Bachelor of Arts
Matthew F. Rarey, Chair
Art history, Judaic studies, Religious history
This paper examines the appearance of matzo, the unleavened bread consumed by Jews on Passover, in Spanish medieval manuscripts. Through a close analysis of decoration present in these depictions, this project will answer the following questions: why are matzot embellished in a certain way, where does this decoration come from, and what does this decoration signify? Given the constantly shifting power dynamics and cross-cultural relations in Iberia, I argue that the social and political climate of Iberia influenced how the matzo was viewed and depicted in Haggadot. Furthermore, I emphasize that the decoration of the matzot wafers were not inspired by a single source, but, rather, drew simultaneously from several different kinds of arts that coexisted in the Iberian Peninsula. In addition, I argue that the cultural borrowing and sharing evident in these depictions had a much larger significance, and directly related to the cultural situation which surrounded their creation. In other words, through extensive research presented in this project, I argue that the decorative nature of the matzot holds a cultural significance for Jews, one that addressed and responded to the continuous oppression of Spanish Jewry in the 14th century. Analyzing these images that grew out of this diverse region will ideally provide a better understanding of how Jewish interpretations and depictions of significant objects adapted and adjusted under various parties of influence.
Gelman, Sadie, "This Unleavened Bread: Matzot as an Insight into Iberian History, Culture, and Power Dynamics" (2018). Honors Papers. 153.