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Oldest Haggada ever found goes on display in Jerusalem


Remnants of one of the oldest surviving Passover Haggadahs in the world, which was discovered in the trove of archived Jewish texts known as the Cairo Genizah, are currently on display as part of an exhibit at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem. The Haggadah, hand-scribed on parchment, dates from the 12th century C.E. 

Dr. Aviad Stollman, head of the collections at the National Library, said: "We have before us remnants of a Pesach Haggadah that was written on parchment and survived as part of the Cairo Genizah. This Haggadah is particularly exciting for me since it's 900 years old. Only a single page of it remains, on which can be made out four small columns [of text] of eight lines each, with four or five words in each line. What's surprising is that even though 900 years have passed, the text is nearly identical to the text we read today." 

Stollman offered some background about the Cairo Genizah: "In the women's section of the ancient Ben Ezra Synagogue, there was a room that had an opening that couldn't be reached without a ladder. The room functioned as a genizah [a storeroom for sacred texts that are no longer readable or usable but cannot be destroyed]. As early as the eighth century C.E. and until the genizah was discovered in the 19th century, they would throw worn-out holy texts in there. 

"Today, we know that there were about 300,000 pages and partial pages there. Nearly all the fragments were handwritten in the past 1,000 years. Today, the [contents of the] genizah are divided among libraries throughout the world, including the National Library." 

The right-hand page of the Haggadah discovered in Cairo opens with the words: "They were expelled from Egypt and could not tarry, also they had no food prepared for themselves," and goes on to ask: "Why do we eat the bitter herbs?" The left-hand page features a particularly thrilling commandment, given that this Haggadah was likely written in Egypt: "In every generation, one has to view himself as if he himself had gone out of Egypt." The left page concludes with an explanation of why we recite the Haggadah at Pesach: "Therefore, we are obliged to thank [the Lord], sing his praise." 

The National Library exhibit also features other Haggadahs, all handwritten in the last 900 years. The texts were written in Yemen, Iran, Iraq, and North Africa, and include two that were stolen by the Nazis during the Holocaust and returned to the Jewish people after World War II. 

The exhibit is open to the public and admission is free.