The printing press is a staple part of Jewish history. The proliferation of knowledge via mass-produced text is a revolutionary innovation. It is a facet of culture that we encounter every so often on our previous kosher cruises, from Italy to Amsterdam. Torahs, haggadahs and prayer books were easily circulated. Haggadahs, in particular, as a form of text that includes visual art, have changed over the years thanks to the printers and engravers who worked on them. One of them was Abraham ben Yaakov, a copper engraver who contributed a good deal to the Amsterdam Haggadah’s fame.

Amsterdam Haggadah | (c)

Life and Work of a Convert

Abraham ben Yaakov was born around 1969 in the Rhineland region of Germany. Before he helped in the creation of the Amsterdam Haggadah, he was a Christian, who converted to Judaism later in his life before moving to Amsterdam, Holland. Not much else is known about his personal life, aside from the fact that he married twice and had several children. In 1695, with the production of Kosmann Emmerich, he helped engrave memorable images in the Amsterdam Haggadah via copper engraving, providing memorable biblical imagery in the Seder work. The most famous of these engravings was the map of the Holy Land, which was based on Van Adrichom’s own map of the area. This illustrious detail secured the Amsterdam Haggadah’s influence for years to come. Abraham ben Yaakov died in 1730.

A Visual Form of Remembrance

The printing press did more than just allow for the distribution of text. It allowed for Jewish culture to flourish and develop, moving and interacting with the styles and cultures of the times to produce new things. The Amsterdam Haggadah is an example of this, where Abraham’s copper engravings were partially taken from biblical work by Mattheus Merian, and where the general aesthetic was inspired by Dutch design.

Our previous kosher tours visited Amsterdam, with all its rich Jewish printing history, so it felt fitting to talk about one Abraham bar Yaakov and the celebrated Haggadah that he helped create.