Thursday, April 21, 2016

Everything is Illuminated: Mining the Art of Illustrated Haggadah Manuscripts for Meaning

Everything is Illuminated: Mining the Art of Illustrated Haggadah Manuscripts for Meaning

            We have discussed haggadah illustrations in the past (see the links at the end of this post) and we wanted to expand and update upon that discussion for this year. In this post we focus on Hebrew illuminated haggadah manuscripts, and in the follow-up post will turn our attention to printed illustrated haggadot.

            While there is not as large of a body of Jewish art as that of art in general, historically Jews have appreciated the visual arts early in their evolution into a nation.  Aside from the biblical forms, we have evidence of art dating to the second century of the common era in the well-known frescos at the Dura-Europos synagogue.[1] But, such appreciation was not limited to second century Palestinian Jews, as evidenced from the discussion below, this appreciation continued, almost unabated, until the modern period.  It was not just the artist class or wealthy acculturated Jews that were exposed to and admired this medium.  For example, in the 1560 Mantua haggadah, one of the more important printed illustrated haggadot, the wise son appears to be modeled after Michelangelo’s Jeremiah in the Sistine Chapel (view it here: link). 

Lest one think that it is highly unlikely that a 16th century Italian Jew would have even entered the chapel, let alone been familiar with this painting, a contemporaneous account of Jewish art appreciation disabuses those assumptions.  Specifically, Giorgi Vasari, the 16th century artist and art historian, in his Lives of Excellent Painters (first published in 1560), records regarding Michelangelo’s statute of Moses – that is a full statute depicting the human form and was placed in the church of San Pietro in Rome – that “the Jews [go] in crowds, both men and women, every Saturday, like flocks of starlings, to visit and adore the statue.” That is, the Sabbath afternoon activity was to go to church to admire the statute of Moses, that is more famous for having horns than its Jewish visitors.[2]

Hebrew Manuscripts Background  

A brief background regarding Hebrew manuscripts before delving into the illuminated haggadah manuscripts. Details regarding manuscripts, the name of the copyist, the date, and the place where the manuscript was written, were supplied not at the beginning of the book – as is the convention with printed books and title pages -  instead in manuscripts this information is provided at the end. For this reason, the scribe’s note containing the information was called a colophon – from the Greek word kolofon, meaning “summit” or “final point.”[3]

Number of Hebrew mss.

A cautious guess of the number of extant Hebrew manuscripts in existence is between 60,000 -70,000 “but no more than 30-40 thousand of them predate the middle of the sixteenth century.”[4] Of the 2-3 hundred thousand Hebrew manuscripts presumed in existence in Europe at the beginning of the fourteenth century, probably no more than four to five thousand are extant today, possibly even less. “From the tenth century (before which information is very scarce) to 1490 (when the influence of printing books began to be felt)” there are an estimated one million manuscripts, meaning, “that 95 per cent of manuscripts have disappeared.”[5]  In addition, the early printed books – incunabula – had similar survival rates.

            The dearth of manuscripts has left a significant hole in our knowledge of major Jewish texts.  For example, there is only one complete manuscript of the Palestinian Talmud (1289) and two partial manuscripts. The Babylonian Talmud fared slightly better, with one complete manuscript (1342) and 63 partial manuscripts in libraries, with only 14 dating from the 12th & 13th centuries.[6] 

One of the partial TPs is known as the Vatican Codex 133 – and worth mentioning is the Vatican and its role regarding Hebrew manuscripts.  While there is no doubt that the Church had a significant hand in reducing the number of manuscripts – in reality the destruction of Hebrew manuscripts was the work of the Jesuits and not the Roman Catholic Church. Indeed, the Church confiscated and, thus in some instances preserved Hebrew manuscripts.  Consequently, we have a number of important Jewish texts that survive in the Vatican library.  Today, many of these manuscripts have been published.  The incomplete manuscript of the TP is but one example.  Additionally, regarding the use of (rather than just reprinting) the Vatican library, for at least late 19th century, Jews had access to the library.  For example, R. Raphael Nathan Rabinowitz, who authored a monumental work on Talmudic variants provides that “I prayed to God to permit me entrance to the Vatican library to record variant readings” his prayer was answered, and he received permission not only to use it during regular hours but “even on days that it was closed due to Christian holidays, when the library was closed to all, and even more so Jews.”[7] In total he spent close to 9 months in the library. In addition, Rabbi Rabinowitz's presence and special status at the Vatican library was instrumental for the editing of the Vilna Talmud, where he secured permission for the Romm-employed copyists to work with manuscripts of the commentary of Rabbenu Hananel, even though they arrived in Rome during the summer season when the library was closed.

            Of the estimated one million Hebrew manuscripts from the 10th century until 1490, approximately 5% have survived.  As mentioned, religious persecution was one reason, but the main reasons are (1) deterioration from use, (2) accidents, and (3) reuse.  The first two are self-explanatory, the third requires a bit of explanation.  From the times that manuscripts were written on papyrus, unwanted manuscripts were scraped or washed and then reused.  (This papyrus recycling was not confined to reusing for books, papyrus was used from wrapping mummies, burned for its aroma, and used, according to Apices, to wrap meat for cooking). Similarly, leather and parchment were recycled, in the more egregious examples for shoe leather but in many cases for book bindings.  The latter reuse would be critical to the survival of numerous Hebrew manuscripts which have now been reclaimed from bindings.  It is estimated that there are 85,000 such binding fragments.  “The commonest use of written folios, however, was in bindings, whether for binding strips, end papers, or covers.”[8]   

Illuminated Hebrew Manuscripts

            The “earliest examples of Jewish book illumination are tenth-and eleventh-century Bible codices written in the Orient or Near East.  The illuminations are not figurative but consist of a number of decorative carpet pages adorned with abstract geometric or micrographic designs preceding or following the Biblical text.”[9] While these early illuminated manuscripts did not contain human figures, they did contain the first iterations of something unique to Jewish manuscripts, “one form of manuscript depiction unique to Jewish manuscripts is micrography with the earliest examples of this art may be found in the tenth-century Bibles written in the Orient.”[10]  A beautiful example of this art can be seen in the carpet pages for the Leningrad Codex. 

