Jewish book unites Christians and Muslims in Bosnia. By Amir Telibeèiroviæ


Passover is a time for millions of Jewish families to remember the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt over three thousand years ago. As the Jewish community celebrates Passover this week, each family will open their Haggadah – a Jewish religious text that sets out the order of the Passover meal, or Seder – and read about this flight.
There is one Haggadah, however, that has its own unique story.
Just as various communities across the world have been forced to migrate as a result of conflict, the oldest Sephardic Jewish Haggadah in the world, owned by the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo, has also experienced a "refugee life". This book brought together ordinary Sarajevans – Bosniak Muslims, Catholic Croats and Christian Orthodox Serbs – who risked their lives to save the book, both during World War II and when Sarajevo came under siege in the 1990s.
This wine-stained book – evidence that it was used at many Passover Seders – travelled from Barcelona, where it was written and illustrated in the 14th century, to Sarajevo in the 15th century. It contains 34 pages of key scenes in the Torah, from the story of creation to the death of Moses.
Historians believe it was taken to Sarajevo by Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492. Centuries later, the book was sold to the National Museum in Sarajevo in 1894 by a Sarajevan, Joseph Kohen.
In World War II, it was hidden from Nazi officers by the museum's chief librarian, Derviš Korkut. A Muslim, Korkut worked with his Croat colleague and risked his life in order to smuggle the Haggadah out of Sarajevo.
According to common tales, the book was hidden under a floorboard at a small mosque nestled in a nearby mountain until the end of the war.
When it was returned to the museum, it was locked in a separate room for the next few decades. Because it was so valuable, the book was kept from the probing eyes of museum visitors, who were instead only allowed to inspect printed copies.
The Haggadah remained untouched in the museum until the Bosnian War. From 1992 to 1995, Sarajevo was under siege by the Serbian army and the museum, which was near the front lines, was exposed to constant shelling and sniper fire.
As a result, the room containing the Haggadah was destroyed, and although the book remained untouched, many Sarajevans believed it would not survive too many more rounds of shelling. So a group of ordinary Sarajevans – Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats – went to the museum together at night. They risked their lives under sniper fire to take the Haggadah, along with other precious objects from museum, and move it to an underground vault in a bank downtown. The book stayed there until the end of the war, when it was once again returned to the museum.
Even now, when ethnic and religious tensions in parts of Bosnia are worsening, this old manuscript is finding a way to reunite ordinary Bosnians. Recently, the Sarajevo-based publishing house, Rabic Ltd, created 613 replicas of the Haggadah, and these are currently being distributed to Bosnians of all faiths at book fairs across Sarajevo so that locals can see how a Jewish religious text united Christians and Muslims in even the direst of circumstances. Children across Bosnia, even those from ethnically segregated areas, visit the museum on school excursions to hear about this "wonder book" as part of their common heritage.
Although the Sephardic Jewish community in Bosnia is rather small, it is for keeping the Haggadah in Sarajevo as a unifying example of centuries of Bosnian coexistence, and as part of the common heritage of Bosnians.


* Amir Telibeèiroviæ is senior editor of Sarajevo-based online magazine Bosnia Daily and a city guide of Sarajevo. This article first aparaed in Washington Post/Newsweek's On Faith and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

You May Also Like


USA should know in strategically important Manipur India is falling in the trap of China. By Hem Raj Jain

USA is Cut-off from ground reality (ii)- It is becoming increasingly possible for China to dismember India by supporting independent country for&nb


An energy deal will usher in new avenues in Dhaka-Kathmandu relations. By Asif Sufian

Energy cooperation between Nepal and Bangladesh is one of the most promising areas of cooperation. Plans to make power an exportable good are outli


International UN Peacekeeper Day: Bangladesh's contribution in world peace building. Indrajit Kumar

International UN Peacekeeper Day is held annually on May 29. When the day comes, the scene of Bangladesh's pride, contribution and bravery in w

"Trial of Pakistani Christian Nation" By Nazir S Bhatti

On demand of our readers, I have decided to release E-Book version of "Trial of Pakistani Christian Nation" on website of PCP which can also be viewed on website of Pakistan Christian Congress . You can read chapter wise by clicking tab on left handside of PDF format of E-Book. ,