After the Bible, the Passover haggadah is the most widely read classic text in the Jewish tradition. Among the countless editions that have been published, few are as exquisite as the Washington Haggadah, which was created in Germany in the 15th Century by the artist and scribe Joel ben Simeon. One of ten surviving Hebrew manuscripts that bear Joel ben Simeon’s signature, the Washington Haggadah resides in the Library of Congress, where it has long been considered a centerpiece of the Hebraic Section collections.
Though a beautiful work of art, the Washington Haggadah was, of course, intended to be used at the seder table, as indicated by wine stains on the parchment. So that this document can be both widely appreciated and used as intended, we have worked with the Library of Congress to produce a beautiful new full-color facsimile edition of the codex.
The image below, depicting an entire family balanced on the back of a donkey, is typical of the enchanting, sometimes-mysterious images that illuminate the pages of the Washington Haggadah.
In addition to its faithful, right-to-left reproduction of the original manuscript, our new edition includes introductions and commentary from the scholars David Stern and Katrin Kogman-Appel. In their hands, the manuscript reveals the contours of an evolving Passover ritual; the nature of European Jewish life in the 15th century; and the practice of religious and secular art in the early modern era. This edition also includes a translation of the text, along with notes on the illustrations.
In celebration of the publication of this facsimile edition, the Library of Congress has lent the Washington Haggadah to New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it is on display through June 26th within the context of the museum’s permanent medieval collection. Peggy Pearlstein, Head of the Hebraic Section of the Library’s African and Middle Eastern Division says of the loan: “Like the new facsimile edition itself, this unprecedented loan is a wonderful opportunity for us to share the crown jewel of the Library's Hebraic Section collections with a wider audience, and to make the public aware of the richness of the Library's holdings in this field.” Its presentation inaugurates a series of loans planned for the next several years, each of which will focus on a single, illuminated medieval Hebrew manuscript.