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Haggadot

After the Babylonian Exile in 587 bce, and again after the Romans crushed Jewish revolts in 70 ce and 135 ce, the Jewish population in Israel was dispersed. Following the second revolt against the Romans, Israel ceased to exist as a political entity. The Jewish people, religion, and culture lived on in the Diaspora (Greek for “dispersion” or “scattering”) throughout the known world. Surviving Judaic illuminated manuscripts produced across Europe during the medieval epoch are treasured masterworks of graphic design. The common belief that Judaic traditions rejected figurative art is not entirely true. Artistic embellishment for educational reasons or to adorn religious objects, including manuscripts, was encouraged as a means of expressing reverence for sacred objects and writings. Many of the finest Judaic illuminated manuscripts are Haggadot, containing Jewish religious literature, including historical stories and proverbs—especially the saga of the Jewish exodus from Egypt.

The Mainz Haggadah, copied by Moses ben Nathan Oppenheim in 1726, is an exemplary representative of this genre. The title page features both calligraphy and a typographic layout framed on the left by Moses holding the Ten Commandments and on the right by Aaron. A double page spread shows two images: Mount Sinai, and Pharaoh and his army drowning in the Red Sea. Typographic layout implies melody associated with rhythm and repetition of the buoyant Passover song through spacing and symbols.

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