The Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor
Late 13th – Early 14th Century

The Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor

T he Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor—a historic Hebrew manuscript created by a Jewish scribe-artist, in an excellent state of preservation, and endowed with sterling provenance—is undoubtedly the most important medieval illustrated mahzor to come to market in a century. Created seven centuries ago, the magnificent Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor is a scribal masterpiece that attests to the vibrancy of the medieval Jewish community. Written in a distinctive and elegant Hebrew script, this rare prayerbook contains the liturgy for the two holiest festivals on the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Preserved in exceptionally fine condition, it is one of only a small number of illustrated Ashkenazic mahzorim extant, none of which is known to be in private hands.

ff. 90v-91r

T his manuscript was copied and decorated in Southern Germany in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century by a scribe named Abraham. His calligraphic dexterity and artistic creativity are evident in the book’s layout, script, and imaginative illustrations of Gothic architecture, fantastical beasts, and medieval Jews engaged in prayer. Originally produced for a Jewish community in the region of Bavaria, over the ensuing centuries the Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor found new homes in Alsace, the Lake Constance region, Northern Italy, and France. Numerous notes and annotations handwritten in the manuscript’s margins attest to this important book’s travels through different countries. At each step of this journey, the new owners of the manuscript adjusted the text to reflect contemporary local custom and practices, adding to the complexity and richness of the prayerbook.

The mahzor is named for its illustrious former owner, Samuel David Luzzatto (1800-1865), a distinguished Italian Jewish scholar, poet, and theologian, as well as a renowned antiquarian book collector. After Luzzatto’s death, many of his manuscripts and rare printed books were acquired for the collections of major European cultural institutions. In 1870, this important mahzor was purchased for the library of the Alliance Israélite Universelle.


H ebrew prayerbooks known as mahzorim (sing., mahzor) contain the cycle of prayers for the entire Jewish liturgical year. In the Middle Ages, Jewish communities around the world developed their own unique prayer usages that can be classified by region. The rite of the Jews of Ashkenazic (i.e., German-speaking) lands, in particular, incorporated the tradition of embellishing the prayer services with Hebrew liturgical poems known as piyyutim (sing., piyyut), which were recited on fast days, special Sabbaths, festivals, and other occasions. These poems helped direct the worshipper’s thoughts to the themes of the day on which they were meant to be said and thereby elevated his or her religious experience.

As more Ashkenazic poets composed piyyutim, ritual variations developed between geographical regions, and even between communities within the same region, as each adopted a different set of poems (or a different arrangement for the same poems) for its services. Thus, already by the early fourteenth century, a major liturgical distinction arose between the Jews of Western and Eastern Ashkenaz, with the former praying according to what came to be called minhag ashkenaz (operative in Alsace, Western Germany, Switzerland, and Northern Italy) and the latter according to what came to be called minhag polin (operative in Central and Eastern Germany, Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, Poland, and points further east).

In the High Middle Ages, when book production was costly, Ashkenazic congregations often expended large sums to hire a scribe to copy their particular prayer rite in two large mahzor volumes, one comprising the liturgy for the winter, spring, and summer holidays and fast days (Hanukkah through Tish‘ah be-Av) and the other the liturgy for the fall holidays and fast days (Rosh Hashanah through Simhat Torah). These volumes were usually housed in the private home of a member of the community and carried to the synagogue before the services for which they were needed. There, the congregation’s prayer leader would read aloud or chant from the mahzor while the community listened along silently or joined him in chorus.

F. 425R

Because customs evolved over time and mahzorim themselves were occasionally transported from one place to another, alternate practices and usages were frequently recorded in the margins of these prayerbooks by later hands. The Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor is an excellent example of a prayerbook whose pages bear witness to its many journeys. It was copied in a single location in Southern Germany as the thirteenth century gave way to the fourteenth by a scribe named Abraham, who disclosed his identity by decorating the name of the patriarch Abraham on various pages of the mahzor (ff. 23r, 78v, 191r, 210v, 277v, 381r, 410r, 414r, 423r, 425r, 425v, 434r) using either winglike flourishes or elaborate feathered crowns. The book’s margins testify, however, that it did not stay in that locale but rather moved multiple times before settling in its present home. While the volume bears no colophon, the approximate date and location of its initial compilation and ornamentation, as well as some of the details of its travels, can be determined via a close examination of its paleography and codicology, text, program of decoration, vocalization, marginalia and textual additions, and censorship.

