Mimouna: A Moroccan Jewish Celebration

   Mimouna  is a beautiful Moroccan Jewish festival, a celebration of friendship, brotherhood, unity and the beginning of spring, after the Passover period. It represent to, the formal return to chametz (leavened bread) after such foods were forbidden over the Passover holiday. The theme is good fortune, fertility, wealth and prosperity. To this effect, gold and jewellery often decorate the table, and sometimes they even decorate the food as well.                       

table set

The traditional table is set with symbols of luck and fertility: a live fish swimming in a bowl of water signify life and vitality, stalks of wheat for a full harvest, five green fava beans wrapped in dough, five dates and honey for sweetness, five gold bracelets in a pastry bowl, dough pitted with five deep fingerprints, five silver coins, five pieces of gold or silver jewellery, a hamsa – hand shaped amulet, to ward off evil, sweetmeats, milk and butter, white flour, yeast. plants, fig leaves, windflowers and greens.

A variety of coloured marzipan sweets, candied citrus rind, date rolls, assorted home-made jams and jellies made from fruits and vegetables such as kumquats, carrots, even eggplant, almond crisp cookies, and marzipan cookies, are prepared before Passover and kept for the whole week.  All are symbols of bounty, fertility, luck, blessings and joy. The traditional holiday greeting fits right in:                  “Tarbakhu u-tsa’adu” – meaning, “May you have success and good luck.”

  Traditionally, Jewish families in Morocco gave or sold their leavened foods to their Muslim neighbours for the duration of the holiday. When Passover ended, they invited their neighbours into their homes for a feast of Moroccan pastries and sweets.  Among the customary foods are trays of fruit, honey and butter wafers, Zaben (white almond nougat), Marozia (fried raisins decorated with nuts), dates stuffed with marzipan, Mazum (jam made from oranges, grapefruit, carrots, turnips, and beets), m’hamsa (also known as Israeli), couscous served in butter and milk called “berkouksh” , Moroccan salads like za’alook, Mufleta – crepes – like pancakes dipped in honey and butter and mint tea.

Mimouna’s signature dish, mufleta  

Martzipan      marzipan                               Sweets on display at Mimouna Festival.    Dates stuffed with marzipan    Celebrated in Morocco since the 16th century, Moroccan Jews who immigrated to Israel in the state’s early days brought the celebration with them, and it has grown. After a reunion of 300 Jews from Fez, in 1966, the celebration has spread into more mainstream Israeli culture.                           Not very well known in other countries,  Mimouna is today  a national holiday in Israel with big family or public outdoor parties, that begin at sundown and often last into the next day.  Frequently, politicians attend the celebrations, and it is a badge of honour to have a member of the Knesset, or local elected official, at someone  celebration.
    The celebration start immediately after the end of Passover and continues for 24 hours. For many Jews of Moroccan origin, is a bigger festival than Passover itself!
     In 2014, Mimouna in Israel will be celebrated from the evening of April 21 to sundown on April 22.






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Hag Pesah Sameiah again

Even we are now after Passover Seder Night, I decided  to continue the  Haggadot presentations. The motivation is very simple. The majority of people know very little about those wonderful documents.

In the previous post we had a little glimpse of the oldest Sephardic Haggadot illuminated manuscripts. Not to forget The Rylands Haggadah.

Rylands Hagaddah

The Rylands Haggadah is one of the finest Haggadot in the world. It was written and illuminated in Catalonia in the 14th century and is an example of the cross-fertilisation between Jewish and non-Jewish artists within the medium of manuscript illumination. Formerly in the possession of the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres (London), is now one of the treasures of the John Rylands University Library. In spring and summer 2012 it was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in the exhibition ‘The Rylands Haggadah: Medieval Jewish Art in Context’.

The second category of manuscript The Ashkenazi Haggadot are from Germany and France, and we have a third category to, Italian Haggadot. 

 The Ashkenazi Haggadot, from Germany and France, contain contextual illustrations, and the most famous are :

20120322_Epstein4 birdThe Birds’ Head Hagagdah (Franconia, Southern Germany, ca. 1300), which is oldest surviving Ashkenazi Illuminated manuscript, now in the collection of The Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Scribe: Menahem. Handwritten on parchment; dark brown ink and tempera; square Ashkenazic script.
The name of this early Passover Haggadah derives from the birdlike human figures illustrated in the manuscript’s margins and is the first illustrated Haggadah known to be produced as an entity separate from the prayer book.
The enigmatic practice of drawing bird and animal heads in place of human faces is found in other Ashkenazi manuscripts of the 13th and 14th centuries and has been interpreted in various ways. One can be the biblical prohibition against creating graven images.
In the Birds’ Head Haggadah, (discovered by Jewish art historian Bezalel Narkiss in 1946), the realistic human figure is avoided by providing it with the head and beak of a bird, but also by distorting or hiding it — with helmets, bulbous noses, and blank faces.
The Birds’ Head



It contains depictions with ritual and textual themes: the preparation of matzah and the various blessings over wine and food recited during the Seder; biblical scenes like the gathering of the manna or the giving of the Torah; and messianic images such as the rebuilt Jerusalem.

