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From Written to Printed Text:
The Transmission of Jewish Tradition

An Exhibition of Books and Manuscripts
from the Library of the
Center for Judaic Studies

Jewish Liturgy: The Siddur and the Mahzor

The prayer book is among the most widely-circulated and best-known of Jewish books. While the roots of Jewish prayer can be found in the Hebrew Bible, the fundamentals of the synagogue service as we know it today were initially described in the rabbinic literature of the first centuries of the common era. The Siddur (containing the daily and Shabbat prayers) and the Mahzor (containing holiday prayers), did not emerge as separate texts and as compendia of Jewish liturgy until the period of the Geonim, the heads of rabbinic academies in Babylonia in the early Middle Ages. In the ninth through twelfth centuries, localized rites also emerged among Jewish communities in Germany (Ashkenaz), Northern France, Italy, the Byzantine empire, Provence, Muslim Spain (Sepharad), and Yemen
At the end of the Middle Ages, two important developments, migration and printing, had a major impact on the history of the Siddur. Demographic shifts resulting from expulsions and from other migrations led to the formation of new Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, Italy, and the Ottoman Empire. Immigrant Jews brought their local liturgies with them, but many of these rites did not survive as it became impossible for each group to maintain a separate synagogue in each community. Some communities, however, such as Frankfurt-am-Main, continued to use a local rite until the twentieth century.
This section explores the impact of the second major developmentthe invention of printingon the experience of Jewish prayer. The implications of the wider dissemination of printed prayer books remain to be explored. Some questions to be examined here include that of the effect of printing on the decline and fall of localized rites as well as the relationship of print to another trend in the development of the modern prayer bookthe increasing number of translated prayer books from the eighteenth century on.
Items on Display :    

Figure 4
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  1. Mahzor.
Manuscript on parchment.
Northern France.
Fourteenth century.
Figure 4

Here is an example of the Western Ashkenazic (Franco-German) rite for Rosh Ha-Shannah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot written in a square script with vowels. A number of pages have decorated headings such as the one shown. On many of the other pages, there are a large number of marginal notes indicating variant liturgical readings. These notes appear to have been made by a hazzan (prayer leader) or another scholar in order to adapt the manuscript to the local liturgy.
    2. The Leipzig Mahzor.
Fourteenth Century.
[Facsimile edition: Hanau: Werner Dausein, 1964].

Dating from fourteenth-century Ashkenaz, this is one of the best-known of all medieval Hebrew illuminated manuscripts and one of the few well-known illuminated liturgical texts. Its very large size suggests that it was not intended for private use, but rather occupied an important public place in the synagogue.

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  3. Mahzor Tefilot Kol ha-Shanah ke-fi Minhag K[ahal] K[adosh] Roma.
Soncino, Italy: Sons of Israel Nathan Soncino, 1485.
Figure 5.

This "Mahzor for the Whole Year according to the Roman Rite" is one of the first printed prayer books from the publishing houses of the Soncino family. In this example of early printing, we can see the continuity with the manuscript tradition. No commentary is included and the pages are unnumbered. Numerous censor's marks from the sixteenth century are present in the work. In the example shown, the weekday Amidah (central prayer in synagogue service) has been censored with the inking out of the words, "may all the heretics perish instantly" and "may the evil kingdom be cast down and humbled," taken in the sixteenth century to refer to Christians and Christendom. This section of the Amidah has been censored often, and the version recited by Jews in the twentieth century reflects much of this censorship. Note, however, that the words here are still readable suggesting that the censor of this book was not as thorough as he might have been, whether intentionally or not

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  4. Mahzor ke-fi Minhag K[ahal] K[adosh]
Roma `im Perush Kimha de Avshuna
Bologna: Menahem ben Avraham mi-Modena, 1539-1540.
Figure 6.

In the five decades from the publication of the Soncino Mahzor to this one, one can see a new development in the printing of the liturgy. This Mahzorwhich is also "according to the Roman rite"contains an extensive commentary surrounding the liturgical text. In addition, one can see from the pages shown here that the margin was wide enough for a later owner of the book to make his own extensive notes. The owner of the book has indicated liturgical variants and directions for proper behavior, noting that he learned this material from his teacher.