Paleography and Codicology

T he main body of the mahzor was written by the scribe Abraham in an elegant, graceful hand that can be dated and localized to late thirteenth-early fourteenth-century Germany based on paleographic comparisons with other medieval Ashkenazic codices. This identification is supported by an analysis of the volume’s codicology, the most salient features of which are that the book was copied on equalized parchment, pricked in both its outer and inner margins, and ruled in plummet, or leadpoint, a precursor to the graphite pencil. As observed by Malachi Beit-Arié, the earliest dated Ashkenazic codex to display all three of these characteristics was completed in 1264 in Germany,1 and from the last third of the thirteenth century onward, the share of Hebrew manuscripts copied by German scribes and exhibiting these three features would only continue to grow. Moreover, he notes, the use of equalized parchment, whose hair side has been scraped down to the extent that it is no longer distinguishable from the flesh side, was typical in Germany but not in Northern France. These codicological data confirm the German provenance of the mahzor and help establish a general timeframe (or at least a terminus post quem) for its dating as well.

ff. 58v-59r


ff. 103v-104r

T he principle features distinguishing the Western and Eastern Ashkenazic rites are the selection of liturgical poems recited and their arrangement within the service. To these should be added certain nuances of the statutory prayers, particularly the position within the morning liturgy of the blessings over Torah study, the verses recited in conjunction with the removal of the Torah from the Holy Ark, and the number and order of the lines included in the Avinu malkeinu (Our Father, Our King) litany on the High Holidays. Helpfully, Ernst Daniel Goldschmidt, the twentieth century’s greatest scholar of Ashkenazic liturgical history, produced critical editions of the mahzorim for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur using manuscripts representing both of the main Ashkenazic rites, as well as the closely related minhag tsarefat (Northern French rite) and other usages.

Comparison of the text found in the Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor with Goldschmidt’s careful work leaves no doubt that this manuscript is a Western Ashkenazic prayerbook. However, the identity of the specific community whose custom it reproduces remains elusive. None of the manuscripts collated by Goldschmidt exactly matches the Luzzatto mahzor in either the specific wording of its poems or even more globally in the selection and arrangement of those poems. This is true generally but is especially the case when it comes to the selihot (sing., selihah), or penitential poems, read on Yom Kippur. Goldschmidt actually lists the titles and order of the penitential poems recited by the Jewish communities of Alsace, Cologne, Floß, Frankfurt am Main and its environs, Northern Italy, Nuremberg-Fürth, Swabia-Switzerland, and Worms, but the present mahzor deviates from them all.2

Still, while the prayerbook’s exact point of origin within Western Ashkenaz cannot, at this stage, be definitively established based on its text, the latter does assist in dating the manuscript. This is because the mahzor’s rite does not reflect an awareness of some of the liturgical customs and reforms of thirteenth-century German Jewry’s greatest legal authority, Rabbi Meir ben Baruch of Rothenburg (Maharam; ca. 1220-1293), suggesting it was copied either during Maharam’s lifetime or shortly after his death.3

In addition, the prayerbook preserves several ancient formulations for various parts of the liturgy, many of which have disappeared from today’s Ashkenazic rites.4 Also significant in this context is the manuscript’s inclusion of a piyyut sequence for the second night of Rosh Hashanah (ff. 88r-89v), given that numerous Ashkenazic communities abolished the recitation of liturgical poetry during the nighttime services of Rosh Hashanah at a relatively early date.5 Finally, the absence from the Luzzatto mahzor of both the shirei ha-yihud and the shir ha-kavod, two texts associated with the circle of the medieval Ashkenazic Pietists that began to be introduced into the evening service of Yom Kippur in the thirteenth century, further testifies to the book’s antiquity.6

Program of Decoration

Fig. 2. f. 196v (detail)

M edieval mahzorim served as repositories for a community’s liturgy and were, in some cases, decorated with simple embellishments. However, superbly illustrated examples showcasing the commissioning community’s wealth and commitment to the beautification of objects used for religious functions are exceptionally rare. The earliest illustrated Ashkenazic mahzor extant, known as the Michael Mahzor,7 was produced in 1258, inaugurating an era of liturgical manuscript decoration. The Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor, with its ten ornamented initial word panels, six illustrations, eighteen decorated catchwords, and numerous other adornments, constitutes an especially lavish representative of this Ashkenazic artistic tradition.

f. 306r (detail)

