The Owners of the Medieval Haggadot

Katrin Kogman-Appel, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva,

A considerable number of illustrated medieval Haggadot–small volumes containing the liturgical text to be recited during the Passover Seder–have come down to us. Almost none of them contains a colophon, and it is not known who commissioned them. What we do know is that the Haggadah is a family-owned book used within the private sphere of a ceremony at home. Accordingly we find numerous depictions of the family, including women, at various stages of preparations for the holiday and at the Seder table. This paper examines the role women play in the decoration programs of the medieval Haggadot (1280 to 1500) in all three realms where they were produced, Iberia, southern Germany, and northern Italy. Even though it was most likely the husband who paid for the manuscript, its use and function concern the entire family, addressing the women as well. This is very different from the commissioning of a study Bible, for example, or synagogal prayer books that were used exclusively by men. The involvement of women in the iconography of the Haggadot demonstrates that for these manuscripts ownership has to be viewed differently. Women used these books, not necessarily by reading them, but by listening to the recitation of the liturgical text, viewing images, and more.
The paper will focus on images of women, examining them against the background of what is known about the role women played in Jewish society. Rabbinic sources (abundantly extant from this period) about the Passover Holiday and the conduct of the members of the family during the preparation towards it and the festival itself will be examined in order to understand the full meaning of the representation of women in the illustrations and what they can tell us about the manifold uses of the books by the female members of the household.