Birds` Head Haggadah


Birds’ Head Haggadah

Southern Germany , ca. 1300
Scribe: Menahem
Parchment, ink, tempera
27 x 18.2 cm
Purchased through the gift of Fred Monosson, Boston
The Haggadah was in the possession of Ludwig and Johanna Marum, Karlsruhe, Germany, until the Nazi epoch
180/57; M912-4-46
Photograph: Moshe Caine

The Birds’ Head manuscript, the earliest illustrated Ashkenazi Haggadah to have survived as a separate book, rather  than as part of the mahzor (holiday prayer book), contains richly colored depictions of biblical, ritual and allegorical scenes. Its name is derived from the human figures depicted in the Haggadah, who have birds’ heads with pronounced beaks. The enigmatic practice of drawing bird and animal heads in place of human faces is found in other medieval Ashkenazi manuscripts; it has yet to be fully explained, but may relate to a strict observance of the biblical prohibition against making graven images. All the adult males in the Haggadah wear the conical “Jewish hat” that was compulsory for Jews in Germany during the Middle Ages.

The codex, written in square Ashkenazi script, features two full-page miniatures; initial-word panels, and many marginal text illustrations. The scribe’s name appears to have been Menahem, as he marked in the text the consonants that spell his name. The same scribe wrote and similarly indicated his name in the Leipzig Mahzor, also written around that date.