"In each generation a person must see himself as if he came out of Egypt."
“In each generation a person must see himself as if he came out of Egypt.” Proof sheet from The Moss Haggadah: A Complete Reproduction of the Haggadah Written and Illuminated by David Moss for Richard and Beatrice Levy, with the Commentary of the Artist. Berkeley: Bet Alpha Editions, 2000.
In 1980 Judaica collector Richard Levy issued a challenge to artist David Moss to write an illuminated Haggadah. Moss spent the next three years examining and researching manuscript Haggadot in the collections of libraries and museums as he designed and executed the pages of his own. Levy’s commission was completed in 1983 and became a showpiece true to the tradition, but also fresh in its approach. It was shown in the seminal exhibition on the Hebrew book at the New York Public Library in 1988, the single manuscript Haggadah made after 1717. Artist and owner were approached with the idea of creating a facsimile to exacting fidelity and limited to five hundred copies and they consented. The deluxe facsimile printed by Stamperia Valdonega of Verona was released in 1987, followed by a trade edition published in 1989.
Moss quotes Exodus 13:8 in describing the pages of this sheet: And you must tell your child on that day saying: “It is because of what God did for me when I came out of Egypt.” The Haggadah reminds us of the relevance of the Exodus story to our personal lives, linking this by inference to Jewish history in general. In seeking to express this graphically, I came to the idea of a portrait gallery depicting the generations of the Jewish people. The historical periods of these portraits are indicated by the costumes, which range from ancient times to our own day. My research was practically done for me by the excellent work on Jewish costume by Alfred Rubens. This gallery is more than a simple historical record. By using silvered surfaces on each alternate ellipse I have created a mirror for each portrait. Thus, when the book is closed each representative of a generation literally “sees himself” as the Haggadah dictates. In the facsimile, where the images are on two facing pages, when you slowly open the two pages, and peek into the gap between the pages, you witness each generation contemplating its own reflection. This process of continuous reflection is an essential quality of Jewish history. Through reflection each of us becomes involved, and is forced to clarify his own position and identity. This is formulated by the Haggadah with the crucial demand that in every generation a person must see himself as if he personally came out of Egypt.
The final stage can only come when we confront the book fully open in from of us. Only when we make the effort to open the book and devote ourselves to our sacred texts, can we see ourselves clearly and vitally taking our won places within the historical Jewish people.
The trade edition facsimile of the Moss Haggadah is available in the Bridwell collection, Oversize BM675.P4 Z55576 2000.