Prato Haggadah at LV Art Museum

Art, FREE, Museums, Religion & Spirituality | | March 25, 2007 at 14:47

the-prato-haggadah.jpgThe Las Vegas Art Museum is exhibiting an interesting slice of cultural history generally unknown outside of the academic or Judaic community. Most are familiar with Medieval manuscripts of the Christian faith, evoking images of brown-robed monks slaving away in distant monasteries, destroying their eyesight with flickering candlelight. The Jewish tradition produced a manuscript known as Haggadah which literally means “telling,” an obligation to recount the story of the exodus from Egypt for those who are unable to lead or attend a seder. The seder is the celebratory dinner and ceremony performed at Passover reliving the enslavement by the Pharaohs and the journey led by Moses to the Promised Land. A haggadah includes certain standard biblical, Talmudic and midrashic texts accompanied by full instructions for the seder, including menu and prayer. The Talmud and Midrash can be loosely defined as compilations of rabbinic discussions concerning Jewish law and ethics.

The Prato Haggadah, on display at the Grotto at the Las Vegas Art Museum, is from Moorish-controlled Spain, produced around 1300. It is among the oldest of Spanish Haggadot. The Moors (Muslims) were tolerant of the Jews during a period when they were greatly persecuted elsewhere in Europe. Known as Sephardic Jews, they thrived in Moorish-Spain as doctors, tradesmen, and scholars until their expulsion in the late 15th century.

The Prato Haggadah is distinctive in that it is incomplete both in content and form. All elements associated with the Passover meal are excluded from the text; scholars only speculating as to the reasons why. What is most interesting about the manuscript is that it is unfinished. By virtue of its incomplete state, you are able to trace the processes and methodologies used in its manufacture. I had a similar experience in a tomb in the Valley of Kings, Egypt when it was possible to see exactly how the wonderful frescos were made, each step of the production process made clear by the systematic, successive stages of incomplete artwork on the walls.

There are 50 pages or folio on display in the Grotto, along with visual aids showing the production of parchment and quills, the basic materials of bookmaking. Parchment, which is processed animal skins, particularly sheep, became the substitute for papyrus which was only abundant in the Nile Valley. The Metropolitan Museum of Art used Raman spectroscopy to determine the chemical composition of each pigment used in the Hebrew script and illumination. The illuminations (illustrations) themselves are humorous and cartoon-like, even when handling issues of high religious portent. It would seem that Jewish humor goes back many centuries.

It’s a small exhibit, but large enough. The curator has done an excellent job of display and education. There is a free brochure from the desk which goes into great detail, including a useful glossary. The exhibit, which runs through Apr 22, is possible through the assistance of the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary. The hours of the Museum are Mon-Thur 9:00a-9:00p and Fri-Sun 10:00a-6:00p. Selections from the exhibit can also be seen online: Las Vegas Art Museum/Clark Country Sahara West Library 9600 W. Sahara Ave Las Vegas NV