Almost all of the mahzor’s decoration was carried out by its talented professional scribe, Abraham, using a certain basic palette (red, green, and black) throughout. His is the hand that wrote certain letters and even whole words using red or green ink (ff. 99v, 101v-102r, 121v-122r, 149v, 157v, 284v-286r, 287v-288r, 305r-308r, 346v) and that formed the letters in the ornamented initial word panels (ff. 14v, 30v, 42r-v, 59r, 88r, 91r, 264r, 275r). A panel on f. 307v whose decoration was only partially completed reveals the process by which Abraham worked: he first outlined his letters in paint, taking great care to trace any internal foliate or zoomorphic designs along the way, and then filled in the spaces not occupied by designs with pigment (a method known as the spared-ground technique).

Abraham also added the feathered, winglike flourishes found throughout the manuscript, as evidenced by their use in conjunction with the letters written in red ink on f. 99v and in decorating his name. This insight helps attribute to Abraham most of the independent figures not found in decorated initial word panels. This is because the same style of winglike wriggle work ornamentation was used extensively to outline enlarged incipits on ff. 14r, 23r, 39v, 196v, 214r, 220r, 384v, 390v, 434r. In one instance (f. 196v), the viewer easily discerns that these feathered borders were added after the neighboring red and green grotesques had been painted, given that the former are superimposed on the latter. Abraham must thus have been responsible for the painting of both the initial word panels and of the freestanding miniatures.

f. 307v (detail)

The following decorated initial word panels testify to Abraham’s artistry:

  • f. 14v: the word melekh (king) is written in enlarged solid black letters with red floral midpoints, the letters filled with scrolling tracery and outlined first in red, then in orange and black, the endpoints terminating in floral motifs with a crown topping the Hebrew letter lamed, the whole set against a blue panel featuring miniature red and orange floral designs forming a diaper pattern, the panel outlined in red and surrounded by a thick green border inhabited by scrollwork and again traced in red and black, with four red floral motifs at the four corners;
  • f. 30v: the word melekh is painted in enlarged red letters outlined in white with red floral midpoints, the letters set against a blue panel featuring miniature red and white floral designs forming a diaper pattern as well as three winged grotesques, the panel outlined in white and red, with four red fleurs-de-lys at the four corners (see Fig. 3);
Fig. 3. ff. 30v-31r

  • f. 59r: the word u-netanneh (let us recount) is painted in enlarged alternating red, blue, green, and orange letters outlined in black with red and orange floral midpoints, the letters inhabited by numerous miniature grotesques and set against a multicolor panel of orange, red, and green featuring delicate tracery, the panel outlined in black and red, with four red floral motifs at the four corners;
  • f. 88r: the word melekh is painted in enlarged green letters outlined in red with red and orange floral midpoints, the letters inhabited by grotesques and foliate imagery with a crown topping the lamed, the whole set against a blue panel featuring miniature red and orange floral designs forming a diaper pattern, the panel outlined first in red, then in orange, then again in red and orange, with four orange fleurs-de-lys at the four corners of the inner rectangle and four red floral motifs at the four corners of the outer rectangle (see Fig. 4);
  • f. 91r: the word melekh is painted in enlarged red letters outlined in orange and red with red floral midpoints, the letters inhabited by grotesques and foliate imagery, the whole set against an inner green panel inhabited by foliate imagery as well as an outer blue panel featuring miniature red and white floral designs forming a diaper pattern, the outer panel outlined in orange and red, with alternating red fleurs-de-lys and floral motifs at the four corners;
  • f. 264r: the word anna (please) is painted in enlarged green, orange, and red letters outlined in black and pink with orange floral midpoints, the letters inhabited by numerous miniature grotesques and set against a red panel inhabited by pink foliate imagery and a single pink grotesque, the panel outlined in black, pink, black, and red, with four red floral motifs at the four corners and light floral decoration all along the rest of the border;
Fig. 4. ff. 87v-88r

  • f. 275r: the word sarei (officers) is painted in enlarged red letters outlined in white with red and white floral midpoints, the letters inhabited by grotesques and foliate imagery and set against a blue panel featuring miniature red and white floral designs forming a diaper pattern, the panel outlined in white and red, with four red fleurs-de-lys at the four corners; and
  • f. 307v: the word shoshan (lily) is partially painted in enlarged green letters with red floral midpoints, the letters inhabited by numerous miniature grotesques and foliate imagery, the letters surmounted and supported by scrollwork set against a black ground.

