A little book tells a story

440px-Sarejevohagadah

While listening to the Christian Broadcasting Network, I heard a commercial for a hate book about Muslims. The pitch started like this:

“We Christians with our commitment to tolerance may have difficulty understanding a religion dedicated to intolerance . . .”:

Although no cult has a good record when it comes to toleration, there is no question which religion is the most intolerant. It’s Christianity.

Toleration is a secular idea; no religion, while holding civil power, has ever shown tolerance, although there are examples of lesser or greater intolerance.

Christians do not know their history; I have never met one who did. But I know it. The story of little prayer book called the Sarajevo Haggadah demonstrates. (I take this story from Chapter XIV: Convivencia Under Fire,” in “The Holocaust and the Book” (which was reviewed here on November 8.)

The book was made in Toledo around 1350 when under Muslim rule a policy called convivencia allowed, perhaps even encouraged, Muslims, Jews and Christians to live together in peace.

When the Christians took over, Jewish books were burned (and numbers of Jews along with them) but the Haggadah escaped along with refugees who ended up in Bosnia.

The pasha in Sarajevo inaugurated a new form of convivencia, bending the cult rule to allow construction of a synagogue and making other concessions to intolerance.

Historian Andras Riedlmayer comments: “As in medieval Spain, convivencia in Sarajevo did not imply an absence of hierarchies of status or of periodic friction between individuals and groups, but the fact of pluralism itself was taken as a given.” Under religious government, that is as good it ever gets.

The Haggadah survived the burning of Sarajevo by Christians in 1697, though many of the residents, Muslims or Jews, did not. It survived the burning of the Jewish books and most of the Jews by Christians again in 1941-44, and — though no one knows exactly how — the burning of the Jewish and Muslim libraries by Christians in 1992-3.

It is almost the only relic of the great period of Jewish bookmaking in Aragon in the 14th century.

The only time that the little prayer book passed through a period of political change without being endangered was in 1878, when the new government (of Austria-Hungary) was committed to secular values of pluralism and toleration.

That, of course, was just an episode. It didn’t last.

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