Initial-word panel of Deuteronomy, Pentateuch, S. Germany, c.1300. British Library, London. Panel bearing the word “Eleh”-the first word of Deuteronomy. These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel on the east bank of the River Jordan, as they approached the Promised Land he would never enter. Architectural design typical of Gothic period. Produced in the workshop of the renowned medieval scribe Hayyim.


Aaron Pours Oil into the Lamp. British Museum Miscellany, France, c.1280. British Library, London. This manuscript is composed of nearly 750 leaves. Numerous artists participated in producing the illustrations for this volume. High gothic style. Note the 6-armed menorah.


Barcelona Haggadah, Barcelona, Spain, mid-14th century. British Library, London. One of the most remarkable illuminated Haggadot, this work is prized for its rich and imaginative illumination. 128 of its 322 pages are ornamented, offering valuable insights into Jewish life in Spain. Aragon and Catalonia were among Europe’s largest Jewish communities until the forced conversions of Barcelona’s Jewish population in 1401. Inscriptions on the pages allow us to trace ownership. This manuscript was sold by Shalom Latif of Jerusalem to Rabbi Moses ben Abraham of Bologna in 1459, and thus left Sepharad before the expulsion. The British Museum acquired it in 1844.


Parchment Shiviti Plaque, late 19th Century. Library of Congress, Washington. The use of Shiviti plaques indicates one’s awareness of the Lord’s presence. Hung in synagogues and in the home, the plaques derive their name from the Hebrew phrase “I am always mindful of God’s presence” Tehillim 16:8. This one was made by Shneur Zalman Mendelowitz from Hebron.


Darmstadt Haggadah, Germany, late 15th century. Hessiche Landes-und Hochschulbibliothek, Darmstadt. The Hebrew word ‘Az’ on this initial-word panel is from the beginning of the Passover poem - ‘How many the wonders you have wrought.’ The manuscript was written by scribe Israel ben Meir of Heidelberg using squared Ashkenazic script. This page illustrates the importance of study and discussion at the Passover Seder. Here both men and women hold books - probably Haggadot - and, as tradition dictates, recount the story of redemption from Egypt.


First Cincinnati Haggadah, S. Germany, c.1480-1490. Klau Library (Cincinnati), Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati, Ohio. Here we see the man using a feather to brush crumbs from his cupboard. This scene illustrates the traditional search for chometz [leaven] taking place the evening before Passover. Any crumbs found will be burned the following morning. This text is produced by Meir Jaffe ha-Sofer, a copyist, illuminator and renowned leather tooler.


Bere’shit. Schocken Bible, Southern Germany. c.1300. Schocken Institute of Jewish Research, Jerusalem. Frontispiece for the Book of Genesis bearing the word Bere’shit, surrounded by 46 medallions depicting biblical stories from Adam and Eve to Balaam in the Book of Numbers. From the workshop of the scribe Hayyim.


Detail interpreted from ‘Guide for the Perplexed’ Moses Maimonides, 1348. Barcelona, The Royal Library, Copenhagen. Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon). Born 1135 CE in Cordoba, Spain to a distinguished family of judges. Talmudist, philosopher, astronomer, physician. Called ‘the second Moses’ for his contributions to Judaism. In 1148, his family fled when the Almohad Muslims invaded and demanded conversion of all Jews. After years of wandering, the family settled in Cairo where Maimonides became Chief Rabbi and physician to the royal court. The Rambam (as he was known based on the initials of his name) published scholarly and religious volumes, authored hundreds of responsa (religious legal opinions), wrote letters of spiritual sustenance for communities and individuals - some still existing today - and produced some of the greatest known Jewish works. Among them the Moreh Nevuchin (Guide for the Perplexed) represented here, which reconciled faith and reason. This landmark volume had an extraordinary impact on the Jewish and non-Jewish world alike. Jewish communities worldwide mourned his death. Pilgrims still visit his tomb in Tiberias today.


Ketubah, Maddelena on the Po, Italy, 1839. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. A marriage contract, celebrating and documenting a union in a small Italian town close to the French border. The birds, flowers and architectural design replace earlier ornate decoration with simplicity in both the illustrations and the illumination. Note that biblical references in the illustrations, found in earlier ketubot, are not included.


Ketubah, Rome, Italy 1745. National and University Library, Jerusalem, Israel. The ketubah is a marriage contract given to the wife by her husband during the marriage ceremony. This legal document obligates the husband to take care of and provide for his wife for the rest of her life. Illuminated ketubot flourished in Sephardi communities from Italy to Persia. This example reflects the baroque period in Italy.


'Carpet' page, Damascus Keter (Bible), Burgos, Spain, 1260. Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem, Israel. This manuscript, copied by Menahem ben Avraham ibn Malek, is one of the earliest Hebrew illuminated manuscripts from Spain to survive. It contains the entire Bible and the ‘carpet’ pages precede the main divisions. Typical of the design is a central stem flanked by interlacing scrolls and fillets outlined by micrography. The page is framed by a border of bold script also between two lines of micrography.