Similar non-representational geometric art was incorporated into Islamic art to avoid graphic representation.  Consequently, symmetrical forms were created which required advances in math theory to accommodate the ever more complex art.

Hebrew manuscripts did not adopt the Islamic convention – for the most part – and the earliest illustrations of human figures appear in Franco-Ashkenazic manuscripts – bibles - of the thirteenth century.

The earliest extant illustrated haggadah[11] is what is known as the Birds’ Head Haggadah dated to the early 1300s. The moniker “Birds’ Head” comes from the fact that the illustrator used birds heads/griffins in place of human heads. This manuscript is not the only Jewish manuscript to use zoophilic (the combination of man and beast) images. Zoophilic images can be found in a variety of contexts in Jewish manuscripts. For example, in the manuscript known as Tripartite Machzor, men are drawn normally while the women are drawn with animal heads.[12]  The name of this Machzor comes from the random fact that the manuscript was split up into three.  At times manuscripts are titled by location (Leipzig Mahzor), history (tripartite) or owner.  In one example, the “Murphy Haggadah” “ suffered a fate all too common to many Hebrew texts.  Before the Second World War the manuscript belonged to Baron Edmond de Rothschild.  During the war it was stolen and sold to an American, F.T. Murphy, who bequeathed it to Yale University, his alma matter.  For years it was known as the “Murphy Haggadah” until, in 1980, a Yale scholar, Prof. J. Marrow, identified as belonging to the Rothschilds.  The manuscript was returned to the Rothschild family and presented by the Baroness Dorothy to the Jewish National Library.[13]

            When it comes to the Birds’ Head manuscript, a variety of reasons have been offered for its imagery, running the gamut from halachik concerns to the rather incredible notion that the images are actually anti-Semitic with a bird’s beak standing in for the Jewish nose trope and the claim that the ears on the “birds” are reminiscent of pigs’ ears. Generally, those claiming halackhic, or more particular pietistic reasons, do so because they are unable “to conceive of such a bizarre and fanciful treatment of the human image as emerging from anywhere other than the twisted and febrile imagination of religious fanatics.”[14] But, in reality the use of bird’s head in lieu of human “reflects a liberal halakhic position rather than an extreme one.”[15]  The camp of Yehuda ha–Hassid would ban all human, animal and celestial depictions, a more liberal position from this perspective permits animal images.  And, while that position doesn’t explicitly permit a depiction half-animal half-human, the zoophilic images appear to show they were allowed, as the illuminator and owner of the Birds Head Haggadah agreed with that position.

            Aside from halakha, and the meaning or lack thereof behind “birds”, a close examination how the illuminator used this convention yields surprising nuance and commentary.      

While most of the images carry a bird’s head, there are a few exceptions. Most notably, non-Jews, both corporeal and spiritual do not. Instead, non-Jewish humans as well as angels have blank circles instead of faces. But, there is one scene that poses a problem. One illustration shows the Jews fleeing Egypt (all with birds’ heads), being pursued by Pharaoh and his army. Pharaoh and his army are depicted faceless.

  But, unlike the rest of the figures in Pharaoh’s army, two figures appear with birds’ heads. Some write this off to carelessness on the illustrator’s part. Epstein, who credits his (then) ten-year old son for a novel explanation, offers that these two figures are Datan and Aviram, two prominent members of the erev rav, those Jews who elected to remain behind. Indeed, they are brandishing whips indicative of their role as nogsim (Jewish taskmasters, or the precursor to Jewish Sonderkommando). While the illustrator included them with the Egyptians, he still allowed them to remain with their “Jewish” bird’s head.  This is a powerful idea regarding the idea of sin, and specifically, the Jewish view that even when a Jew sins, they still retain their Jewish identity – their “birds head.”   Sin, and including sinners as Jews, are motifs that are highlighted on Pesach with the mention of the wicked son and perhaps is also indicated with this illustration. The illustrator could have left Datan and Aviram out entirely or decided to mark them some other way rather than the Birds’ head. Thus, utilizing this explanation allows for the illustrator to enable a broader discussion about not only the exodus and the Egyptian army’s chase, but expands the discussion to sin, repentance, Jewish identity, inclusiveness and exclusiveness and other related themes.[16]

            Once we have identified the Jews within the haggadah, we need to discuss another nuance in their depiction.  The full dress of the adult male bird is one with a beard and a “Jewish hat,” pieus conutus – a peaked hat, or the Judenhut.  Children and young servants are bareheaded.  But, there are three other instances of bareheadness that are worthy of discussion.  (1) Joseph in Egypt, (2) the Jews in Egypt and (3) Datan and Aviram.  The similarity between all three is that each depicts a distance from god or Jewish identity.  Joseph, unrecognizable to his brothers, a stranger in a strange land, and while inwardly a Jew, externally that was not the case.

            The Jews in Egypt had sunk to the deepest depths on impurity, far from God. Finally, as we discussed previously, Datan and Aviram are also removed from god and the Jewish people.  Again, the illustrator is depicting Jews – they all have the griffin heads – but they are distinct in their interaction with god and the Jewish people.[17]  

Using this interpretation of the griffin images, yields yet another subtle point regarding inclusion, and also injects some humor into the haggadah.  The dayenu panel has splitting of the sea, the manna and the giving of the Torah.  The middle panel is less clear. Some posit that it is the Jews celebrating at the sea, but there is no indication of that because in most manuscripts, that includes Miriam, and the Egyptians drowning, not just five random images.

