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March 21, 1975 - Image 72

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1975-03-21

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Friday, March 21, 1975


The Messiah at the Seder


(Editor's Note: The fol-
lowing article, written by
Joseph Gutmann, profes-
sor of art and art history
at Wayne State Univer-
sity, is excerpted from the
Raphael Mahler Jubilee
Volume, edited by S.
Yeiven and published by
Merhavia. It is entitled
"The Messiah at the Seder
-- a 15th Century Motif in
Jewish Art.")
Rabbi Joseph Yuspa
Hahn, who -lived during the
latter half of the 15th Cen-
tury at Frankfurt -am Main
and died there in 1637,
wrote in his "Sefer Yosif
"After drinking, as is cus-
tomary, from the cup of
blessing [i.e. third cup of
wine], he [the head of the
house] grasps the fourth cup
of wine and opens-the door.
The moment that the door is
.,opened, he recites shefokh.
When the recitation of she-
fokh begins, someone comes
(fall) into the doorway in or-
der to demonstrate, on the
night of our first redemp-
tion, our strong faith in our
final redemption. This cus-
tom performed in memory
of the Messiah, is good and
Antonius Margaritha, a
convert to Christianity
who was born at Regens-
burg around 1500, where
his father Jacob Margo-
lioth was a rabbi, and who
died at Vienna, also stated
in his "Der gantz judisch
"At the moment they
open the door, someone who
has disguised himself comes
quickly into the room, as if
he were [the prophet] Elijah

himself who had to proclaim
the gospel of their Messiah's
These two 16th Century
writers testify for the first
time to the now cherished
Ashkenazi custom of open-
ing the door to welcome Eli-
jah and the Messiah when
the biblical verses, begin-
ning with "Pour out Thy
wrath upon the nations that
do not know Thee" (Ps. 79,6
and Jer. 10:25), are recited
from the haggada at the
seder ceremony.
When and why did this
custom of opening the door
for Elijah-Messiah at the
seder during the shefokh
recitation arise?
As is so frequently the
case, traditional sources
are silent and do not docu-
ment the time the custom
originated, 'where it arose,
or the reason for its adop-
tion in the first place. We
search traditional literary
sources in vain to discover
answers to our questions.
We are fortunate, how-
ever, in having at our dis-
posal another major source,
which helps to shed consid-
erable light on this interest-
ing custom, namely the il-
lustrations in surviving
haggada manuscripts.
The Ashkenazi custom of
opening the door to greet
the Messiah exactly as de-
scribed by the Frankfurt
Rabbi Hahn, is to be found
in a haggada manuscript
(Washington,. Library of
Congress, fol. 19v), made by
Joel ben Simeon in North-
ern Italy and definitely
dated 1478. In this illustra-
tion, the head of the house
opens the door of his home,
holding the prescribed

1 -4
This haggada manuscript, housed in the Library of
Congress in Washington, depicts the Ashkenazi custom
of opening the door to greet the Messiah during the Pas-
sover seder. Printed in the late 15th Century in Northern
Italy by Joel ben Simeon, the manuscript shows the head
of the household opening the door of his home and hold-
ing the prescribed fourth cup of wine in order to recite
shefokh to greet the messianic guest.

fourth cup of wine in order
to recite shefokh, to greet
the messianic guest.
The Messiah is shown as a
bearded old man riding
upon a splendidly adorned
ass. Seated behind him on
the ass are a man and boy, a
woman holding a cup of
wine and a girl are seated on
the tail of the ass, while still
another youngster clings to
the tail. The messianic ass
and its many occupants no
doubt symbolize the house-
hold of Israel riding with
the Messiah to the promised

Seminary Chancellor Acclaims
JPS liaggada . and History'

Widely acclaimed as the
most fascinating book the
Jewish Publication Society
of America has produced in
its 100-year history,
"Haggada and History" by
Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi is
being welcomed enthusiasti-
cally by scholars as well as

iental,- Italian, Greek, Yid-
dish, American, Israeli —
and every great and many
an unknown Jewish settle-
ment vividly remembered. It
is, in short, a mirror of Jew-
ish life and activity that fo-
cuses on one institution
which is still not only very
much alive but forever

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The illustrations in Ash-
kenazi haggada manu-
scripts clearly reveal that
the custom of opening the
door to greet the messianic
guest, while the verses of
shefokh were recited, had
already been current in
1-5th Century Southern
Germany and Northern
Italy, and suggest that the
custom probably origin-
ated in these areas. As lit-
erary evidence of this cus-
tom is not recorded prior
to the 16th Century, hag-
gada illustrations are the
only evidence for this in-
teresting practice in the
15th Century.
There can be little doubt,
that constant persecutions
and vicious vilifications,
such as blood-libel accusa-
tions, prompted these im-
ages in 15th Century Ger-
many and Northern Italy.
The unbearable miseries, to
which Jews were daily sub-
jected in the declining medi-
eval structures of these
lands, demanded a much-
needed escape; an escape
which only the fervent hope
for the actual coming of the
Messiah on the Night of
Redemption (Pesah) could


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Seder Scene from Augsburg (Germany) 1534 Haggada re-
produced in JPS volume.