Detail interpreted from Mishneh Torah, Moses Maimonides, Lisbon, 1472. British Library, London, England. Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon b. 1135, Cordoba, Spain) was called ‘the second Moses’ for his contributions to Judaism. In 1148 his family fled from Muslim Spain and eventually settled in Cairo where he became Chief Rabbi and Physician to the Royal Court. He published some of the greatest known Jewish works, including the Mishneh Torah and Guide for the Perplexed. Jewish communities worldwide mourned his death. Today he remains one of the most revered of Jewish sages and pilgrims still visit his tomb in Tiberias.


Illuminated Bible, Spain, 1470. The Royal Library, Copenhagen, Denmark. Two different worlds present themselves in Hebrew illuminated manuscripts from Spain and they reflect the history of Spanish medieval Jewry itself. One is non-figurative and non-narrative, relying on geometric ornamental style. This influence is Islamic. It also reflects the precept of the second Commandment to avoid images. The second influence uses pictorial or representational design referring to biblical stories. Decoration of Spanish Hebrew Bible echoes of the interaction of these two trends. In this Bible animal and palmetto figures are subtly entwined in rich pattern decoration.


Cervera Bible, Cervera, Spain, 1300. National Library, Lisbon. This beautiful early Hebrew illumination depicts the prophet Zachariah’s vision. Here, the restored Jewish state is symbolized by the menorah receiving oil from two olive trees. The trees represent the renewed lineage of King David and of the Temple Priest. Scribe, Samuel ben Abraham Ibn Nathan; Artist, Joseph Ha-Zarefati.


Bible, Aragon, Spain, 1299. Bibliotheque nationale de France, Paris, France. Possibly the earliest known example of the tradition of Temple implements being illustrated in bibles. The tradition began in Spain and this example was written by Solomon ben Raphael, who possibly illuminated it as well.


Cut Paper Shiviti Plaque, United States, 1861. Hebrew Union College - Skirball Cultural Center, Museum Collection, Los Angeles. Many papercuts are the work of anonymous folk artisans. Most fortunately, Phillip Cohen signed his name both in Hebrew and English and dated his beautiful work. The design refers to the imagery of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, prominently featuring a portal and a menorah. In the center is the verse from Tehillim 118, “This is the gateway to God.” Shiviti plaques were often made for the synagogue, the name derived from the Hebrew “I am always mindful of God’s presence” Tehillim 16:8. Cohen proudly demonstrated his allegiance to America by including American flags atop each of the columns.


Safed Torah. The Sefer Torah of Rabbi Yitzchak Abuhav (Toledo, Spain c.1300) was carried to Safed during the Spanish expulsion. God’s will was made manifest in the Torah SheBiktav (written Torah) by Moses under Divine prophecy during the 40 year period after the exodus from Egypt. Torah is a record of God reaching out to man, God’s will communicated to man. “...which Moses received at Sinai, and transmitted to Joshua, and Joshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets...” Ethics of the Fathers 1:1
Photo: Sharon Baskin


Golden Light. Golden light reflects on this Jerusalem alleyway in the heart of the ancient walled city near the RaMBaN Synagogue. Rabbi Moshe Ben-Nackhman, known as Nakhmanides, or by his initials RaMBaN, arrived in Jerusalem from Gerona in Catalonia, Spain in 1267. This ancient synagogue is one of four known as the Sephardi Synagogues of Jerusalem. Until the late 1800’s these synagogues comprised the majority of Jerusalem’s Jewish population.
Photo: Sharon Baskin


Heart of the Old City. Alleyways wind throughout Jerusalem. This is a scene near the RaMBaN Synagogue in the heart of the ancient walled city. Rabbi Moshe Ben-Nackhman, known as Nakhmanides, or by his initials RaMBaN, arrived in Jerusalem from Gerona in Catalonia, Spain in 1267. This ancient synagogue is one of four known as the Sephardi Synagogues of Jerusalem. Until the late 1800’s these synagogues comprised the majority of Jerusalem’s Jewish population.
Photo: Sharon Baskin


Wayfinding in Safed. Alleyway in Safed near the Abuhav Shul. Since the Torah of Rabbi Yitzchak Abuhav (Toledo, Spain c. 1300) was carried to Safed during the expulsion, kabbalists have gathered in this holy city. In about 1759 a major earthquake destroyed hundreds of Safed’s homes and shuls. Miraculously, the bima wall holding Abuhav’s Torah was all that remained of the Abuhav Shul. The Shul, and several other Sephardi synagogues were rebuilt and are in use today. Safed’s alleyways also lead to the Caro Synagogue, said to be built on the site of the 16th century yeshiva of the famous Chief Rabbi of Safed, Rabbi Joseph Caro, who compiled the “Shulchan Aruch” (Code Of Jewish Law).
Photo: Sharon Baskin


Nachalot Doorway. As the original home to Yemenite, Kurdish, Sephardi, Greek and Galician Jews, Nachalot is one of the oldest Sephardic communities. Today, visitors will find ancient alleyways and cobblestone streets punctuated by colorful eclectic architecture. Nachalot also has one of the most flavorful open-air markets in Israel!
Photo: Sharon Baskin


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