So, are you one of those that eat chocolate Easter bunnies or one of those that despise chocolate Easter bunnies? (Most brandname ones I’ve seen in the US were OUd.) Are you one of those that enjoy the flavour of the cocoa and the sweetness as the chocolate is slowly melting on your tongue or are you one of those that give people nibbling on bunnies stern looks that would make hell freeze over, crying avodah zarah as soon as the first chocolicious ears pop around the corner?
If you belong to the latter group, what do you make out of this?
(Painting in the synagogue of Chodorow, 1715CE; Diaspora Museum Beth Hatefutsoth, Tel Aviv)
Bunnies and hares have long since been a symbol of fertility in Central Europe for their energetic reproductive habits, so to speak. [Sidenote: no, I don’t think chocolate Chasidim would be a mouthwatering alternative. Trust me, they taste different; no perversions implied.] So how come the bunnies and hares have hopped into synagogues?
JÃ¼dische Allgemeine in its current edition features some background information that will answer the above question.
Despite falling into the treif category, hares have gained some popularity in Judaism. Rabbi Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi likened the situation of Jews to that of hares in his Augsburg Haggada of 1534: always hunted, always on the run. The 1526 Prague Haggada even displays the image of a hare hunt. The intention of the Prague Haggada was an educational one though: the picture was to serve as a punny mnemonic for the order of the blessings when erev pessach coincides with motzei shabos. YaK–Ne-HaZ (German: jag [ei]nen Has[en] = hunt a hare) – Yain, Kiddush, Ner, Havdala, Zeman.
The above image and similar ones – three hares chasing each other in a circle, the ears connected to the heads in a way that they form a triangle, and you purposedly cannot tell which ear belongs to which hare – originally first appeared in Buddhist artwork in China dating from the sixth and seventh century CE. In the twelfth century CE, this image travelled along the Silk Road to the Middle East empire of Saladin, where it became a popular ornament on pottery and metal crafts. While the Crusades* were one of the most horrific episodes of history and militarily unsuccessful, they led to increased trade and cultural exchange between Central Europe and the Middle East. (Finally, Europeans learnt about spices and pointed arches.) The hares then first appeared as a window in the Gothic cathedral of Paderborn in the 16th century and apparently found a few admirers among Jews as they became a decorative ornament of synagogues in the 17th and 18th century. In retrospective, Christians as well as Jews have tried to assign the three hares a symbolic value that would go in line with doctrine (trinity respectively kabbalistic interpretations), but those, critically speaking, were pretty much forced.
The good news, accordingly, is that Jews may indulge in chocolate bunnies all year long. The bad news is that I’m more than ever convinced to do a post on assimilation and mutual cultural influences. 🙂
For a start, here is my edible contribution:
Happy Holiday, Tom.
*Urgently recommended reading: Jonathan Riley-Smith (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades