged in a number of places. In spite of all this, however, the manuscript is still a most precious relic of cultural history – in addition to its religious significance – and one of the most important gems of mediaeval art in general. The interested reader is referred to the splendid facsimile edition published recently, which is accompanied by a fascicle containing a valuable and informative essay by Gabrielle Sed-Rajna. 202 In addition to the “standard” version, which was also published in English, there appeared a luxury edition in a velvet presentation box accompanied by a considerably longer essay [39 pp.; 30 cm] with the detailed and exact description of the Biblical scenes among others. This is all the more important because owing to the loss of colours and the disturbed sequence of the pictures, even a skilled eye will sometimes fail to recognize the subject of a given picture.


181 It is worth mentioning in connection with this manuscript that the earlier pagination was replaced by folio-numbers at its restoration in 1987. Consequently, earlier references to page-numbers do not coincide with modern references to folio-numbers.
182 Müller – von Schlosser: Bilderhaggaden 1898. 189. [=Weisz 1906. 146-147.] von Schlosser Bilderschmuck 1898. 211. Scheiber 1957. 8-12. Gabrielle Sed-Rajna: The Kaufmann Haggadah. Budapest 1990. 6.
183 Cf. “For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when he sees the blood upon the lintel, and on the two side posts, the Lord will pass over the door, and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you.” Ex 12:23.
184 On the decoration program of Catalonian Haggadas in general see Narkiss 1982. I. 42-44.
185 See the next paragraph.
186 Werber 1988. 20.
187 Fine Judaica including a highly important Mediaeval Illuminated Hebrew Manuscript. Sale: Wednesday 21 June 1989. Christie's Amsterdam. 1989. 142-149 [No. 390]. Gabrielle Sed-Rajna: Les manuscrits hébreux enluminés des bibliothčques de France. Notices codicologiques, relevé des inscriptions par Sonia Fellous. [Corpus of Illuminated Manuscripts, Vol. 7. Oriental Series 3.] Leuven – Paris 1994. 172-174 [No. 68].
188 Kohn Zoltán: Magyarázó jegyzetek a haggádához. [=Explanatory remarks to the Haggadah]. In: OMZSA  haggáda [=Haggadah of the National Hungarian Jewish Rescue Action / Országos Magyar Zsidó Segítő Akció]. Budapest 1942. 73 [117, 118]. Munkácsi Ernő: A peszach ünnep története [=The history of Pesach festival]. In: OMZSA haggáda 1942. XXXII, XLVIII. Munkácsi c. 1938. 14.
189 Kaufmann: Bilderzyklen. In: Kaufmann 1908-1915. III. 233.

190 Gesenius 1959. 262a. Koehler – Baumgartner 1967-1995. 342. Das zweite Buch Mose. Exodus. 1961. 68 [ad loc.]. On associations with dogs in Jewish and Christian art in general see Mellinkoff 1999. 38-39. Réau 1955-1959. I. 128.
191 Müller – von Schlosser: Bilderhaggaden 1898. 189, 197 [ad p. 74]. Narkiss – Sed-Rajna 1988. Kaufmann Haggadah. Card No. 44.
192 Müller – von Schlosser: Bilderhaggaden 1898. 102, Plate III. [Tafel III.]. Roth 1960, ill. opp. page 137 (fol. 29v), 140-141. Narkiss 1982. II. 90 [fig. 267].
193 Müller – von Schlosser: Bilderhaggaden 1898. 133-134. von Schlosser Bilderschmuck 1898. 237. Metzger 1973. 98-103.
194 Roth 1960. ill. opposite page 137, 140-141.
195 Ibid.
196 Ibid. 347-348.
197 Scheiber 1957. 26-27.
198 Réau 1955-1959. I. 126.
199 Müller – von Schlosser: Bilderhaggaden 1898. 196 (ad p. 64). Narkiss – Sed-Rajna 1988. Kaufmann Haggadah. Card No. 38. Metzger 1973. 183.
200 Cf. also Kaufmann: Bilderzyklen. In: Kaufmann 1908-1915. III. 237 (ad F. 9a. 35). Scheiber 1957. 26. Metzger 1973. 149-156. Narkiss 1982. 43.
201 Our manuscript was restored under the guidance of Ildikó Beöthy-Kozocsa in the Restoration Workshop of the National Széchényi Library, Budapest, in 1987. This meant the conservation of the given condition and the preservation of the manuscript rather than the replacement of parts already destroyed or lost.
202 Kaufmann haggáda. A Magyar Tudományos Akadémia Könyvtára Keleti Gyűjteményében őrzött, 14. századból származó héber kézirat. Budapest 1990. (Also with a Hebrew title-page at the other end.) The accompanying essay in a separate fascicle: Gabrielle Sed-Rajna: Kaufmann haggáda. Budapest 1990. 23 pp. [27 cm]. Incidentally, an earlier facsimile edition of this manuscript appeared in 1957: The Kaufmann Haggadah. Facsimile edition of MS 422 of the Kaufmann Collection in the Oriental Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. [Publications of the Oriental Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, I.] Budapest 1957 (plates). Alexander Scheiber: The Kaufmann Haggadah. Budapest 1957 (an informative essay in a separate fascicle.) It was also published in German in two editions in 1958 and 1959.