The Birds Head Haggadah, from Germany in approximately the year 1300, has long baffled readers. Why are people depicted with bird’s heads in the haggadah’s illustrations? The challenge raised by this popular haggadah, which is still available today (link), has provoked scholarly speculation, such as in Prof. Marc Michael Epstein’s recent The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative and Religious Imagination (link). But why should academics have all the fun?
The following are my top ten speculations in answer of this centuries-old puzzle:
- The faces were distorted for tzenius purposes
- What we consider Jewish religious art is really an anti-semitic depiction of long-nosed Jews.
- Birds fly through the sky and symbolize freedom. They represent the redemption of Pesach.
- As every visitor quickly learns, all Jewish cats have already made aliyah and live in Jerusalem. Therefore, Jewish birds celebrate Passover in the exile unharassed.
- When it comes to the afikomen, parents react like birds: “cheap cheap cheap”
- Planet of the Birds was the less famous companion to Planet of the Apes.Thankfully the Apes’ Head Haggadah is lost to history.
- The haggadah was commissioned to be an artistic bird’s eye view of the seder but the artist got confused and instead drew a birds head view.
- The illustrator made each drawing only after drinking four cups of wine.
- This haggadah anticipated Twitter by about 700 years.
- Why are pictures of people different on this night from all other nights?
- At the exodus we left on the wings of eagles.
- We are to be a BEAKon to the nations.
Two additional suggestions from R. Elly Krimsky: