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Sarit Shalev-Eyni

Thirteenth-century Ashkenazi illuminated Bible (Milan, Ambrosiana, MSS. B.30–32 INF). One of the earliest illuminated Hebrew manuscripts originating in Germany, it is a giant manuscript in three volumes, containing the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible. As attested by a colophon at the end of the first volume, the Bible was commissioned by Joseph ben Moses from Ulmana, possibly referring to Ulm in Swabia or to Nieder-Olm in the Rhineland. The Bible was copied by Jacob ben Samuel and was massorated and vocalized by Joseph ben Kalonymus in collaboration with another masorete. The first part was completed between 1236 and 1238. The three volumes were illuminated by two artists, whose style is related to the 13th-century school of Würzburg. Illustrations with biblical scenes are located mainly within the initial word panels of the various biblical books, or at their end. Some of the illustrations carry a messianic or eschatological meaning. A broad cosmological composition occupies an opening at the end of the third volume, suggesting an impressive climax for the entire Bible. The full page miniature on the right illustrates the seven heavens, accompanied by the four animals of Ezekiel’s vision and the luminaries (fol. 135...

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Ark  

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Bimah  

Article

Katrin Kogman-Appel

Hebrew Bible (Jerusalem, National.. Library of Israel., MS. Heb 4°790, and a single page in Toledo, El Transito Synagogue and Sephardic Museum), copied c. 1260, perhaps in Toledo by Menachem ben Abraham ibn Malikh for Isaac bar Abraham Hadad, both members of known and documented Toledan families. At some later stage further decorations were added, apparently in Burgos. The Damascus Keter is an outstanding exemplar out of approximately 120 decorated Bibles from Iberia and belongs to a group of three very similar codices from the middle of the 13th century, produced in Toledo. It thus represents a rich tradition of Jewish art flourishing between the 13th and the 15th centuries. These Bibles were used either by scholars for private study, or for biblical readings during synagogue services.

Typical of numerous Bibles from the Middle East and the Iberian Peninsula, the decoration consists of numerous carpet pages executed in Micrography and enriched by painted embellishments. This is a technique typically used in Hebrew decorated books and harks back to Middle Eastern manuscripts of the 10th century. Apart from the carpet pages, the Damascus ...

Article

Katrin Kogman-Appel

Richly illuminated manuscript of the Passover liturgy together with a series of liturgical poems to be read during the Passover week (London, BL, Add. MS. 27210), possibly made in Barcelona, c. 1320. This text was to be recited during the seder ceremony at the eve of the Passover holiday. Like most medieval Haggadot (see Haggadah), the Golden Haggadah has no colophon, and its scribe and patrons are unknown. It contains both marginal decorations and a series of full-page miniatures preceding the text and displaying a fully fledged cycle of biblical illustrations following the books of Genesis and Exodus from the Creation of Man to the Crossing of the Red Sea. Stylistically both types of decoration are indebted to early 14th-century Catalan Gothic art.

Similarly, the imagery of the biblical picture cycle also draws on Christian Old Testament iconography and reflects a familiarity with Christian art. The artists and patrons of the Golden Haggadah adopted Christian pictorial sources in a complex process of adaptation and modification, translating the Christian models into a Jewish visual language meaningful in its messages to the Jewish readership. Avoiding themes and iconographic features of a particular Christological concern, the imagery also reflects a close affinity with the traditions of late antique Bible interpretation (Midrash). This points to a specific circle of scholars active in Iberia during the 13th and early 14th centuries as being responsible for the imagery of the cycle. The use of traditional midrashic Bible exegesis is typical for Sephardic Rabbis of anti-rationalist standing, who opposed earlier philosophical trends and followed, rather, scholarly trends common among the Tosafists of northern France. It has also been observed that some images adopt a more specific anti-Christian stance and address polemical issues....

Article

Gabrielle Sed-Rajna

[Heb.: ‘story’]

Hebrew text recited during the Passover celebrations. The Haggadah (pl. Haggadot) consists of a compendium of blessings, prayers, biblical passages, homiletic commentaries, and psalms, and is read during the Seder ceremony on the first night (in the Diaspora, first and second night) of Passover. The actions performed during the Seder, such as the eating of matzah (unleavened bread) and maror (bitter herbs), and the drinking of four glasses of wine, are integrated into a banquet or family meal.