The codex also includes eight of Abraham’s miniatures. Four of these are clearly meant to illustrate the text in proximity to which they appear:

Fig. 5. f. 74v (detail)

  • f. 74v: one of the central ceremonies of Rosh Hashanah is the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn) at various points during the prayers in fulfillment of biblical verses that connect the day with loud blasts (Lev. 23:24 and Num. 29:1). On the page featuring the first set of shofar blasts during musaf (the additional service), the artist has painted the figure of a man with a bird’s head wearing a pointed red “Jewish hat,” red and green robe, orange stockings, and black shoes, his hands supporting a long shofar and his left foot resting on a low red and green tripod, the whole set against a blue panel featuring miniature red and orange floral designs forming a diaper pattern, the panel outlined in black, green, and red, with four black floral motifs at the four corners (see Fig. 5);
Fig. 6. f. 79v (detail)

  • f. 79v: on the page featuring the second set of shofar blasts during musaf of Rosh Hashanah, the artist has painted the figure of a man with a tallit (prayer shawl) draped over his head and wearing a green robe, red stockings, and black shoes, his hands supporting a long shofar painted red and orange and his left foot resting on a low orange and green tripod positioned before a Gothic archway flanked by turrets, the whole set against a light blue ground (see Fig. 6);
  • f. 84v: on the page featuring the third set of shofar blasts during musaf of Rosh Hashanah, the artist has painted the same man as appears on f. 79v, his hands supporting a long shofar painted orange and his right foot resting on a low, three-tiered orange, red, and black tripod positioned before an elaborate Gothic archway flanked by multiple turrets, a red dragon with a foliate tail and tongue suspended in the air behind him (see Fig. 7); and
  • f. 86v: on the page featuring the ha-yom te’ammetsenu (today, make us resolute) poem at the end of musaf on Rosh Hashanah, the artist has painted the figure of a man with curly hair wearing a pointed red “Jewish hat,” dark red robe, green sash and stockings, and black shoes, his hands raised (perhaps in prayer) and the word amen emanating from his mouth, as if he were a member of the congregation responding to the lines of the poem (see Fig. 8).
Fig. 7. f. 84v (detail)

The other four miniatures are decorative in nature. Skillfully executed, they offer a glimpse of Abraham’s playfulness and artistic vocabulary:

  • f. 75v: on top of another painting and next to the enlarged word zekher (the memory), the artist has painted in orange, red, and green a hybrid with the body and foliate tail of a dragon and the head and paws of a dog (see Fig. 9);
  • f. 196v: next to and within the enlarged and elaborately decorated word az (then), the artist has painted in red and green two grotesques with foliate tails, one of them a hybrid with the head of a bearded man wearing a pointed red “Jewish hat” and sticking out his tongue (see Fig. 2);
  • f. 259v: above the enlarged word me-ein (there is none), the artist has painted in orange, red, and green a hybrid with the body and tail of a dragon and the head of a bearded man wearing a pointed red “Jewish hat,” his red nose swollen and his red tongue protruding (see Fig. 10); and
  • f. 306r: next to the Al het (For the Sin) litany, the artist has painted in red and green a small panel featuring a lion facing upward and sticking out its tongue, the panel with four green fleurs-de-lys at the four corners (compare the decorated catchwords on ff. 21v, 149v).
Fig. 8. f. 86v (detail)

Only one leaf’s designs should probably be attributed to an artist other than Abraham. Folio 42 features two initial word panels and two illustrations meant to decorate the shofar service preceding the silent musaf on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, as well as the start of musaf itself. Here, the letter forms can easily be attributed to Abraham, as a comparison between the word barukh (blessed) in the first panel and another instance of barukh directly below the panel makes clear. However, these letters do not feature Abraham’s characteristic floral midpoints. Moreover, the color scheme employed throughout the leaf—deep red, deep blue, cyan, lilac, and white—as well as the decorative style of the panel borders and the human figures, differ significantly from those of the rest of the volume. Finally, this is the only folio in the manuscript to which gold and silver leaf have been applied. All of this evidence suggests that another artist was hired to paint these two pages after Abraham had copied the text and outlined the letters within the initial word panels. It is likely that this folio in particular was given special treatment (e.g., with the use of gold and silver leaf) due to the significance of its contents, which represent one of the high points of the holiday prayers. It appears that once the alternate artist had completed his work, Abraham went back and added the red floral motifs to the corners of the first initial word panel on the page, just like he did at various other points throughout the book.

