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Modern Artists’ Illustrated Passover Seder Books on Display at Yale


New Haven, Conn. — Yale University will mount an exhibition titled “The Passover Haggadah: Modern Art in Dialogue with an Ancient Text,” April 1–June 26, in Sterling Memorial Library, 120 High St.

The exhibition is free and open to the public whenever the library is open.

The Haggadah (plural: Haggadot) is a composite text made up of biblical, rabbinic and liturgical passages and ancient folk songs. Scholars believe that the earliest versions were assembled sometime in the first century of the Common Era, during the late Second Temple Period in Palestine. The Haggadah was —and still is — read on Passover eve during the Seder, a ceremony commemorating the Israelites’ delivery from Egyptian bondage. The Haggadah text has been interpreted, embellished and enhanced over the centuries with illustrations that serve both aesthetic and instructional purposes. Some illustrations fill in details that the text does not emphasize, but that are important to Jewish tradition and belief.

The Haggadah’s message of redemption and freedom has inspired and captivated many modern artists, whose interpretations of the text serve to make personal statements as well as communal ones.

“Whether observant or secular, each artist interprets the Haggadah individually, giving expression to his or her feelings as an artist and a Jew. Text and image maintain an ongoing dialogue,” says Nanette Stahl, who created the exhibit. Stahl is curator of the Yale University Judaica Collection.

In the introduction to his Haggadah, David Moss discusses how the book reflects the joy he feels at his family’s immigration to Israel from the U.S. Avner Moriah, an Israeli-born artist, talks about the connections between his illustrations and his wife’s serious illness and recovery, in the introduction to what Publisher’s Weekly calls a “gorgeous illuminated Haggadah.” Mikhail Magaril, a Russian-Jewish artist now living in the U.S, says of his illustration for the song “Only One Kid” (Had Gadya): “This topic is especially close to me as a person who grew up in a country where anti-Semitism had been elevated to a level of national policy.” Eliyahu Sidi, whose illustration is on the exhibition poster, mixes images from the past and present, using both formal and folk art in his 2007 limited-edition Haggadah.

Other themes that modern artists address in their illustrations are the absence of women in the traditional Haggadah and the devastation of European Jewry during World War II.

Sterling Memorial Library is open Monday through Thursday until May 13, from 8:30 a.m.–11:45 p.m.; Friday, 8:30–4:45 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.–4:45 p.m.; and Sunday, noon–11:45 p.m. For hours beginning May 14, check online.


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