Instead, it appears that the person to the left is speaking (his hand is over his heart a medieval convention to indicate speech), and they are approaching the older figure on the left.  All are griffin headed and Judenhut attired – so Jews and regular ones. Between the splitting of the sea and the manna and quails the Jews complained to Moses.  Its possible that this is what is being depicted here, the complaining Jews, and the illustration serves as a testament to God’s patience and divine plan, the theme of dayenu, that even though we complained and did X, God still brought the manna, quail and Torah.[18] 

            If these are in fact the complainers, we can theorize about another detail of the image.  Above the figure at the left and the right, is faint cursive (enhanced here for visibility as much as possible) that reads: “Dass ist der Meirer (this is Meir) Dass ist der Eisik (this is Issac).”[19]  Thus Meir and Issac are being chided – but not kicked out – for complaining too much (rather than representing an unclear image of the Jews celebrating at the sea or just evidencing poor dancing). 

            Continuing through the dayenu we get to the giving of the Torah, and again, the nuance of the illustrator is apparent


            Two tablets were given at Sinai, but the actual Pentateuch is comprised of 5 books.  Thus, to capture that the 5 are a continuity of the two, as they are transmitted down, they transform into five tablets.  What about the ram/lamb at the bottom?  Some have suggested that it is the Golden Calf. But it is unlikely that such a negative incident would be included.  Instead, assuming that continuity or tradition is the theme, this lamb is representative of pesah dorot that is an unbroken tradition back to Sinai and unconnected with the Christian idea of Jesus as a stand in for the lamb.  Immediately prior to dayenu we have the Pesach mitzrayim with the figure’s cloak blowing back due to the haste.

       Thus, the dayenu is bracketed by the historic Pesach and the modern one – all part of the same tradition. [20]  

            It is worth mentioning that the Birds' Head Haggadah is currently in the news. An item recently appeared about how the heirs of Ludwig Marum and his wife Johanna Benedikt, the owners of the haggadah prior to the Nazi era, are pressing the Israel Museum to recognize their family's title, and pay them a large sum of money (but only a fraction of its estimated value). The Israel Museum acquired the haggadah for $600 from a German Jewish refugee in 1946.  (link).

            Turning to Spain, one of the most beautiful illuminated haggadot is the “Golden Haggadah.”  Just as the Ashkenazi Bird's Head has depth to the illustrations, the Golden Haggadah can be mined for similar purpose.  Each folio is comprised of four panels.  And while they appear to simply depict the biblical narrative, they are so much more. 

            In an early panel we have Nimrod throwing Abraham into the fire and later Pharaoh throwing the males in the Nile, both Nimrod and Pharaoh are similarly depicted, on the throne, with a pointed finger indicating their equivalence in denying god. 

            The folio showing the Joseph story has the brothers pointing in the same manner as Pharaoh and Nimrod – the illustrator showing his disdain for the mistreatment and betrayal and equating it with the others.

            But, that is not all.  Counting the panels there are 9 between Nimrod and Joseph and 9 between Joseph and Pharaoh.  Taken together, these illustrations “renders an implicit critique of the attitude of that Jewish history is nothing but an endless stream of persecution of innocent Israel by the bloodthirsty gentiles.  Yes, it is acknowledged, these gentile kinds might behave villainously in their persecution of Jews.  But groundless hatred between brother and brother is on par with such terrible deeds, and sometimes sinat hinam can precipitated treachery as destructive as persecution by inveterate enemies.”[21]

            One other striking feature of the Golden Haggadah is the inclusion of women. There are no fewer than 46 prominent depictions of women in the haggadah.  Indeed, one reading of the exodus scene has a woman with a baby at the forefront leading the Jews out of Egypt behind Moses.

            This may be a reference to the midrash that “in the merit of the righteous women the Jews were redeemed.”[22]  The difference in the exodus scene is particularly striking if one compares it to the Ashkenaz Haggadah – Moses clearly at the front, and the most prominent woman in the back.

Of course, it is completely appropriate for the inclusion of women in the haggadah as women and men are equally obligated to participate in the seder. Another example of the prominence that woman play in the Golden Haggadah iconography is the scene of Miriam singing includes the largest images in the haggadah, the women occupying the full panel.  We don’t know why the illustrator chose to highlight women – was it for a patron or at a specific request.[23] 

The Golden Haggadah is not the only manuscript that includes women in a prominent role in the illustrations.  The Darmstadt Haggadah includes two well-known illuminations that place woman at the center.  The illuminations adoring other Darmstadt serve a different purpose than the Golden or Birds’ Head, they are purely aesthetic.[24]  Thus, the inclusion of women may not be linked to anything in particular.  At the same time, it is important to note that in terms of reception, that is, how the reader viewed it, the focus on women was not cause for consternation. One other note regarding the haggadah, the last panel is a depiction fountain of youth.  Note that men and woman are bathing – nude – together, which seems odd to a modern viewer (and, again, apparently did not to the then contemporary reader).  And, while admittedly not exactly the same, the 14th century R. Samuel ben Baruch of Bamberg (a teacher of R. Meir of Rothenberg) permitted a non-Jewish woman to bath a man so long as it was in public to reduce the likelihood of anything untoward occurring.[25] 

Before we leave the Darmstadt Haggadah, we need to examine the panel facing the Fountain of Youth. This panel depicts a deer hunt.

