Wolff Haggadah, 14th century
This image is from the illustrated and hand-written Wolff Haggadah from the fourteenth century. The section featured in this image is from the Maggid section of the Haggadah which relates the story of the Exodus and comprises quotes from Exodus saying that God brought the Jewish People out of Egypt with a “strong hand and outstretched arm.” In this Haggadah, the first word of each quote from the Torah has been highlighted in purple or crimson.
While Jews scattered around the world have adapted to changing times and different places, adopting independent languages and customs, the annual telling of the Haggadah – the story of the Exodus from Egypt– remained unchanged, taking place every year on the eve of Passover eve during the Seder:
And you shall tell your son on that day, saying: It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.
Though this core message persists, the Haggadah itself has evolved, adapting in form and content to local cultures and influences.
The Wolff Haggadah is one of the most ancient existing Haggadahs. It is written on parchment and was probably written in Avignon in southern France but in the tradition accepted in northern France. It includes several illustrations and ornate lettering, and in addition to the traditional text, it also includes instructions for the leader of the Seder and details about the traditions of the French Jewish community. The owner and copier of this Haggadah was Yaakov ben Shlomo Tzarfati. In 1889, German Jewish Judaica collector Albert Wolff purchased the Haggadah at a public auction in Germany, and it became known as the Wolff Haggadah. In 1907, Wolff gave the Haggadah to Berlin’s Jewish community. In 1938 it was confiscated by the Nazis, transferred to Warsaw, and disappeared in 1948. It reappeared in Geneva in 1989, and only after a lengthy legal battle did it return to Poland, from where it made its way to Israel as a donation from the Polish prime minister.
Connection to Parashat Beshalach
Parashat Beshalach is the culmination of the Exodus from Egypt, with the Egyptians being vanquished at the Red Sea and the Jewish People bursting into spontaneous song at finally being freed from years of slavery.
In the section of the Haggadah featured in this resource, the Rabbis discuss the miracles God performed for the Israelites both in Egypt and at the Red Sea when the Egyptians met their fate.
This resource can be used in Jewish Studies lessons before Pesach to discuss the text of the Haggadah and how the festival continues to be celebrated today. Jewish History teachers can refer to the history of this Haggadah and the various Jewish communities, from its creation in France, use in Germany, confiscation by the Nazis to it finally becoming part of the collections of the National Library of Israel.
History teachers could show this book as an example of creating books in the time before the invention of print. The story of the book is also a good example for teaching about Jewish history of France and Germany.
Finally, Art teachers can use this Haggadah with others to compare the artistic designs of Haggadot from different times and places.
What text appears on the page?
Where is it from?
Which particular part of the Haggadah is featured in this resource?
In which century was this Haggadah created?
Where was this Haggadah created?
Is this book printed or handwritten?
What material are the pages made from?
Which colours are printed on this page?
Reading Between the Lines
What is the story of this Haggadah?
What would the economic status have been of a person who purchased this Haggadah at the time that it was written?
Why was this Haggadah handwritten and not printed?
In the twentieth century, the Nazis confiscated this Haggadah.
Why did they keep it rather than burning or destroying it as they did with other Jewish texts?
Do you attend a Seder at Pesach?
Which parts do you particularly enjoy?
Aside from religious considerations, why do you think that the celebration of Pesach have endured until today?
Ethnic groups, such as African-Americans, also consider the Exodus an important historical event. What do you think the symbolism of this event is to non-Jewish people?
Create a presentation of images from old Haggadot for your class.
Which is your favourite and why?