An Illuminating Passover Story
A review of The
Moriah Haggadah illuminations by Avner Moriah
PA: Jewish Publication Society, 2005, 256 pages, $150
By Mitchell Bard
Some books are meant to be read and others just perused.
Some books are just beautiful, but, at best get a place on a coffee
table and, at worst, are looked at once and then relegated to a dusty
shelf. The Moriah Haggadah is one of those that is beautiful.
It represents what Shalom Sabar says in the foreword is a “centuries-old
tradition of illuminating the beloved book of Passover.”
Sabar says the haggadah is the most popular artistic book in Jewish
history as many people have sought to portray the dramatic story of
the exodus from Egypt.
Avner Moriah is a Jerusalem-born
painter who took on the challenge of illuminating the story at a difficult
time in his life, when his wife was diagnosed and treated for leukemia.
The vibrancy of the drawings in the book reflect his emotions as his
wife recovered from her illness. The introduction says Moriah looked
at Egyptian and Assyrian wall paintings and reliefs, as well as figurines
produced during the time when Israelites settled in the Land of Israel.
The book has a brief description of Passover and the
Seder at the beginning and a more extensive, though routine, commentary
at the end, but the haggadah itself has only the story in Hebrew and
English. It is filled with beautiful watercolors. Sometimes they represent
a word, other times a paragraph or a concept. Full pages often are devoted
to circular pictures that represent the never-ending cycle of Jewish
history and life. While many of the drawings are apparently meant to
be self-explanatory, Moriah does provide descriptions for many of the
more complex pictures. For example, for the cup of Elijah,
Moriah has a round drawing showing along the outer ring images from
the prophet's life, as described in the Book of Kings: being fed by
crows in the desert; challenging the prophets of Baal; hiding on Mount
Horeb after having slain the false prophets; and ascending to heaven
in a fiery chariot. In the center, he depicts Elijah returning to earth
for a circumcision and a seder.
The Moriah Haggadah is a beautiful book that
will hopefully find its place at the seder table and not the bookshelf.