 As mentioned above, this image is not connected to the text and instead is solely for aesthetic purposes.  The hunting motif is common in many medieval manuscripts, and in some a unicorn is substituted for a deer.  While the unicorn has Christological meaning, on some occasions it also appears in Hebrew manuscripts.[26]

While the use of the hunting scene in the Darmstadt Haggadah was unconnected to the haggadah, in others it was deployed for substantive purpose.[27] [As an aside, it is possible that Jews participated, possibly Rabbenu Tam, in hunting, or at least its falconry form.[28]] As is well-known, the inclusion of the hare hunt is to conjure the Talmudic mnemonic regarding the appropriate sequence over the wine, candle, and the other required blessings, or YaKeNHaZ.  “To Ashkenazic Jews, YaKeNHaZ sounded like the German Jagen-has, ‘hare hunt,’ which thereby came to be illustrated as such in the Haggadah.”[29]

 Generally, Jews seem to have issues with botany.  We struggle to identify which of the handful of fruits and vegetables mention in the Bible and Talmud. But on Passover, the marror an undefined term, proves particularly illusory. Today, there is no consistency regarding what is used for marror with it running the gamut from iceberg lettuce to horseradish root. While we may not be able to identify it with specificity, we know what its supposed to taste like – bitter.  Manuscripts may provide some direction here.  There are two depictions in illuminated haggadot.  One of a leafy green, found in numerous examples, from a fragment from the Cairo Geniza to the Birds’ Head, and that of an artichoke.[30]  If it is a leafy green, it must be a bitter one – and that changes based upon time, place and palate.  For example, 30 years ago romaine lettuce was only the bitter lettuce widely available. But, among lettuces, it is far from bitter, and today, there are a variety of truly bitter lettuces available, arugula, mustard greens, dandelion, mesclun, etc.  Another leafy and very bitter option that is found in illuminated haggadot is the artichoke.  The artichoke is extremely bitter without proper preparation.  Indeed, from just touching the leaves and putting them in your mouth you can taste the bitterness.  The Sarajevo Haggadah and brother to the Rylands both have artichokes.

            The association of the artichoke with Passover is more obvious when one accounts for Italian culinary history.  Specifically, artichokes are associated with Jews and Passover. Carcoifi alla giudia – literally Jewish style artichokes “is among the best known dishes of Roman Jewish cuisine.” Artichokes are a spring thistle and traditionally served at Passover in Italy.  Whether or not from a culinary history this dish sprung from the use of raw artichoke for marror is not known, but we can say with certainty that artichokes have a considerable history when it comes to Passover. 

Horseradish only became popular, in all likelihood, because an early Pesach, would be too soon for any greens and thus they were left with horseradish – which is not bitter at all, instead it is spicy or more particularly hot.  In Galicia in the 19th century the use of horseradish was so ingrained that  permission was even granted and affirmed for people to use less than a kezayit  and still recite the blessing. In light of this, the custom yields the possibility that all sort of other spicy items be used for marror including very hot jalapeño peppers, for example.[31] Since we are discussing herbs, it is also worth noting that recently rulings regarding the use of marijuana and Pesach have been issued both in Israel and the United States (here), for our discussion on marijuana and Pesach please see here.

            One manuscript captures the uncertain identification of marror.  In the Tubingen Haggadah, the place where the illustration for marror is left blank, presumably to permit the owner to fill in what they are accustomed to use.

            Marror is not the only vegetable that is eaten during the seder, another difficult to identify is the karpas.  Today there are a variety of items used, and in reality, any dip-able vegetable will suffice, historically, it seems that lettuce or celery was used. The Birds Head provides that “lattich (lettuce) and eppich (celery) should be used. These are traditional salad foods, which, in the normal course of things, would be dipped or tossed with a dressing.  A dressing can be a simple as vinegar, and indeed, in many medieval haggadot, hometz or vinegar is used to dip.  We can trace the change from the more obviously salad oriented vinegar to saltwater where in the Darmstadt Haggadah, a later hand wrote on top of hometz – mei melekh.  While it appears nearly universal that hometz was used, its disfavor may be connected to a rule unrelated to Passover.  Since the Middle Ages, there is a dispute whether or not vinegar falls under the ambit of stam yenam.  Thus, the change to saltwater may be more of a reflection about views on what constitutes stam yenam and less to do with tears.

            One final food item is the haroset preparation.  Apples are familiar and linked to the midrash regarding birthing under an apple tree, in the Rothschild Machzor and the 2nd Nuremburg haggadah, cinnamon is called for because “it resembles straw.”  It also concludes that “some incorporate clay into the haroset to remind them of the mortar. For those wanting to replicate this addition, edible clay, kaolin, is now easily procured, and there is even a preparation that creates stone-like potatoes, perfect for the seder.

            To be continued… but until then see these posts Halakha & Haggadah, and regarding some illustrations in the iconic Prague 1526 Haggadah, here and also Elliot Horowitz’s discussion.