The following four decorations and illustrations can be found on f. 42:

  • The lettering of the word barukh is fully gilded and set against a blue ground decorated with a faint white diaper pattern, the panel outlined in white, lilac, and black and surrounded by a thick gilded border that is itself outlined in black and red, with four golden squares protruding at the four corners and featuring red scrollwork and floral motifs (see Fig. 11);
  • The figure of a bearded man is seated in a large red and cyan chair with a tallit draped over his head, wearing a deep ruby and cyan robe, and black shoes, and holding a Torah scroll in his right arm while raising his left hand, the whole set against a gilded ground surrounded by alternating red and deep blue borders, with four golden square corner pieces (see Fig. 11);
  • The figure of a bearded man is holding a long shofar with his left hand while resting his left foot on a low red and deep ruby chair and wearing a white pointed “Jewish hat,” red cape, and cyan or dark blue robe, the whole set against a gilded ground surrounded by alternating red and deep blue borders, with four golden squares protruding at the four corners (see Fig. 11); and
  • The word zokhrenu (remember us) is painted in enlarged alternating red, lilac, and cyan letters outlined in black and filled with delicate scrolling white tracery, the letters set against a gilded ground that also features geometric white tracery forming a diaper pattern, the panel outlined in black and white and surrounded by alternating red and deep blue borders, with four silver squares protruding at the four corners (see Fig. 12).
Fig. 9. f. 75v (detail)

Fig. 10. f. 259v (detail)

Two aspects of the mahzor’s program of decoration are of particular interest. The first is its portrayal of the shofar blower standing with one foot resting on a stool, chair, or other low-lying surface (ff. 42r, 74v, 79v, 84v). This custom is mentioned by the author of the glosses to Rabbi Isaac Tyrnau’s (first half of the fifteenth century) famous Eastern Ashkenazic compendium, Minhagim, and is depicted in several medieval Ashkenazic liturgical codices.8 The Luzzatto mahzor, with four illustrations of this practice, stands out as having the most of any of them.

Scholars have proposed various possible interpretations of this custom, ranging from the practical—so that the blasts would be more easily heard by the congregation; to the mystical—so that the evil forces that reside in the earth, according to some rabbinic sources, not interfere with the blowing of the shofar; to the folkloristic—so as to symbolically raise the sounds of the shofar as high up as possible in order to allow them to bypass Satan and arouse divine mercy. The last explanation is bound up, at least partially, with a popular belief, already found in the Talmud, in the ability of the shofar to scare away demons and confuse Satan. Indeed, in three of the aforementioned depictions of the shofar blower,9 Satan or his symbolic representative, the dragon, is shown either fleeing from or overcome by the power of the shofar. The fact that the shofar blower is portrayed standing before elaborate archways on ff. 79v and 84v of the Luzzatto mahzor may also hint at his role in ensuring that the blasts safely reach the Gates of Heaven on the Day of Judgment.

Fig. 11. ff. 41v-42r
Fig. 12. ff. 42v-43r

A second noteworthy aspect of the Luzzatto mahzor’s program of decoration is its tendency to avoid the depiction of frontal human portraits. This feature, too, is found in other medieval Ashkenazic codices. Beginning with a collection of commentaries on the majority of the books of the Bible copied in 1233,10 most illustrated manuscripts produced by German Jews through the middle of the fourteenth century portray at least some human figures in profile, with their faces partially or wholly obscured, without facial features or with distorted facial features (including bird beaks, swollen noses, and darting tongues), or with the heads of birds or animals (known as zoocephalic figures). While scholarly interpretations of this distinctively Ashkenazic phenomenon vary, the most widely accepted theory posits that it must be understood in light of the rabbinic interpretation of Ex. 20:20, which prohibits the creation of images of celestial bodies and angelic and human beings.11 Among Ashkenazim, an exception was made in the case of a human head without an attached body, and vice versa,12 perhaps paving the way for the development of the kinds of aniconic decorative strategies described above. Whatever the correct explanation may be, the Luzzatto mahzor continues in this tradition in a number of ways: many of the figures are painted in profile (ff. 42r, 74v, 79v, 84v, 86v, 196v), and some have had their faces erased (f. 42r), distorted (ff. 196v, 259v), or replaced with a bird’s head (f. 74v).