The Haggadah was probably first compiled in the 7th or 8th century AD and canonized in the 9th–10th centuries. Most manuscript copies date from the Middle Ages, between the 13th and 15th centuries. It was produced in a small format for family use and was frequently decorated and even illustrated. The 14th and 15th centuries were the golden age of the illuminated Haggadah, the period when the production of illuminated Hebrew manuscripts flourished in Europe (...

Article

Shalom Sabar

[Heb.: Jewish marriage contract; pl. ketubbot]

Type of document, sometimes decorated or illustrated, recording financial and other details of the Jewish marriage contract. It was instituted by the authors of the Talmud (the Jewish legal code) in order to protect the status and property of the wife in case of divorce, which the husband could initiate at will, or the husband’s death. The document is traditionally written in Aramaic, the common Jewish language in Palestine and Babylonia during the Talmudic era (1st–6th centuries ad). A basic textual formula developed, with significant variations in the ketubbot of the various communities.

Surviving ketubbot, from the Middle Ages onwards, are drawn on one side of parchment (chiefly in Europe) or paper (usually in Islamic countries). The festive occasion of the marriage and the ritual of reading aloud the ketubbah during the ceremony helped establish the tradition, especially among Sephardi (Spanish-Portuguese), Italian and Middle and Near Eastern Jews, of decorating the borders of the contract. The earliest surviving examples, from Egypt and Syria–Palestine of about the 11th and 12th centuries, are decorated with simple designs of flowers, architectural elements and geometric patterns. A few simple, decorated ...

Article

Katrin Kogman-Appel

[Mahzor]

Illuminated Hebrew Machzor (Leipzig, Ubib., MS. Voller 1002/I–II)—prayer book for holy days—made c. 1310–20. Its two volumes contain the optional liturgical poems commonly recited according to the Ashkenazi rites. The text reflects the specific prayer rite of Worms and, even though this assumption cannot be confirmed by a colophon, it must have served this particular community up to the early 17th century when it was transferred to Poland.

Both volumes are richly illustrated in a style that recalls upper Rhenish schools of illumination and may have been decorated by artists trained in that region. At least two different hands, one of them most probably Christian, were involved in the layout of the book. The decorative programme includes elaborate initial panels and marginal images. The former display complex allegorical and symbolic compositions relating to the poems or the subject matter of the holy days. An example is the juxtaposition of various symbols related to the New Year showing a man with a Jewish hat blowing a ...

Article

Volume of a large selection of texts, from the Hebrew Bible to 13th-century Jewish writings, copied from c. 1280 to 1290, the first part of which was lavishly illuminated in the late 13th century; some miniatures were added to the end in the second decade of the 14th century (London, BL, MS. Add. 11639). Although of modest size (binding 170×130×85 mm), it contains an enormous variety of texts, 55 copied in the justification of the leaves and 29 copied in the margins, and a veritable treasury of images. The leaves, of very fine parchment, are numbered to 746, but there are in fact 749: 5–739 from the 13th century, 740–45 from the 14th century, and folios 739A and 744–6 added in the 15th.

The Miscellany contains a complete set of the Books of the Bible except for Chronicles (although Prophets is represented only by the readings of the annual cycle), including even the Books of Judith and Tobit from the Apocrypha, a very unusual feature. It also has the prayers and hymns for all the festivals together with their Bible readings, the ...

Article

Machzor  

Gabrielle Sed-Rajna

[Mahzor; Heb.: ‘cycle’]

Liturgical manuscript containing the prayers, liturgical hymns and Bible readings appropriate to each holy day of the Jewish yearly cycle. Such manuscripts first appeared in the 13th century in Jewish communities along the Rhine, becoming one of their most typical productions. These liturgical volumes were often large in format; the machzor was designed to be placed on the reading desk and read or chanted aloud by the chazan (cantor). The most splendid volumes, such as the Amsterdam Machzor (Amsterdam, Joods Hist. Mus.), were decorated and increasingly came to be illustrated.

The first elements of what became a definite iconographic programme appeared in the mid-13th-century Michael Machzor (Oxford, Bodleian Lib., Mich. MS. 617, 627). Only a few years later, the Laud Machzor already exhibited the complete repertory, which was retained for approximately a century without noteworthy modifications. It included illustrations of Bible scenes related to texts read on particular holy days, for example the ...