[1] E.L. Sukenik, The Dura-Europa Synagogue and its Art, Bialik Press, Jerusalem:1947. See also, Gabrielle Sed-Rajna, Jewish Art, transl. Sara Friedman & Mira Reich, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York: 1997, 9-13; 20-29;114-39.
[2] Two Prague Haggadahs, Valmadonna Trust Library, Italy:1978, 16 n.16 (the citation should read p. 435, not p. 345)
[3] Binyamin Richler, Hebrew Manuscripts: A Treasured Legacy, Cleveland/Jerusalem: Ofeq Institute, 1990, 20.
[4] Id. at 58.
[5] Colette Sirat, Hebrew Manuscripts of the Middle Ages, ed. & transl. Nicholas de Lange, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002, 234.
[6] Id. 242-43.
[7] R. N. Rabinowitz, Dikdukei Soferim, Munich: E. Hovner, 1881, vol. 11, Tractate Baba Bathera, 7. 
[8] Sirat, Hebrew Manuscripts, 235-38.
[9] Richler, Hebrew Manuscripts, 45.
[10] Id. 48.
[11] Interestingly, illuminated haggadot did not end with the introduction of printing, there are a number from the 18th century and beyond.
[12] See B. Narkiss, Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts, Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1969, 106.
[13] Richler, Hebrew Manuscripts, 47.
[14] Marc Michael Epstein, The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative, and Religious Imagination, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2011, 50-51. See the other discussions of this book, here.
[15] Id. 51.
[16] Id. 51-53, 71-72.  Much of the discussion regarding this haggadah and the Golden Haggadah is reliant upon Epstein’s thorough analysis of these manuscripts.
[17] Id. 65-68, 71-72.
[18] Id. 87-90.
[19] M. Spitzer & B. Narkiss, “General Description of the Manuscript,” in The Bird’s Head Haggada of the Bezalel National Art Museum in Jerusalem, ed. by M. Spitzer, Tarshish Books: Jerusalem, 1967, 23.
[20] Epstein, The Medieval Haggadah, 90-91.
[21] Id. 162.
[22] Id. 178.
[23] Id. 185-86.
[24] Narkiss, Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts, 126.
[25] Elliot Horowitz, “Between Cleanliness and Godliness,” in Tov Elem: Memory, Community & Gender in Medieval & Early Modern Jewish Societies, ed. E. Baumgarten, et al., Bialik Institute, Jerusalem:2011, *38-*39.
[26] Piet van Boxel, “The Virgin & the Unicorn: A Christian Symbol in a Hebrew Prayer Manuscript,” in Crossing Borders, Hebrew Manuscripts as a Meeting-place of Cultures, ed. Piet van Boxel & Sabine Arndt, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford:2009, 57-68.
[27] The hare hunt image appears in Seder Zimerot u-Birkat ha-Mazon, Prague 1514, in the Shevuot portion.  Of course, the mnemonic applies to any holiday that potentially falls on a Saturday night.  See B. Roth, “Printed Illustrated Hebrew Haggadot,” Areshet, vol. 3 (1961), 8.  
[28] See Leor Jacobi, “Jewish Hawking in Medieval France: Falconry, Rabbenu Tam, and the Tosefists,” in Oqimta 1 (2013) 421-504, available here.
[29] Y. Yerushalmi, Haggadah & History, The Jewish Publication Society, United States:1997, plate 15.
[30] The various manuscript depictions of marror are collected in Mendel Metzger, La Haggada Enluminee, Brill, Leiden:1973, figs. 242-65.
[31]  Levi Cooper, “Bitter Herb in Hasidic Galicia,” Jewish Studies, an Internet Journal, vol. 12, 2013 (available here). 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

R. Elazar Fleckeles's Haggadah Maaseh BR' Elazar

R.  Elazar Fleckeles's Haggadah Maaseh BR' Elazar
By Eliezer Brodt

In the past I wrote:

Perhaps the topic which has engendered the most commentary in Jewish literature is the Haggadah shel Pesach. There are all kinds, in all languages, and with all types of commentary, pictures, etc. Whatever style one can think of, not one, but many Haggadahs have been written. So, whether it’s derush, kabbalah, halakha, mussar or chassidus there are plenty of Haggadahs out there. Then, there are people who specialize in collecting haggadahs although they do not regularly collect seforim. In almost every Jewish house today one can find many kinds of Haggadahs. Every year people print new ones; even people who had never written on the Haggadah have had a Haggadah published under their name, based on culling their other writings and collecting material on the Haggadah. When one goes to the seforim store before Pesach it has become the custom to buy at least one new Haggadah; of course one finds themselves overwhelmed not knowing which to pick! Every year, besides for the new Haggadahs being printed, old ones are reprinted, some in photo off-set editions, others with completely retype set.

Some years there are many choices of what to buy; in recent years, while the quantity of Haggadahs being printed has not ebbed, the quality most arguably has. This year, one important and high quality Haggadah that has been retype-set and republished is Maaseh BR' Elazar by R' Elazar Fleckeles.

R' Elazar Fleckeles was born in 1754 in Prague and died there in 1826. He was a direct descendant of R' Ephraim Luntschitz, author of the Keli Yakar, whom R' Fleckeles quotes many times throughout his writings. When R' Fleckeles was 14, he went to study with R' Ezekiel Landau and spent ten years studying there. R' Landau, as is evident from his haskamot to R' Fleckeles works, held R' Fleckeles in high regard. Additionally, many teshuvot in R' Landau's Noda b'Yehuda are addressed to R' Fleckeles. In R' Fleckeles's writings, he quotes many interesting statements from R' Landau. When R' Fleckeles was twenty-four, he became the Rabbi of Kojetin, a town in Moravia. However, just four years later R' Fleckeles returned to Prague to sit on R' Landau's Bet Din and serve as a head of a yeshiva. [See also here and here].

R' Fleckeles authored many works on halakha and derush, as well as a commentary on the Haggadah called Maaseh BR' Elazar. R' Fleckeles was a skilled halakhist, as is evident from his volumes of responsa, Teshuva m'Ahavah, but his fame also rests on his skills as a darshan. His derashot were published in a four volumes, Olat Chodesh. The fourth volume contains, R' Fleckeles series of derashot he gave against Shabbatai Tzvi and Jacob Frank (this section has a separate title, Ahavat David) [recently auctioned off as noted here].

Almost all of his works besides his Teshuva m'Ahavah, are very hard to find.

A few years ago a new Boro Park-based Machon called Netzach Yaakov started reprinting his seforim. In 2014 they printed a volume of his Drashot related to Elul and Tishrei along with two works, Chazon LaMoed and Olat Chodesh (437+20 pp.). This beautifully produced work, including an introduction about R' Fleckeles and a detailed index, matches the content of the actual Drashot.

 A few weeks ago this company released a new edition of his commentary on the Haggadah: Maaseh BR' Elazar (224 +23 pp).

The Maharil noted in a drasha that he gave before Rosh Hashonah:

כל אדם יחזור וילמוד התפלה והקרובץ מקודם להיות שגורים בפיו בר"ה בשעת התפלה. וכן ילמוד בניו ובני ביתו סדר התפלה, ויריצם סדר הברכות ומלכיות זכרונות ושופרות, כדי שלא יצטרך בר"ה להפסיק בין גאולה לתפלה להראות להם אז הסדר, כי צריכנא לסמוך גם ביום טוב גאולה לתפלה. [וכשחל ר"ה בשבת כל שכן - דצריך אדם לסדר להרגיל התפילה להראות לבני ביתו בתחילה - דאז משנין בכמה מקומות התפילה - והקרובץ [מהרי"ל, עמ' רעב]

 But specifically more instructive is the Sefer Hamaskil's comment:

מה טוב ומה נעים לעיין תמיד דבר בעתו בכל שבוע ושבוע בפירוש חומש ומחזיר וסליחות... ואגדת פסח [ספר המשכיל עמ' 70].

