Mishneh Torah (detail, folio 145r). Illuminations attributed to Master of the Barbo Missal (Italian); text by Maimonides (1135–1204). Tempera and gold leaf on parchment; leather binding; 346 leaves: 8 15/16 × 7 1/4 in. each; ca. 1457. Jointly owned by The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2013. Purchased for the Israel Museum through the generosity of an anonymous donor; René and Susanne Braginsky, Zurich; Renée and Lester Crown, Chicago; Schusterman Foundation - Israel; and Judy and Michael Steinhardt, New York. Purchased for The Metropolitan Museum of Art with Director’s Funds and Judy and Michael Steinhardt Gift (2013.495)
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The Beauty of Passover

In honor of Passover, we’re delighted to showcase a few objects from The Met collection that speak to the power and beauty of Jewish tradition

As the Shabbat falls this evening, Jews around the world will gather around tables to share perhaps the most important meal of the year: the Passover seder. This important ritual recalls the exodus of the ancient Israelites from Egypt, with an array of foods and cups of wine symbolizing various aspects of the story—and, indeed, of Jewish identity. Passover is a moment to reflect on the enduring power of faith—and the importance of traditions that date back thousands of years. The works below, all from The Met collection, also prove that this festival has inspired beauty in many media. Chag sameach!  

A Special Meal

The k’arah, or seder plate, contains the five richly symbolic foods that figure in the Passover meal. Such plates can become important fairly heirlooms, bearing elaborate decoration and inscriptions from the Torah and Haggadah.

Passover or Seder dish. German. Pewter, 2 × 16 in., dated 1767. Rogers Fund, 1906 (06.745)

 

Sacred Texts

A reading of the Haggadah (or “telling”) is a crucial complement to the sensory experience of the seder meal. The book’s core text comes from the Book of Deuteronomy—lines that give thanks for events in turn recounted in the Book of Exodus. Today, the Haggadah may be the most commonly printed Jewish book, with many modern editions containing illustrations, commentary, and more.

Hebrew Bible. Made in Castile, Spain. Ink, tempera, and gold on parchment; leather binding; 476 folios: 9 5/16 × 7 15/16 in. each; 1300–1350 (before 1366). The Cloisters Collection, 2018 (2018.59)

 

Ritual Vessels

The Passover ritual calls for consuming four cups of wine. Wine symbolizes freedom, and is associated with royalty; rabbis, meanwhile, have proposed numerous, richly theological explanations for the tradition of sipping from four cups.

Left: Beaker. German. Glass, 4 5/8 x 2 15/16 in. overall; 15th century. Gift of the Apanagial Estate Abrau, 1906 (06.141). Right: Double Cup. Caspar Beutmüller the Elder (German). Silver, partially gilded, with a silver medallion and a gold glass medallion;  16 9/16 x 5 3/8 in. overall; 1590–1600. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.609a, b)

 

Chosen Ones

This medieval plaque presents a Christian variant on the event that set the Israelites’ exodus in motion, and which Passover commemorates annually: the sacrifice of a lamb, whose blood Moses ordered elders to use as a mark of protection on their households, thus sparing them from God’s wrath and allowing their escape from Egypt. Here, the tau character stands in for lamb’s blood as a sign of God’s favor.

Plaque with Marking of the Door with the Letter Tau. German. Champlevé enamel, copper alloy, gilt; 2 9/16 x 2 15/16 x 3/16 in; ca. 1200. Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.438)

 

A Continuing Tradition 

May you and your family have a blessed and joyous Passover!

Seder. Mark Podwal (American, born 1945). Acrylic, gouache, and colored pencil on paper; 19 x 18 in.; 2003. Funds from various donors, 2003 (2003.469)

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