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Jewish Studies Research Guide

Amsterdam Haggadah

Amsterdam Haggadah (1695 HAGG)

Published in Amsterdam by Moses Wiesel in 1695, this Haggadah has become an instant bestseller due to its numerous reprints in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It constitutes a milestone in the history of printed Haggadot. The edition and illustrations are the work of Abraham ben Jacob, an artist from the Rhineland who converted to Judaism in Amsterdam. He has been known for his copper engraved title pages of several books and a ketubah (כתובה), a marriage contract, but little information about him is available. The graphics, the addition of an abridged version of the venerated Sephardic scholar Isaac Abarbanel’s (1437–1508) commentary on Passover, and the pioneer introduction of a map of the Holy Land to the Haggadah (or any Hebrew book) single out this Haggadah among those compiled before and after it. The originality of the edition is even more pronounced considering that he had copied from the illustrations of the Basel-based artist Matthaeus Merian the Elder (1593–1650) in his Icones Biblicae, Historiae Sacrae Veteris et Novi Testamenti (Frankfurt am Main and Strasbourg: Lazarus Zetzners, 1625-1630) and world history, Historische Chronika (1630). Merian’s illustrations adorn several items in the Pitts Library collection, for example this copy of the New Testament from 1704.

The map Abraham ben Jacob introduced to the Haggadah equally illustrates the influence of Christian art. It is based on a series of earlier maps, most notable among them those by the Dutch historian Christian van Adrichom (1533-1585). The map in the Haggadah narrates the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan, but as David Stern reminds us, the seventeenth-century reader (or viewer) was also receptive of the messianic message encoded in the imagery.

(For further information see David Stern’s informative article “Mapping the Redemption: Messianic Cartography in the 1695 Amsterdam Haggadah,” in Studia Rosenthaliana: Reading Texts on Jews and

Judaism in the Low Countries 42–43, (2010–2011): 43–63.