His basic point being that one should try to prepare before each occasion the tefilos we specific to that occasion – and for Pesach that is the Haggadah.

Many people look all over each year to have nice new pieces of Torah to say over at the seder. This work is full of nice (many) shorter pieces focusing on Peshat and Derush (not Kabbalah) which can be enjoyed by different audiences.

Some General comments on this work;

This Haggadah was first printed by the author in Prague in 1818.

Abraham Yaari, in his work A Bibliography of the Passover Haggadah, writes about this work:
הפרט העברי ככתבו עולה תקע"ב אולם יש לקרוא את שני היודין של השם כשם הויה, ואז יעלה תקע"ח, בהתאם לשנה הלועזית 1818, ולהסכמת הצנזור שניתנה באוקטובר 1817 [מספר 418]

For recent Discussion of other works with similar wording see Yakov Speigel Amudim be-Toldot ha-Sefer ha-Ivri; BeSharei HaDefus, pp. 273-296.

 In 1944 in Oradea, Romania this work was printed again. It appears that this was the last Haggadah printed in Europe during World War Two. To me it is fascinating that in this turmoil time they bothered to print this work.

Yaari records this edition [number 2308] as does Yitzchak Yudolov in The Haggadah Thesaurus [number 3918]

This 1944 edition has an interesting addition, as noted by the publisher. Into the text of the Haggadah the prelude Li Shem Yichud was added:

 ולא הוספתי עליו רק מה שנוהגים לומר לפני כל מצוה לשיחקב"ה וכו' [=לשם יחוד קודשא...] הצגתי כהסכמת הגאון משאמלויא שליט"א...

In R' Ehreneich's second letter to the publisher he writes:

 אבל בזמנינו נתפשט המנהג של צדיקי הדורות זי"ע לאמרו והגאון המחבר זצ"ל שהוא בעולם האמת בודאי לא יקפיד ע"ז ויאחז כאו"א ויעשה כמנהגו...

Although it's very nice that they decided to add this into R' Fleckeles work and not hide this addition but I do not think they had any right to do such a thing. R' Fleckeles was very outspoken about saying Li Shem Yichud, to say the least.

דרך כלל יאות לבטל כל התחנו' ובקשות אלו וכיוצא בהן שנתחדשו מלקוטי האחרונים ומעיד אני עלי שמים וארץ שראיתי אחד הי' רצה לברך על אתרוג המהודר של רבינו הגאון האמתי נ"ע (כי הי' תמיד מהדר מן המהדרין אחר אתרוג המהודר בכל מיני הידור וכסף וזהב לא הי' נחשב בעיניו מאומ' אף שהאתרוג הי' בתכלית היוקר) וכאשר ראה שאותו פלוני אמר יה"ר קודם נטילת לולב (הנדפס במחזורים ובלקוטי צבי) כעס ורגז ואמר בקצף גדול האומר יה"ר אינו מניחו לברך על אתרוג שלו ולא הניחו לברך ועיין מ"ש רבינו בספרו נ"ב חלק א"ח סי' ל"ה דף כ' ע"ג ובחלק י"ד סי' צ"ג והרבה יש לי לדבר בענינים האלה וכאלה ומרוב טרדותי לא אוכל להאריך [שו"ת תשובה מאהבה, א, סוף סי' א][1]

He was following in the path of his Rebbe, the Nodeh BeYehudah, who as is well known was adamantly against the saying of Li Shem Yichud:

ועל הרביעית אשר שאל בנוסח לשם יחוד אשר חדשים מקרוב נתפשט ונדפס בסידור הנה בזה אני משיב עד שאתה שואלני נוסח אמירתו יותר ראוי לשאול אם נאמר כי טוב באמירתו. ולדעתי זה רעה חולה בדורנו ועל הדורות שלפני זמננו שלא ידעו מנוסח זה ולא אמרוהו והיו עמלים כל ימיהם בתורה ובמצות הכל ע"פ התורה וע"פ הפוסקים אשר דבריהם נובעים ממקור מים חיים ים התלמוד עליהם נאמר תומת ישרים תנחם והם הם אשר עשו פרי למעלה וגדול מעל שמים חסדם. אבל בדורנו הזה כי עזבו את תורת ה' ומקור מים חיים שני התלמודים בבלי וירושלמי לחצוב להם בורות נשברים ומתנשאים ברום לבבם כל אחד אומר אנכי הרואה ולי נפתחו שערי שמים ובעבורי העולם מתקיים אלו הם מחריבי הדור. ועל הדור היתום הזה אני אומר ישרים דרכי ה' וצדיקים ילכו בהם וחסידים יכשלו בם. והרבה היה לי לדבר מזה אבל כשם שמצוה לומר דבר הנשמע כך מצוה שלא לומר דבר שאינו נשמע וה' ירחם עלינו. עי"ש באריכות. [נודע ביהודה (קמא) יו"ד, סי' צג].

A few months ago I mentioned the censorship of this Teshuvah.

This topic of saying Li Shem Yichud will hopefully be discussed at a different time.[2] But just to add some sources.

In 1805, R' Menachem Mendel of Shklov, one of the main talmidim of the Vilna Gaon, printed the Gra's work on the Haggadah for the first time.

Before Maggid it says:
הנני מוכן ומזומן לקיים המצוה לספר ביציאת מצרים לשם יחוד הקב"ה...

