ARTICLES

THE SARAJEVO HAGGADAH

RABBI AUBREY HERSH

Mar 2, 2010

Located on a street known until recently as ‘Sniper Alley’, is the National Museum of Bosnia. And inside, displayed under a glass pyramid, is a unique manuscript: the Sarajevo Haggadah. Currently valued at $7million, it was last used in 1995, but the wine stains on its pages point to a far longer history.

The Haggadah was created in 14th century Spain, and its 107 pages contain all the standard texts alongside some extras. One of the 34 pages of illuminations shows the world as round - truly remarkable considering people were still being burned at the stake by the papacy 200 years later for suggesting such a thing. The story told in the manuscript, starts with Creation and carries on through to the death of Moses - thereby encapsulating all 5 books of the Torah.
 
The Haggadah escaped the Inquisition in Spain in 1492 when its owners fled to Italy, and in 1609 the illuminations impressed a censor enough for him to spare its parchment pages from the Church's book burnings. It is unknown how it arrived in Sarajevo, however in 1894, a man named Joseph Cohen sold it to the museum for about $7,000 in (today's currency), as the impoverished local synagogue couldn't afford the price.
 
The manuscript underwent another rescue during World War II, when 80% of Sarajevo's 12,000 Jews were killed. The Nazis came looking for it, but Dervis Korkut, the Moslem curator, courageously hid the Haggadah in a mountain village, as well as a young Jewish girl called Mira Papo. Remarkably, this woman would save Korkut’s daughter from the Serbian genocide in the 1990’s! During the recent wars, the Haggadah was placed in a safe in the darkened basement as shells exploded all around the Museum and soldiers fought in the botanical gardens.
 
Jakob Finci, president of the Jewish Community created 613 reproductions of the Haggadah (to parallel the amount of mitzvot in the Torah) to allow others to feel an echo of its splendour.
 
Like the story of Pesach itself, the Sarajevo Haggadah is a testimony to the fact that no matter how trying some of the times we live through, our Nation will survive.

 

TAGS for this article: Pesach | Passover