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Haggadah -- A Different Night

A Different Night
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Gallery #2:
Art of the Four Children,

These drawings, representing 500 years of The Four Children, are from A Different Night. To see a larger size version of any drawing, with commentary, click on it.

More art of the Four Children:  1526-1923 | 1960-1982 | 1985-present

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Istvan Zador, Four Children, Budapest, 1924

Abandoning the medieval types and their identifying props (sword and book), Zador shows faces differentiated only by their expressions and the position of their hands. His wise type may even be a woman — the only woman among the illustrations of the Four Children in any of the Haggadot before the rise of Jewish feminism. Her wisdom is reflected not in bookishness but in a pained expression of deep thought concentrated in the forehead. The wicked type raises a cynical eyebrow as he leans on his fist and half smiles self-contentedly. The third and fourth figures are more childlike in dress with wrinkleless foreheads. The open eyes, open mouth and raised eyebrows of the simple one express interest and astonishment.

Minimalism: Otto Geismar (Germany, 1927)
Geismar uses Jugendstil minimalism with its very simple strong lines to draw characters by means of their bodily contours. The wise type is classically engrossed in books as he leans his covered head on his arm; the wicked type is dynamic, interactive and unbalanced (as in the Amsterdam and Chicago Haggadot). The outstretched fingers before the face suggest that he is taunting the wise type. The third and fourth children are differentiated by their open or closed posture (hands and feet).     

Szyk — not very Hochom Szyk — Rasha Szyk — Tam Szyk — Sheno
Arthur Szyk, Poland, 1939
The four figures epitomize the Jewish cultural and class struggles in interwar Poland. The wise figure is a delicate intelligent yeshiva "bochur" (unmarried student) dressed traditionally yet meticulously. His body language expresses the grace and modesty of the Torah student ideally understood as an intellectual and religious aristocrat. In contrast, the wicked figure is a middle-aged bourgeois Jew dressed to show off his aspirations to Western European modernity. While the wise student has no props, not even a book, the wicked figure sports a riding crop, a cigarette with cigarette holder, and a stylish monocle. He is dressed in a hunting outfit with a jaunty Tyrollian hat with a feather, an ascot around his neck, silk gloves and sharp spurs on his leather boots. His stance is self-confident, self-contained and arrogant in contrast to the simpleton who is fat and smiling, opening himself to the world trustingly with arms and legs spread out.
While the simpleton is still traditionally dressed with a small tallis, the one who does not even know how to ask is a worker dressed poorly, wearing proletarian boots, without any visible link to Jewish tradition. His contemplative expression suggests that his direction in life is not yet determined.

To learn more about Arthur Szyk, download an article on his life from the American Jewish Historical Society. (This article is in PDF format and will take 2-3 minutes to download. It opens in Adobe Acrobat Reader.)     TOP

Koslowsky 4 children
Nota Koslowsky, U.S.A., 1944
Koslowsky, like Freeman and Oren below, portray the Four Children as children in age and dress. Here the wise child (with a bourgeois tie) takes cover behind his desk and screens the world out with his hand. He is studious but cloistered. The wicked child dominates the field because he stands and gestures demonstratively. His riding crop, a bottle of liquor, cigarettes and an open shirt represent an angry bohemian revolt. His body language is dismissive and his neck is twisted uncomfortably. The other children are merely absorbed in eating.     

The Kibbutz — Tam and Sheno The Kibbutz — Hochom and Rasha
Socialist Zionism — Tzvi Livni, Israel, 1955
This Haggadah expresses the newly triumphant Zionist socialist pioneering spirit of the early years of the State of Israel. Unlike medieval haggadot, the four children are actually children - young adolescents. Israeli Zionism placed an inordinate emphasis on the young who would sweep away the old ways. Therefore the hearts and minds of the adolescent generation must be won over to ideologically motivated pioneering. In each drawing the questioning child is juxtaposed to the parental answer portrayed by the objects displayed.
    a. The wise child who still holds the traditional symbol — the book — is dressed as a pioneering member of the Kibbutz. His answer follows roughly the traditional answer — "Tell the wise son the laws of Pesach." Yet these Jewish symbols may also be understood in a nationalist spirit: The menorah is the symbol of the State of Israel, the ten commandments are the moral common denominator of Jews and the Pesach plate symbolizes national historical memory. Most anomalous is the lulav which belongs ritually to Sukkot, not Pesach. It may well symbolize the agricultural revival of the land of Israel so central to Zionist socialist ideology and so glaringly absent from the traditional seder. Generally the answer to the wise child represents not a rebellion against Jewish tradition, but its accommodation to the spirit of modern Jewish nationalism.
    b. The wicked child is the city slicker "gussied up" with a fancy handkerchief and a tie. His cynical question — "What is all this 'avodah' to you?" is reinterpreted. While "avodah" in the traditional Haggadah refers to "services," the "cultic" rites of the seder, here it is translated as pioneering "agricultural" work, of making the desert bloom along with the military defense of the land represented by the towers. Towers and stockades were built overnight in the illegal settlements erected by the Zionists in the late 1930's in defiance of the British colonial government.
    c. The simple child wonders about mass immigration to Israel typical of the 1950's when the population doubled. He is answered by the traditional and the modem Haggadah: "God brought us out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." Zionists felt they were reliving the original exodus.
    d. The child who does not know how to ask is ironically and pointedly the anti-Zionist Orthodox child with peot (sidelocks). While in the medieval iconography he would have been the epitome of the wise and observant child, here he is demoted to "ignorant child," knowing nothing of the flora and fauna of Eretz Yisrael and of the "book of knowledge" of Jewish national history and general education. The artist regards it as a matter not of age or of personality but of indoctrination that the most traditional child is least able to ask questions about the changing world around him.     

Clashing Cultures: Siegmund Forst, Europe & U.S.A., 1958-59
Siegmund Forst introduces his illustrated Haggadah in the following way: "This . . . old Jewish book . . . speaks of sorrow and hope . . . It appears in contemporary dress, illustrated by one who himself has suffered the flames and escaped them" (1941). The central Jewish cultural conflict in these drawings lies between the Jewish socialist revolutionary and his elderly ultra-orthodox Eastern European forebearers.
    In the 1958 version, the wise old man lives by his faith in God and the Torah but his age and his defensive posture reflect his threatened status in a changing world. He looks worriedly to Heaven for salvation. The wicked bespectacled, self-hating intellectual tramples the Torah displaying an adolescent resentment against the old, dying order. The simpleton dressed in a business suit and the child without questions wearing his American baseball cap provide an attentive audience. For Forst, the Jewish revolutionary has displaced the soldier as the representative of the wicked child. Forst did not see the socialists as a legitimate continuation of the Jewish ideal of liberation from bondage that was born in the exodus from Egypt.
    In the 1959 version the wicked revolutionary who raises his ax against the Ten commandments resembles Leon Trotsky (Lev Bronshtein), a Marxist leader of the Bolshevik revolution (1917). The simple child is a sports fan who loves gambling and smoking, while the fourth child is a passive worker.