Article

Gabrielle Sed-Rajna

Illuminated manuscript copies of the writings of the great Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides (Moshe ben Maimon; 1138–1204). Of his many works, preserved in numerous manuscripts, the most widely disseminated was the Mishneh Torah, a codification of Jewish religious law. Several magnificent manuscripts, from different periods and locations, have survived. The oldest and most famous is the Codex Maimuni, also known as the Kaufmann Mishneh Torah (Budapest, Lib. Hung. Acad. Sci., MS. A77/I–IV). It was copied in 1296 by Nathan bar Simeon ha-Levi, in north-eastern France. As well as frontispieces decorated in the Gothic style, the manuscript has in the margins biblical illustrations related to the text, and Maimonides’s ideas about the Temple expressed in the form of diagrams. These were probably a part of the original manuscript, as they appear in most of the copies, particularly those made in France and the Germanic countries, and conform to those in a manuscript of Maimonides’s commentary on the ...

Article

Gabrielle Sed-Rajna and Shalom Sabar

Parchment scroll containing the text of the Old Testament Book of Esther, which recounts the deliverance of the Jews from persecution in the Persian empire and which was probably written during the reign of the Hasmonean Jewish king John Hyrcanus (reg c. 135–105 bc). The Book of Esther has since then traditionally been read in the synagogue on the festival of Purim, for which purpose it was copied separately in the form of a scroll (Megillah; see also Jewish art §VI 3.).

Those scrolls intended for use in the synagogue had no ornament, but every well-off family had an elegantly decorated scroll for its own use, kept in a costly silver case (see Jewish art §VI 3.). It is not possible to trace the history of the decorated Megillah (pl. Megillat); a few exceptional and relatively old pieces served as models and were frequently copied. A 14th-century manuscript (Rome, Vatican, Bib. Apostolica, MS. hébr. 324, fol. 180) has the earliest description of a scroll of Esther, showing a cantor holding an undecorated Megillah. The illustrations of the Castilian ...

Article

Shalom Sabar

In Jewish tradition a minhag (pl. minhagim) is defined as a well-established religious practice or usage, which, though unsupported by Written Law, assumes the force of a binding regulation. However, while the prescriptions of the Written Law are universally accepted by all Jews, a minhag may vary from one community to another. Books recording such variations developed from the Middle Ages (the earliest known work dates to c. 8th century ad) and are generally referred to as minhagim books. A vast literature of this genre was created especially among Ashkenazi Jews, while the Sephardim and Jews of Islamic lands dedicated lesser efforts to recording their particular customs. Illustrated editions of minhagim books flourished among Ashkenazi Jews in Europe especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, printed by Hebrew presses in Italy, Germany, Holland and Bohemia. The most popular editions were generally compiled in Yiddish and thus were accessible to a wide readership, including women and children. These editions were often accompanied by a series of small woodcuts illustrating Jewish holidays, religious observances, ceremonies in the life cycle (circumcisions, weddings, funerals), the Signs of the Zodiac and Labours of the Months....

Article

Shalom Sabar

[Heb.: ‘east’]

Term used among Ashkenazi (west and east European) Jews to designate a decorated plaque hung on the eastern wall of homes to indicate the direction of prayer. The custom of praying while facing east—towards Jerusalem and the Temple Mount—is based on the biblical account of the prayers of Solomon and Daniel (1 Kings viii.38, 44, 48; Daniel vi.10–11). Mizra plaques are known from about the 18th century and are executed in different techniques and various media such as paper (see Papercut), wood or metal. They were made chiefly by students in traditional Jewish schools devoted to the study of the Talmud, rabbinic laws based on Bible interpretation.

A typical mizra consists of appropriate quotations and pictures. Most often, the word mizra is written in large square letters in the centre. As an acronym, mizra gives rise to a phrase that is sometimes included: ‘From this side [i.e. east] the spirit of life’. Also common is the verse ‘From the rising [...

Article

Evelyn M. Cohen

The most profusely decorated Hebrew codex produced in Renaissance Italy. It is a compilation of approximately 70 works, including biblical, liturgical, historical, legal, philosophical, astrological, Cabbalistic and moralistic texts, many of them with a commentary written in the margins. The religious works include the books of Psalms, Proverbs and Job, a Machzor and a Haggadah. The secular books include Josippon’s history of the Jews (based on Josephus) and the Meshal ha-Kadmoni. The codex would thus have functioned as a miniature library. The patron of the manuscript is unknown, as there is no colophon or inscription of ownership, but the name Moses ben Jekutiel ha-Cohen, mentioned in the blessing of the Torah (fol. 106), possibly refers to the original owner. The calendar of the lunar cycle (fol. 471) begins with 1470, and stylistically the manuscript appears to belong to the third quarter of the 15th century.