The Darmstadt Haggadah The Darmstadt Haggadah (15th century). The 15th-century Darmstadt Haggadah was written by the scribe Israel ben Meir of Heidelberg (whose name appears in a colophon), but it is not known whether he was the illustrator as well; scholars have theorized that the illuminations may be the work of several hands, perhaps even by Christian artists.

darmstadt_ill4The Darmstadt Haggadah is a magnificently executed work depicting fashionably dressed men and women, in various positions and in fanciful architectural settings, raising their cups of wine or reading with expressive gestures of speech.

The pointed arches and vaulted ceilings are characteristic of Gothic architecture, and the clothing represents contemporary dress. The modest necklines and covered heads of most figures (male and female) have no religious-Jewish basis, as similar figures may be found in non-Jewish manuscripts. Darmstadt University Library.

The Sassoon Haggadah – Spain or Southern France.      

The Sassoon Haggadah

Unidentified scribe. Handwritten on parchment; brown ink, tempera, gold and silver leaf; square and semi-cursive Sephardic script and later semi-cursive Provençal and Ashkenazic script. H: 21; W: 16.5 cm. Purchased by the State of Israel through an anonymous donor, London.

This important 14th-century Haggadah testifies to the religious and artistic traditions of Sephardic Jews before the expulsion from Spain. Most of its pages are colourfully embellished with illustrations of the text and the holiday’s rituals, along with an imaginative range of grotesque, hybrid creatures, and animals.

The Yahuda Haggadah. Franconia, Southern Germany. Unidentified scribe.                                                                                                                                                                           The Yahuda Haggadah

Handwritten on parchment; brown ink and gold and silver leaf; square Ashkenazic script. H: 23.1; W: 16.5 cm. Now in the collection of The Israel Museum in Jerusalem

This Haggadah is illustrated throughout with depictions of Passover rites and biblical episodes related to the Exodus as well as to the lives of Moses, the Patriarchs, and other figures. The same artist, whose identity has not yet been discovered, decorated another similar Haggadah, and both are filled with outstanding illustrations.

The third category of Haggadah manuscripts are Italian Haggadot, and include the Pesaro Siddur (Pesaro, Italy, 1481), and also the famous Washington Haggadah (1478) that is believed to have been produced by Joel ben Simeon in Germany. Active in both his native Germany and in northern and central Italy – especially in Florence – Joel ben Simeon had a profound influence on the illustration of Hebrew manuscripts. Unlike other scribes and artists, he signed most of his work, and we are able to identify more than a dozen manuscripts he created.

 Pesaro Siddur (Pesaro, Italy, 1481).    

Pesaro sidur

 This Italian Renaissance chef-d’oeuvre, is a two volumes prayer book ( Mahzor ) of Roman rite, completed in 1481 in the Central Italian town of Pesaro. The contents of the two volumes complement each other. The name of the scribe (Abraham) is identical in both, but the script is different, thus they were possibly two persons of the same name. The decoration generally similar also shows unique features for each volumes.

           The prayer book was purchased by David Kaufmann from the Triesti brothers on February 28, 1896 and can be presented only through the microfilm made of its illustrations, because this manuscript, together with a number of other Hebrew incunabula, Pesaro sidurmanuscripts and Genizah fragments, was stolen in 1980 from Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Oriental Collection   

The Kaufmann Collection consists of 594 manuscript items and 1,092 printed books. And is one of the fifteen largest and foremost collections of its kind in the world. The manuscript collection contains Biblical texts with commentaries, linguistic and massoretic texts, halakhic and aggadistic pieces, works on Talmudic methodology, kabbalistic writings, works in the fields of theology, philosophy and religious polemics, history, homiletics and poetry, in addition to prayerbooks, works on the local history of Italian towns and communities, samples of letters, and works on mathematics and medicine.

Washington Haggadah (1478)The Washington Haggadah (הגדת וושינגטון‎) is a Hebrew-language Haggadah created in 1478 by Joel ben Simeon, called Feibush Ashkenazi of Bonn, the most productive scribe and illuminator of Hebrew manuscripts in the fifteenth century. It was given to the United States Library of Congress in 1916 by Ephraim Deinard as part of the Third Deinard Collection. Originally referred to as Hebraic Manuscript, it has since been referred to as the Washington Haggadah in honour of the city.