ff. 213v-214r

T he majority of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet function solely as consonants. Vowel points must be added separately so that a reader knows how to pronounce a given text. Traditionally, the tasks of copying the main body of a Hebrew manuscript and vocalizing it were carried out by two specially trained professionals, a sofer (scribe) and a nakdan (vocalizer), who worked sequentially. In the case of the Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor, too, the texts painstakingly written and decorated by the scribe-artist Abraham originally did not include vowel points; these were added at a later stage by an anonymous nakdan. While it is not clear how much time elapsed between the production and the vocalization of this mahzor, it can reasonably be assumed that the latter took place before the middle of the fourteenth century. This is due to the presence in this manuscript of abundant evidence of what scholars term “pre-Ashkenazic pronunciation,” that is, the pronunciation system used by German Jews (ultimately deriving from a Palestinian-Tiberian tradition) between ca. 950 and ca. 1350.13

Fig. 13. f. 230v

The scribe-artist and the vocalizer were likely working at either a geographical or a chronological remove from one another (or both). This can be deduced from the numerous instances in which the nakdan refused to vocalize a text, or even an individual word, that he deemed to be at odds with the specific rite he intended to represent, sometimes going so far as to “correct” or alter the liturgical wording in the margins (and not just in those instances in which the scribe had made an obvious error).14

A particularly interesting marginal note can be found on f. 230v (see Fig. 13), next to the poem Na’amirakh be-eimah (We Will Affirm You in Fear). Here, the nakdan writes: “I intentionally vocalized this entire poem incorrectly for the use of the miserable Ashkenazim [ha-ashkenazim ha-umlalim] . . . ”15 This piquant remark probably indicates that the nakdan was not himself of German extraction, though he evidently practiced his trade on behalf of an Ashkenazic community and made sure to abide by certain early Ashkenazic vocalization traditions when doing so.

In fact, there is evidence that the vocalizer was a Frenchman, for on f. 27r a note in the nakdan’s (semi-cursive) hand records that “the French have the practice to say this thanksgiving,” followed by the poem Attah hu E-loheinu ba-shamayim u-ba-arets (You Are Our God in the Heavens and on the Earth), also written in his (square) hand. Indeed, Goldschmidt remarks that, while Western Ashkenazic communities generally did not recite this piyyut at this point in the liturgy, the Northern French rite incorporated it into the morning and additional services of Rosh Hashanah and into all four daytime prayers of Yom Kippur. This marginal note suggests that the nakdan may have lived and worked in a mixed German-French Jewish community, perhaps in Alsace, that largely adhered to Western Ashkenazic custom but also made (limited) room for certain French liturgical usages.

Marginalia and Textual Additions

I n the generations after the mahzor’s text was first copied, decorated, and vocalized, it continued to evolve as it moved from one community to another. The earliest hand to add marginalia following the completion of the nakdan’s work was likely that of a different Frenchman responsible for copying the aforementioned poem Attah hu E-loheinu ba-shamayim u-ba-arets in several other places throughout the volume (ff. 56r, 104r, 131v, 214r, 310v [though not on the pages of the last two services of Yom Kippur]). This same user seems to have made a few other amendments as well.16

FIG. 14. F. 441V

At some point, the mahzor appears to have migrated southward to the Lake Constance region, situated near the modern-day borders of Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. This is evidenced by a note on f. 441v (see Fig. 14) that reads: “Here, in Constance, we say [the poem] Adon ke-tikkah mo‘ed, etc.” This same distinctive German hand added many more marginalia throughout the volume, often “signing” them with the final form of the Hebrew letter nun. On ff. 15r-78r, he supplied the manuscript with a kind of marginal glossary meant to explain difficult words used in the piyyutim, sometimes with recourse to Yiddish. Like his French predecessors, and as witnessed in the case of Adon ke-tikkah mo‘ed, this user also adapted the manuscript to his community’s needs.17 Most importantly from the perspective of liturgical history, he recorded the titles and order of the selihot recited in his city during the morning services of Yom Kippur (f. 264r), including Ani hu ha-konen (I Am the Elegist), a selihah composed in the aftermath of the anti-Jewish violence that broke out during the Black Death (1348-1349) and resulted in the liquidation of dozens of Ashkenazic communities. This note likely indicates that the mahzor itself first arrived in Constance sometime after these pogroms, in the second half of the fourteenth century or later.