This small (210×156 mm) codex, written on fine vellum in an Italo-Ashkenazi script, is composed of 437 folios, 408 of which are illuminated. In addition to two full-page miniatures for the Book of Job and five full-page diagrams, the manuscript contains approximately 200 smaller text illustrations, which are placed in the columns of text, the outer margins of the pages, or the borders of the initial word panels. These pictures capture the daily life of a Renaissance Jew in Italy by portraying the religious observances that were performed daily, on the Sabbath and on the various holy days, as well as the rituals of circumcision, marriage and mourning. Biblical episodes are also depicted, as are scenes from numerous animal fables....

Article

Katrin Kogman-Appel

Illuminated manuscript of the Passover liturgy to be recited during the seder ceremony at the eve of the Passover holiday, also containing a series of liturgical poems to be read during the Passover week (Sarajevo, N. Mus of Bosnia and Herzegovina.), possibly made in Aragon, c. 1335. Its particularly rich decoration combines French-style marginal scroll decoration with a cycle of full-page miniatures showing biblical history. The latter opens with a visual rendering of the Creation, a theme rarely shown in Jewish art, and follows the story of the Israelites up to the passage through the desert after the Exodus from Egypt.

Like other Sephardic biblical picture cycles, the one in the Sarajevo Haggadah is indebted to Christian pictorial sources, especially of French origin, adapted to suit a Jewish patronage and readership. Jewish biblical exegesis plays a crucial role in the transmission of Christian iconographic formulae to a Jewish idiom. The Creation sequence, for example, reflects Nahmanides’ views of the Creation from Nothing opposing allegorical views about the eternal world held by rationalist philosophers. Likewise midrashic interpretation is dominant in the Sarajevo cycle, where midrashic elements were added to what were really Christian iconographic models....

Article

Siddur  

Edward van Voolen

[Heb.: ‘order’]

The term commonly refers to the book containing the order of the regular Jewish prayer service for weekdays and the Sabbath, in contrast to the Machzor, which includes the liturgy for the yearly festival cycle. Codified from the 9th century ad onwards, the siddur and machzor were originally one unit, the distinction in terminology and content dating from the High Middle Ages. After the invention of the printed book, small-format siddurim were printed for individual use. The text itself was rarely, if ever, illustrated. The earliest title pages, printed in Italy c. 1500 (e.g. Soncino and Naples), have decorative woodcut borders, in imitation of similarly decorated Hebrew manuscripts from Portugal. A gateway, influenced by contemporary Renaissance and Baroque architectural prints, became the most popular form of Hebrew title page, including those of siddurim. Sometimes biblical heroes, such as Moses and Aaron, or biblical scenes are depicted on the title page as well, referring in general terms to the content of the book. A siddur with Yiddish explanations meant for women (Amsterdam, ...

Article

[Lat.: ‘tent’]

Place of worship other than a temple or church. The term was used for the demountable tent put up by the Israelites in the wilderness, as described in the book of Exodus. In modern times it is sometimes applied to temporary structures erected by dissenting religious groups (e.g. the Baptists and other nonconformists)....

Article

Katrin Kogman Appel

[Mahzor]

Illuminated Hebrew prayerbook for holy days in two volumes (vol. 1: Wurzburg(?), 1272; vol. 2: late 13th century; Jerusalem, N. Lib., MS. heb. 4°781). As is common for Ashkenazi Machzorim, the Worms Machzor does not contain statutory prayers, but optional liturgical poems (piyyutim), common according to the Ashkenazi rites. The two volumes that currently constitute the Worms Machzor did not originally belong together, but must have been joined at some later stage during the history of the book, when it served the community of Worms . Textual evidence points at the possibility that the second volume reflects the local prayer rite of Worms and did not originate in Würzburg.

It is primarily the first volume that stands out in terms of decoration, whereas the second is sparsely illuminated. The decorations appear as initial word panels, large arches framing several of the text pages, and marginal scenes on the outer, upper, and bottom margins, some of which were trimmed during later bindings. The scenes relate to the contents of the ...