Homecoming show salutes the art and endurance of Sarajevo Haggadah | Judaism



Seven centuries after its creation, a priceless Sephardic Jewish book whose wine-stained pages somehow survived exile, the Inquisition, the rise and fall of an empire, the two world wars and the Bosnian conflict, goes back to basics. All sorts.

The codex, known as Sarajevo Haggadah from the town where it has been kept since at least 1894, it is believed to have been made in northeastern Spain around 1350, possibly as a wedding gift to mark the union of two great families Jewish.

Like all haggadas, it contains the stories, prayers, rules and rituals of the Passover feast. But unlike most of them, and in violation of the prohibition on “graven images,” many of its 142 bleached calfskin pages are adorned with vibrant illustrations of the creation of a decidedly round Earth, of slavery in Egypt and Moses leading the Jewish people to the Promised Land. Elsewhere, a huge serpent persuades Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, Noah sails in his ark, and Sodom and Gomorrah are consumed by fire.

The images, last seen in Spain before the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, can now be seen in Madrid at a exposure organized by the Sefarad-Israel Center of the Spanish government and the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Although the show does not feature the actual Sarajevo Haggadah – the original, kept in the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is too precious to travel – its 52 facsimile images offer an eloquent summary of the skill, effort and dedication that went into the making of the book.

The codex contains the stories, prayers, rules and rituals of the Passover feast. Photography: c / o Sefarad-Israel Center in Madrid

But, as one of the curators of the exhibition points out, this particular haggadah is as famous for its traveling existence and supernatural powers of endurance as it is for its religious and cultural content.

“This exhibition aims to share this remarkable story and show people the beauty of the book and how it survived,” says Jakob Finci, a retired lawyer and diplomat who is president of the Jewish community in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“It is an important book for Jews around the world, but especially for the Jews of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

After leaving Spain during the expulsion, the haggada appeared in Italy in 1609 when a priest working for the Roman Inquisition read it and added a note confirming that it did not contain anything that could offend the sensitivity of the Roman Catholic Church.

From there he eventually traveled to Sarajevo, where in 1894 it was sold to the National Museum by a local Sephardic family for 150 crowns. Museum staff hid it from the Germans when the Nazi occupation of Sarajevo began in 1941, hiding it in a mosque in the mountains. A little over half a century later, the haggada survived the heavy bombardment inflicted on the museum during the siege of Sarajevo.

It is therefore not surprising that the book is regarded as a kind of talisman by the Jews of the country and its population in general.

“It was always saved by people who were not Jewish, and it became a kind of symbol of Sarajevo,” says Finci. “It’s like a phoenix that rises after every disaster. The story of the Sarajevo Haggadah has become something of a legend in Bosnia and around the world.

Miguel de Lucas, president of the Sefarad-Israel Center, hopes the exhibit will help bring modern Spain a little closer to its past and to the culture of the men, women and children who have been driven from their homeland by the King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.

Copies of the work exhibited in Madrid
Copies of the work exhibited in Madrid. Photography: c / o Sefarad-Israel Center in Madrid

“The Sarajevo Haggadah is not at all known in Spain,” he says. “I think a lot of Spaniards consider Sephardic Jews to be figures in literature, and we love to show people that they still exist in the 21st century and that they have a deep love and longing for the country that made them. actually expelled. “

Whenever he visits the Sephardic community, whether in Sarajevo, Izmir, Thessaloniki or Plovdiv, De Lucas says he is struck by this affection.

“The Haggadah is a kind of symbol of this and a symbol that can help Spaniards today understand that Sephardic Jews are not characters in 16th and 17th century literature, but people who still exist and often live in communities that maintain their traditions under difficult circumstances in the 21st century.

When the show ends in Madrid in mid-December, she will move to Seville and then, hopefully, to Barcelona, ​​near the region where she is likely from.

Finci, who was born in a concentration camp on the then Italian-occupied Croatian island of Rab in 1943, oversees a community that lost 85% of its members to the Holocaust. Today there are approximately 1,000 Jews in Bosnia and Herzegovina, more than three quarters of whom are Sephardic.

In the little phoenix-like book, in the distance it has traveled, and in the wars it has survived, Finci sees an old but enduring message.

“I hope this exhibition in Spain reminds them of what they lost in 1492 when they lost the Jews and everything the Jews did, including the haggadah, ” he says.


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