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  5. Siddur. Prayer Book of the Italian Rite.
Manuscript on parchment.
Italy. Fourteenth century.
Figure 7 (CAJS Rare Ms. 30)

This small book appears to have been primarily for non-synagogue use, containing a number of home rituals including prayers for before and after meals, zemirot (songs for the Shabbath), the Havdalah service for the end of the Sabbath, liturgy for weddings and houses of mourning. On the page shown here is the beginning of the section entitled "These are Nice and Pleasant Songs to Say for the Honor of the Sabbath."
    6. Seder Zemirot u-Virkat ha-Mazon. Prague, 1514.
[Facsimile edition: London: Valmadonna Trust Library, 1984.]

Like the previous work, this book was intended mostly for home use and was one of the first of its kind to be printed. At some point after printing, color was added to the woodcuts to simulate the appearance of an illuminated manuscript. In addition to serving as decoration, pictures also served as mnemonic devices. For example, a fox-hunting scene, "Jagd der Haas," in German, reminds the reader of the Hebrew acronym YaKNeHaZ which indicates the order of blessings said when the first night of a festival falls at the end of a Sabbath.

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  7. Mahzor ke-Minhag K[ahal] K[adosh] Ashkenazim...
ve-im ha-Perush bi-Leshon Ashkenaz
Sulzbach: Meshulam Zalman Frankl, 1735.
Figure 8.

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  8. Seder ha-Mahzor... ke-Minhag Ashkenazim.
Sulzbach: [Meshulam Zalman Frankl], 1758.
Figure 9.

These two Ashkenazic Mahzorim, both produced by the same publisher, appear to have been directed toward different audiences. The 1735 version contains instructions and commentary in Yiddish, printed in the same type as other Yiddish works. The second, from 1758, was probably intended for a more educated reader. The commentary is in Hebrew and is more extensive, surrounding the text in the same manner as in the 1540 Mahzor from Bologna. The pages shown here, part of the additional service for Shemini Atzeret (the eighth day of the holiday of Sukkot), also contain the only illustrations in the two worksidentical woodcuts representing each of the months of the year and the signs of the zodiac. It is also interesting to consider here another effect of both migration and printingthe standardization of many Franco-German liturgies of the Middle Ages into a standard "Ashkenazic liturgy" that was used throughout most of central Europe in the early modern period.
    9. The Book of Religion, Ceremonies, and Prayers; of the Jews,
as Practised in their Synagogues and Families on all Occasions:
On their Sabbath and other Holy-days throughout the Year
Translated by Gamaliel ben Pedahtzur [pseudonym of Abraham Mears].
London: J. Wilcox, 1738.

The earliest English translation of the Siddur, made by a Jewish convert to Christianity, reflects a growing interest in Judaism on the part of non-Jewish Englishmen of the eighteenth century. The transliterated Hebrew title for each prayer is found in the margins, enabling the curious non-Hebrew reading Christian to attend and follow a synagogue service. While this work was clearly intended for a non-Jewish readership (both scholars and others), English translations of the Siddur soon began to be used by English (and American) Jews as an aid to understanding the synagogue service. A work such as this is also helpful for scholarship today: the transliteration of the Hebrew characters provides a clue as to how Hebrew was pronounced in the eighteenth-century Ashkenazic community of London .
    10. Orden de los Oraciones de Ros-ashanah y Kipur....
Translated by Isaac Nieto. London: R. Reily, 1740

This Spanish-language Mahzor for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur served the London congregation of former Spanish and Portuguese New Christians who had returned to Judaism. Nieto, the translator of this volume, served as rabbi of the community from 1732 to 1741 and again from 1744 to 1757. This book also contains a Jewish calendar for the years 5501 (1740-1) to 5522 (1761-2) and a list of "The most notable things from the Creation of the World to the Year 5501." On these pages are the confessional prayers for the afternoon service on the eve (la vispera) of the holiday.

Figure 10
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  11. Mahzor le-Yom Rishon ve-Sheni shel Pesah.
Furth: David Zirndorfer, 1836.
Figures 10 and 11.

Figure 11
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  The prayers for the holiday of Passover in this volume are part of a set of books, each containing the liturgy of a different holiday. Suggesting the growing importance of the German language to the Jews of Central Europe, the publisher included a German translation of the prayers, printed in the margins in Hebrew characters.
Bibliography:   Elbogen, Ismar. Jewish Liturgy: A Comprehensive History. Trans. Raymond P. Scheindlin. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1993.
    Hoffman, Lawrence. The Canonization of the Synagogue Service. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979.
    Reif, Stefan. Judaism and Hebrew Prayer: New Perspectives on Jewish Liturgical History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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