In a recent edition of the Gaon's Haggadah the editor writes:

והנה אין גילוי מפורש בדעת רבינו הגר"א ז"ל באמירת לשם יחוד אך אילו ידע רמ"מ ז"ל שרבינו ז"ל מתנגד לאמירתה בוודאי לא היה מדפיסה... [ר' חנן נובל, הגדה של פסח עם פירוש הגר"א, ירושלים תשע"ג, עמ' כט, עי"ש].[3]

This same passage appears in later prints of the Gra Haggadah including one printed in Prague in 1813 at the time R' Fleckeles was very active there. [Worth noting is the censor was R' Fleckeles friend, Karl Fisher].

Even though it is unclear what the Gra held about saying Li Shem Yichud, another talmid of his appears to write against it. Here is what R' Menashe M'IIlyah writes about it in Alfei Menashe:

In the beginning of the Haggadah, R' Fleckeles deals with the famous question as to why there is no Beracha on Sipur Yetzias Mitzrayim, quoting a Shut Besamim Rosh on the topic [see here]. A few lines later he quotes the real Shut HaRosh, with this preface:
ובתשובות הרא"ש המקובלת לנו ראיתי...

Returning to this newest edition of the Maaseh BR' Elazar.

One nice piece in this Haggadah is his discussion against his Rebbe, the Nodeh Beyhudah, about the Issur of Chametz in Mitzrayim. He writes:
הנה חדשים מקרוב נדפס ספר מערבי וראיתי...
The current editors do not write to which sefer he is referring. This is the work he is referring to, first printed in 1793:

In 1959, Yitzchak Refael printed numerous additions to this Haggadah in the journal Sinai (45: 22-36). The source of these addenda is R' Fleckeles personal copy, which he had specially bound with added on margins and blank pages inserted between each page, affording the author ample room for marginalia. After passing through several hands, finally arriving in R' Maimon's library. This new version of the work includes all of these addenda, in their proper places. Interestingly enough, neither Yaari nor Yudolov mention these additions in their entries on this Haggadah.

Returning to Li Shem Yichud Sharon Flatto writes in her 'The Kabbalistic Culture of Eighteenth Century Prague': 
Notably a Haggadah was recently discovered that was owned during the late 1780s by Fleckeles…. The margins of this Haggadah contain leshem Yihud formulas to be recited before the blessing on the the four cups of wine penned in Fleckeles' hand. 
In the footnote she writes they seem to have been written between 1784-1790.'(pp. 225-226). While I wish I had more clearer sources about this discovery. She does not note that the Haggadah that R' Fleckeles himself printed in Prague in 1818 nor in the manuscript updates of R' Fleckeles to his own Haggadah does he write to say Li Shem Yichud or any such Tefilah in the Haggadah. This newest edition of the Maaseh BR' Elazar prints the Haggadah like R' Fleckeles did in 1818 without Li Shem Yichud.

Besides for all these new pieces added into this new edition, the volume also includes a well-written introduction about R' Fleckeles, including an interesting eye witness account from manuscript of the day he died in Prague. Another plus to the new edition are the numerous sources they added, at times quoting R' Fleckeles references from his other works.  Finally, there is a very useful index of topics and seforim quoted by R' Fleckeles at the end of the volume. I really hope they continue to print the rest of R' Fleckeles works.

To purchase this Haggadah try Girsa in Jerusalem, Biegeleisen in NY or your local seforim store.


One of the seforim noticeably omitted, for the most part, from R' Fleckeles works, including this Haggadah, is the Zohar.

Much of the sources in R' Fleckeles writings regarding the Zohar and Kabalah in general has been gathered in Boaz Huss' recent work, KeZohar Harokeyah (pp. 322-323). Most notable is this piece which I quote here in its entirety:

ועתה אין מן הצורך להשיב את האיש אשר רצה להמצי' דבר חדש להשביע את האיש הישראלי בספר הזוהר... את זה כתבתי לדעת האיש ההוא שהספר הזוהר כלו קדוש אבל אני אומר הריני נשבע בתורת ה' שבספר הזוהר נמצאו כמה זיופים וקלקולים אשר הוסיפו ועלה אחת מתלמוד בבלי הויות דאביי ורבא קדוש יותר מכל ספר הזוהר הנה אם אמרו חכמי התלמוד על ברייתא דלא מתנייא בי ר' חייא ור' אושיעא מאן ימר דמתרצתא היא דלמא משבשתא היא וספר הזה ודאי לאו בר"ח ורב אושיעא אתמר כי כל הדורות מראש לא זכרו מספר הזוהר מאומה לא בהקיץ ולא בחלום כי הנה אם אמת הדבר שהחבור הזה הוא מהתנא ר' שמעון בר יוחאי אשר ר' יהודה הנשיא קבל גם ממנו כמבואר בהקדמ' הרמב"ם לספרו יד החזק' איך לא זכר את הספר הזה בחבורו ש"ס משניות או בשום מקום ואף ר' יוחנן שחיבר תלמוד ירושלמית אינו מזכירו בשום מקום ורבינא ורב אשי שחברו תלמוד בבלי מאה שנים אחר חבור תלמוד ירושלמי והיו סוף אמוראים ולא שמו רמז בכל התלמוד מספר הזוהר ורבה בר נחמני שחובר רבות ושוחר טוב וכיוצא בהם הרבה לא זכרו מחבור רשב"י גם רבנן סבוראי והגאונים והרי"ף והרמב"ם ורש"י ותוס' והרמב"ן והרשב"א והרא"ש והטור והילקוט שמעוני אשר אסף ולקט כל המדרשות והמכילתות והברייתות כלם לא ידעו ולא ראו ממנו דבר עד שזה קרו' לשלש מאות שנים ענו ואמרו שמצאוהו ואיזהי כנסיה אשר קבלוהו בכנופיה, כמו תלמוד בבלי וירושל' וז"ל הרמב"ם בהקדמתו לספר יד החזקה אבל כל הדברים שבגמרא הבבלי חייבין כל ישראל ללכת בהם וכופין כל עיר ועיר וכל מדינה ומדינה לנהוג בכל המנהגות שנהגו חכמי הגמרא ולגזור גזירותם וללכת בתקנותם הואיל וכל אותם דברים שבגמרא הסכימו עליהם כל ישראל עכ"ל ויעיין עוד שם ואין אני חלילה מטיל דופי ופגם בכבוד התנא אלדי ר' שמעון בר יוחאי כי הוא היה מחסידי עליון אלא אני אומר לאו גושפנקא דרשב"י ועזקתיה חתום עליה ומי שיש לו חצי דעת יגיד כן שהרי נזכרו בספר הזוהר כמה תנאים ואמוראי' שהיו אחר רשב"י שנים רבות במספר והארכתי בזה במקום אחר מפי סופרים ומפי ספרים כמבואר בס' מטפחת להגאון מו"ה יעב"ץ זצלל"ה שגזר אומר שחלו בו ידים מזייפים וחשד את החכם ר' משה דיליון יעיי"ש.