In a statement issued
upon the appearance of this
volume, Chancellor Gerson
D. Cohen of the Jewish
Theological Seminary, said:
Of the many thousands of
works that have appeared in
Hebrew print in the half
millennium since the begin-
ning of Hebrew printing,
none so poignantly reflects
the continuity and change,
the uniformity and diversity
of Jewish history and cul-
ture as the Passover Hag-
Furthermore, it was cus-
No other classical Jew-
tomary, especially in medi-
ish work has been so inti-
eval Southern Germany, to
mately tied up with the
have processions on Palm
history of Jewish book il-
Sunday, in which sculp-
lumination and illustra-
tured wooden figures of
tion. The art of the Pas-
Christ and his messianic ass
sover Haggada is at once a
(Palmeser) were carried on
repository of folklore and
carts, and wheeled to the
of changing aesthetic
gates of a mock Jerusalem.
tastes, and above all, a
record of migration, settle-
This practice may have
ment and acculturation. A
exerted some influence on
history of this small liturg-
the actual depictions in
ical handbook thus affords
our discussed haggada
a cross-sectional view of
manuscripts, and caused
religious leaders to under- . many facets of Jewish life
in the past five hundred
score the traditional Jew-
ish belief that the Messiah
Professor Yerushalmi's
was yet to come. Mo-
and History"
reover, in the light of the
omnipresent Christian represents the first pictorial
anthology of the history of
emphasis that the mes-
sianic prophecy of Zechar- the printed, and especially,
iah 9.9 was fulfilled with of the printed-illustrated
Christ's coming (Mat. Haggada.
His compendium provides
21:1-9, and John 12:12-16),
the reassertion of the Jew- a new tool and perspective
ish claim became an abso- on a pillar of the Jews in the
last five centuries.
lute necessity.
Spanning the days before
Both theological and eco- the expulsion from Spain to
nomic reasons, therefore, contemporary America and
may have been responsible Israel, this anthology re-
for calling into being, in the flects the impact of art,
15th Century, the now popu- technical progress and lin-
lar custom of opening the guistic and ,ideological
door to welcome the Mes- change on Jewish life.
Many Jewish languages
siah at the seder and its de-
piction in Ashkenazi hagga- and traditions are here rep-
resented — the Ladino, Or-

changing before our eyes.
Yerushalmi's introduc-
tion is a masterly combi-
nation of impeccable
scholarship with stylistic
beauty and lucidity. An
enchanting introduction to
the fascinating record of
Jewish history embedded
in bibliography, his essay
carries the reader into fa-
miliar and unfamiliar by-
ways of a Jewish history
with a dexterity that 'has
won Yerushalmi wide ac-
claim as an original
scholar of profundity and

Not the least significant
aspect of the work is the tes-
timony it provides that
America today has un-

matchable repositories of
Jewish information, notably
in two great libraries on
whose resources Yerush-
almi drew — Harvard Uni-
versity and The Jewish
Theological Seminary of -
Both compiler and the
Jewish Publication Society
are to be congratulated on
an aesthetic and informa-
tive tour de force. Hope-
this superbly executed
work will find its merited
place on the shelf of every-
one interested in the Jewish

Moslems to Build
Mosque in Texas

(JTA) — Plans to build a
Moslem mosque and com-
munity center here, the first
of its kind in the United
States, was announced
Wednesday by the Interna-
tional Islamic Association.
The mosque and center will
serve Moslem.soldiers being
trained at U.S. military
bases nearby.
According to Amed Rafiq,
a 38-year-old Palestinian
representing the Interna-
tional Islamic Association
of Mecca, there are 1,400
Moslems from Saudi Ara-
bia, Pakistan, Iran and
other Moslem countries liv-
ing here, and 3,000 addi-
tional Moslems living
nearby. He said that
hundreds of Moslems are
being trained at local mili-
tary. bases.
The proposed center will
have its own religious
leader, a meeting hall, li-
brary and residential
quarters.- Rafiq did not
disclose the cost of the fa-
Official sources main-
tained their usual stance of
-refusing to comment about
training personnel from
such Moslem states as Saudi
Arabia or Pakistan. San An-
tonio is the site of the
Alamo, an historic fortress
that a Saudi Arabian sheikh
recently offered to buy as a
present for his son.

Weizmann Memorial

The forged box, shown above, commemorating the
Chaim Weizmann centennary has been produced for the
national Weizmann memorial in Israel, the Yad Chaim
Weizmann, by the Heritage Collection Jerusalem. The
box incorporatei a tree of life design, and measures just
over 31/2 inches in diameter by 11/2 inches high. Lifting
the lid exposes a finely,drawn portrait of Weizmann. In-
formation on the commemorative box is available
through the Heritage Collection Jerusalem, 29 Sheshet
Hayamim St., Jerusalem, Israel. ,•

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