Though not elaborately illustrated as many other Illuminated Haggadot, the beauty of its calligraphy, which is never subordinated to the illustrations, the proportions of the page, and the vividness of the illumination, which has come down in unusally fine condition, make this one of the most admired of Hebrew manuscripts.

First Nuremberg Haggadah – Southern Germany.

First Nuremberg HaggadahScribe and illustrator: Joel ben Simeon. This Haggadah, copied for Nathan ben Solomon, is thought to be the first and therefore represents his style while still a young man.
Handwritten on parchment; ink and watercolor; square and semi-cursive Ashkenazic script.
Gift of Erica Jesselson and the Jesselson family, to American Friends of the Israel Museum, in honor of Teddy Kollek’s 90th birthday




Haggadot shel Pesah


Tomorrow evening we will start one of the most important Jewish Holly daysThe Passover.
After the prayer at the Synagogue, in each Jewish family and community a Seder Dinner will be hold, following the story of Exodus from a text book – The Haggadah.
The history of the text compilation and the form presentation of Haggadah is very old and fascinating.

The earliest Haggadot that were composed, was quite similar to current form of today Haggadot.
The first to compose a text that was accepted throughout all Jewish communities was Rabbi Amram Gaon (died 875), who was head of the Jewish Talmud Academy of Sura in the 9th century. Approximately sixty years later, his successor, Rabbi Saadia Gaon (892 – 942), composed as part of The Siddur, a Haggadah with some changes and emendations and this is the oldest extant version of a Haggadah. There is no known manuscript of the entire text.

A near complete manuscript of Rabbi Saadia Gaon Haggadah and the second oldest ( but first completely preserved text) of the HaggadahThe Machzor Vitry (the world wide accepted form of a Haggadah today), are found in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. (Neub. Cat. 1095).

The first separate Haggadah fragments that exist are found in the Cairo Genizah. The first complete separate Haggadot that have been preserved are from the 13th – 14th century. There are three categories to these works, Sephardi editions, Ashkenazi and Italian.
The Spehardic Haggadot contains, in addition to the actual text, miniatures depicting Biblical images that are not necessarily directly connected to the Haggadah text.

The most important manuscripts in this category are the Kauffmann Haggadah (Spain 14th century), the Sarajevo Haggadah (Barcelona, 14th century) and the Golden Haggadah (Spain, 1320).

The Kauffman Haggadah

  The Kauffmann Haggadah (Spain 14th century), Facsimile 14th Century Spain.    Hungarian Academy of Sciences

  One of the finest examples of the illuminated Haggadah, the Kaufmann Haggadah is composed of 2 parts: 14 full page miniatures, and a decorated text. 


The Barcelona HaggadahThe Barcelona Haggadah is recognised as one of the finest illuminated Hebrew manuscripts in the collections of London’s British Library.

It dates from the middle of the fourteenth century, and is named after the heraldic shield it bears, which resembles the arms of Barcelona, home to a   flourishing Jewish community and a centre of manuscript illumination, linked to the court and influenced by Italian and French styles.

The Sarejevo Hagadah- Barcelona 1350

The Sarajevo Haggadah is one of the oldest Sephardic Haggadahs in the world, originating in Barcelona around 1350. The Sarajevo Haggadah is handwritten on bleached calfskin and illuminated in copper and gold.
Historians believe that it was taken out of Spain by Spanish Jews who were expelled by the Alhambra Decree in 1492. Notes in the margins of the Haggadah indicate that it surfaced in Italy in the 16th century. It was sold to the National Museum in Sarajevo in 1894 by a man named Joseph Kohen.
This Haggadah was almost destroyed during the bombardment of Sarajevo in 1994, but was miraculously saved by two devoted staff members of the demolished museum where it was housed.
The Haggadah it is on permanent display at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo.

The Golden HaggadahThe Golden Haggadah was probably made near Barcelona in about 1320.

The text of the manuscript is written in a square Sephardi script. Medieval Sephardi scribes used a fine reed pen called a calamus, which produced harmonious and regular letters. The text is preceded by a series of full-page miniatures depicting scenes mainly from the Book of Exodus. These sumptuous illuminations set against gold-tooled backgrounds earned the manuscript its name and were executed by two artists in the northern French Gothic style.

pages1and 2 of Golden HaggadahThis title page was added in Carpi, Italy, in 1602 by the first known owner of the manuscript, Joav Gallico of Asti, who gave it to his son-in-law as a wedding gift.

The Golden Haggadah was probably taken to Italy by Jews fleeing Spain shortly after 1492. It remained in Italy until acquired by the British Museum in 1865 as part of the collection of Giuseppe Almanzi.