The story of the Exodus from Egypt has served as a founding myth for the survival of the Jewish people in recent centuries, and particularly since the inception of the Zionist enterprise.
The content and design of these Haggadot reflect the spirit of the struggle to establish the state, and cast light on the prevailing mood within the Jewish society in the Land of Israel and in the Diaspora. Against the background of the shaping of Israeli culture, the exhibition of Haggadot illustrates the tension between sanctity and profanity and between tradition and innovation.
The Exodus story serves as the strongest metaphor in Jewish history, and indeed the history of humanity as a whole, for the hope of redemption and the transition from slavery to liberty. Accordingly, it is hardly surprising that the Passover Haggadah was published in countless editions and has inspired Jewish art throughout the centuries.
The text of the Haggadah began to crystallize some two thousand years ago, in a process lasting one millennium. The wave of Enlightenment that swept the Jewish world in the nineteenth century weakened the canonical status of the text. The emergence of the Hibbat Zion movement and the birth of Zionism led to the use of the Haggada as a platform for expressing the desire for Jewish national independence, an end to Exile, and the settling of the Land of Israel. At the same time, the Jewish Labor movement, which also began to emerge in the late nineteenth century, adopted the vision of liberty from slavery in Egypt as a symbol for the universal message of a social revolution and the liberation of the working class. The Labor Zionist movement, which came to enjoy a hegemonic status during the pre-state period and among the first generation following independence, these two basic ideals merged, creating a synthesis that is richly reflected in Haggadot produced in Israel before and after 1948.
During the first half of the twentieth century, the ideal of the exit from slavery to liberty was powerfully manifested in the desperate struggle for Jewish survival during the Holocaust and the Second World War. The struggle against the British authorities in Palestine, and the conflicts with the Arab armies in the War of Independence and the subsequent wars, were also reflected in richly meaningful references in contemporary Haggadot.
The texts of modern Haggadot occupy a broad spectrum, at one end of which are works that merely include additional material, usually at the end of the traditional text. At the other end of the spectrum lie Haggadot that draw on the text as a platform for ideological messages or practical experiences. Additions to the traditional text include excerpts from canonical Hebrew poetry as well as diverse original material. Leading artists have provided illustrations for Haggadot.
The exhibition of Haggadot offers a unique perspective on the vision of liberty in modern Jewish culture.