Exclusive Book & Movie Reviews: An Illuminating Passover Story 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.