והינה מיום שנתחדש ספר הזוהר הרבה נכשלו ע"י כי כמה דברים סתומים וחתומים אשר המציאו האחרוני' להתעות בני אדם יושבי חשך השכל, צאו וראו כמה קלקולים רבים קלקלו מאמיני הכלב רע שבתי צבי שבור ואחוזת מרעהו ברכי מסאלנוקא ויעקב פראנק שם רשעים ירקב, ותלו דבריהם בספר הזוהר אשר בודאי לא יאונה לצדיק ר' שמעון בר יוחאי כל און.

מה טוב ומה נעים, אשר כתבתי בחבורי קטן אשר קראתיו בשם קונטרס אהבת דוד שנדפס בק"ק פראג תק"ס וזה לשוני שם באו ונחזיק טובה וחינות לשני מלכים גדולי אדירי' אדוננו המשובח המנוח הקיסר יאזעף השני ואדוננו המהולל הקיסר פראנץ השני אשר צפו והביטו בחכמתם הנפלאה, רבות רעות ושבושי דעות תסתעפנה מחלומות והבלים המקובלים, והמה לנזקי בני האדם נזקי הגופות ונזקי הנפשות, ופקדו באזהרה גדולה שלא להביא ספרי קבלה בכל מדינות מלכותם הפקודה הראשונה העכסט האף דעקרעט פאם ב' נאוועמבר למספרם והשני פאם ז' יוני למספרם והארכתי שמה בדברים נכונים... (תשובה מאהבה חלק א סי' כו).

According to Shmuel Werses, Haskalah and Sabbatianism, (Heb.), pp. 68 and Boaz Huss, KeZohar Harokeyah (p.323) this teshuvah has been censored out of the 1912 edition of TM. I have been unable to independently confirm this, as the 1912 editions I have seen (both in NLI and in BIU) have it in full - as do most reprints available today, including the edition found on the website

In another teshuvah on this topic R' Fleckeles writes:

ובלא"ה כבר כתבתי פעמי' רבות שאין ראי' מזוהר שלא נודע ברור מי הוא המאסף והמלקט ספר הזוהר והרבה הוסיפו  (תשובה מאהבה א:סב).

It is worth pointing out that R' Fleckeles does not dismiss the Zohar completely taking it into account elsewhere in TM; for example in this teshuvah he writes:

מה ששאלני מדוע רובא דעלמא מקילים והולכים בבקר ד' אמות בלי נטילת ידים שחרית הא כבר כתב המ"א בשם הב"ח בשם תולעת יעקב כל ההולך ד' אמות בלי נטילת ידים שחרית חייב מית' עיי"ש וכמה בני תורה אשר אינם שוגגים מקילים ואין להם על מה שיסמכו. ידע ידידי שדבר זה כתב בעל תועלת יעקב בשם הזוהר וכן העתיקו הב"ח, והמג"א השמיט בשם הזהר או מן השמים השמיטוהו כי חפשתי בספר הזוהר יגעתי ולא מצאתי ובעל א"ר האמין לשמועותיו בשם הזוהר והאר"י וצדר להקל עיין סי"א סק"ד ולבסוף מסיק בשם ספר דמשק אליעזר שדבר זה דוקא בזמנם כמו גילוי וזוגות עיין שם ולענ"ד ליתא בזוהר כלל והרב בית יוסף אשר העתיק בכל פעם דברי הזוהר לא שם רמז מזה ושארי לי' מארי' שעשה רוב ישראל לחייבי מיתות שוגגן ישרים יחזו במסכת ברכות דף  סמ"ך ע"ב ישר יחזו פנימו ולענ"ד היא משנת חסידים והזריז הרי זה משובח ואפשר דזוהר מיירי אם מים מצוים לפניו והולך ד' אמות בלי נטילת ידים ואח"ז ה' אנה לידי ספר ברכי יוסף וראיתי שמביא דברי הזוהר כת"י וסיים וזה לשונו אלא דשמיע לי מרבני קדישו דזמנין דמיא הרחק מאד מאדם ובלכתם ילכו פחות מד' אמות כאותה שאמרו גבי שבת עיין שם סימן א' אות א' ולשון הזוהר אינו לפני לעיין והנרא' לענ"ד כתבתי. (תשובה מאהבה חלק א סי' יד וראה חלק ב סי' א אות ד)

As an aside, the shitos of R. Fleckeles on the Zohar are bland compared to those of his Rebbe, the Noda Beyehudah, as found in the recently printed drasha of his from manuscript by Dr. Maoz Kahana and M. Silber. I note in passing that this drasha has sparked a debate between them and Dr. Flatto, to which she responded in a later version of the journal Kabbalah.

[1]  See also his Melechas Hakodesh, p. 132 [reviewed here].
[2]  See Moshe Hallamish, Kabbalah (Heb.), pp. 45-70; Maoz Kahane, MiHaNoda BiYehuda LaHatam Sofer, pp. 89-91 and pp. 235-236; most recently Shimon Szimonowitz, Haggadah Aleh Zeis (2016), pp. 35-78.
[3]  Thanks to R' Dovid Vieder for this source.

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