The book eventually traveled to a community of Ashkenazim living in Northern Italy, perhaps following the expulsion of Jews from Constance in 1533. It may be here that the first thirteen folios, containing the text of the psalms preceding the morning services (pesukei de-zimrah), were appended to the mahzor. (The addition of these folios was necessary as Ashkenazic scribes like Abraham typically did not include pesukei de-zimrah in the mahzorim they were commissioned to produce.) Indeed, on f. 13v, an Italian Ashkenazic hand recorded two kavvanot (liturgical meditations) for the prayer leader to recite to himself prior to the morning services of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.18 This same individual was probably responsible for writing various other notes throughout the volume as well.19


Fig. 15. ff. 26v-27r

B etween the mid-sixteenth and mid-eighteenth centuries, Jews living in territories under the authority of the pope were forbidden from keeping in their possession books deemed offensive to Christianity on pain of heavy fines and even, in some cases, imprisonment. To avoid such punishments, they either submitted their manuscripts and printed texts to Christian censors, whom they paid to “revise” the volumes, or they expurgated the works themselves. Such was apparently the case with the Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor, in which several passages that could be understood as denigrating Christianity or Gentile rulers and governments and calling upon God to destroy the enemies of the Jewish people and avenge the deaths of Jewish martyrs were blotted or scratched out (see Figs. 15, 16).20 This procedure was not followed consistently, however.21 This fact and other clues (e.g., the presence of alternative texts written in the margins in an Italian Jewish hand) suggest that it was an Italian Jewish owner, rather than a Catholic censor, who struck the problematic verbiage from the mahzor.

Fig. 16. ff. 68v-69r, with the words she-hem mishtahavvim ... lo yoshia, a line deemed offensive to Christianity, scratched out on f. 69r

The most severe censorship of the prayerbook involved the complete removal of two leaves (one between folios 253 and 254 and another between folios 257 and 258) containing two particularly virulent piyyutim recited as part of the morning services of Yom Kippur. The volume’s owner apparently considered excising them entirely to be more expedient than inking every line.22

In summary, we can reconstruct the following stations along the Luzzatto mahzor’s journey: Southern Germany, where it was likely copied and decorated; a mixed German-French community, perhaps in Alsace, where it was probably vocalized; Constance, to which it seemingly arrived following the Black Death; and Northern Italy, where it was eventually censored. Each of these places left its mark on the text of the volume, which was adapted and updated to bring it into line with local usages and contemporary customs.


T he Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor takes its name from the famous Italian Jewish scholar, poet, and theologian Samuel David Luzzatto. Born into a distinguished family in 1800 in Trieste, Luzzatto was educated at the local Talmud Torah and at home. He showed an early interest in the Hebrew language, poetry, and biblical studies and dedicated much of his prolific literary career to these fields. In 1829, he was appointed professor at the newly established Istituto Convitto Rabbinico (later known as the Collegio Rabbinico Italiano) in Padua, an important modern rabbinical seminary at which he spent the rest of his life teaching Bible, philology, philosophy, and Jewish history. An avid reader and researcher, especially of Jewish liturgical history, Luzzatto actively collected books over the course of a half century, forming a library that, by the time of his death in 1865, comprised over 120 Hebrew manuscripts and 270 Hebrew titles printed before 1600 (including twenty-six incunabula and thirty- six “rare” or “very rare” editions), as well as nearly 1500 more recent works of Hebraica, Judaica, and Orientalia. He often corresponded with the great bibliophiles, bibliographers, and scholars of the day about his new acquisitions and their contents, some of which formed the basis for articles that he submitted to contemporary periodicals.

Portrait of Samuel David Luzzatto

In a letter he sent to his friend and patron Joshua (Osias) Heschel Schorr in Brody, dated 16 Heshvan 5607/November 5, 1846, Luzzatto briefly described the 111 manuscripts then in his collection; the present mahzor does not feature on this list. It does appear, however, in a handwritten Italian list of ninety-nine Luzzatto manuscripts apparently drawn up in 1868,23 three years after his death, and then again in a French sales catalogue of the “most important part” of the Luzzatto library, published in late 1868 by his son Joseph. Luzzatto must thus have come into possession of the mahzor—which, as we have seen, spent at least part of its early modern history in Italy—sometime between late 1846 and his passing almost two decades later.

The Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU), the first modern international Jewish organization, was founded in 1860 in Paris, in the aftermath of the Damascus and Mortara Affairs, for the purpose of Jewish self-defense, political advocacy, and education. Its library was established that same year and initially consisted of donated books. Under the directorship of Isidore Loeb (1867-1892), however, the library began making active acquisitions of important Hebraica and Judaica. Indeed, at the June 8, 1870 meeting of the Central Committee of the AIU, it voted to budget 3,600 francs for the purchase of books for the library, one of which was the magnificent Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor.

This codex opens fascinating windows onto the lives, rites, and rituals of medieval and early modern Ashkenazic Jewry. Its text, which holds the potential to expand our knowledge of liturgical history in several different regions of Europe, certainly merits further research, and its illustrations shed light on Jewish ceremonial practice in the Middle Ages. The fact that it was created by a Jewish scribe-artist at a time when many Hebrew manuscripts were illustrated by Christians is especially noteworthy. The elegance of its calligraphy and beauty of its program of decoration make this a superb, exceedingly rare manuscript worthy of the most important collections the world over.

Sotheby's is grateful to Binyamin Goldstein, Katrin Kogman-Appel, and David Roth for providing information that aided in the cataloging of this manuscript.

Physical Description


451 folios (12 1/4 x 9 3/8 in.; 312 x 237 mm) (collation: i8, ii5, iii-vii8, viii2, ix-xviii8, xix6 [xix4-5 lacking], xx-xxv8, xxvi6, xxvii-xxviii8, xxix10, xxx-xxxi8, xxxii6, xxxiii10 [xxxiii4-5 added], xxxiv6 [xxxiv2,7 removed], xxxv-lvi8, lvii6, lviii10) on equalized parchment; modern foliation in pencil in Arabic numerals in upper-outer corner of recto (1-244, 244[a]-450); written in German square script in black ink; generally single- or double-column text of seventeen lines per column, though statutory prayers and biblical texts are liable to be written on a larger number of lines (cf., e.g., ff. 430r-433r, which have nine lines per page); many poems arranged ornamentally and biblical readings often written in three columns (cf. ff. 297v-298r, 299r); ruled in plummet; prickings visible in both the outer and inner margins; frequent evidence of double pricking in the outer margins, sometimes limited to the uppermost and lowermost lines of text, at other times spanning the entire written area of the page; justification of lines via dilation or contraction of final letters, abbreviation, and use of anticipatory letters and ornamental space fillers; most texts fully vocalized (and, for biblical readings, accentuated) by a different hand in (dark) brown ink (accentuation occasionally provided elsewhere as well); text of the Shema fully accentuated and outfitted with tagin and breaks between neighboring words that end and begin, respectively, with the same consonant on ff. 18v-19r, 200v-201r (cf. ff. 96r-97r, 161r-162v); horizontal quire catchwords (decorated on ff. 21v, 29v, 45v, 53v, 55v, 149v, 157v, 203v, 211v, 229v, 237v, 243v, 298v, 338v, 394v, 418v, 440v, 450v); later catchwords on ff. 183v, 362v; rubrics often dotted or marked above (e.g., with cross-hatching); later marginal manicule on f. 190v; Tetragrammaton generally represented via two, three, four, or even five (f. 329v) yodin in a row followed by a vertical bar with a flag facing rightward at its base and summit; alef-lamed ligature usually employed; selihot sometimes numbered in margins; corrections in hands of primary and subsequent scribes; intermittent marginal comments, explanations, alternate readings, textual insertions, and instructions, including a bit of Yiddish (ff. 60r, 63r, 64v, 73v, 76v, 190v); library stamps on ff. 1r, 450v and intermittently throughout. Decorated initial word panels on ff. 14v, 30v, 42r, 42v, 59r, 88r, 91r, 264r, 275r; text illustrations on ff. 74v, 79v, 84v, 86v and decorations on ff. 75v, 196v, 259v, 306r; elaborate feathered, winglike borders added to enlarged incipits on ff. 14r, 23r, 39v, 196v, 214r, 220r, 384v, 390v, 434r; select letters and/or words written in red and green ink on ff. 99v, 101v-102r, 121v-122r, 149v, 157v, 284v-286r, 287v-288r, 305r-308r, 346v; wriggle work added to incipits on ff. 1v, 3r; periodic flourishes on the ascenders or descenders of letters, sometimes taking the form of fleurs-de-lys or dragon heads (ff. 66v, 256v-257r, 286v, 392v, 393v); intermittent feathered, winglike ornaments (ff. 14r, 16r, 37v, 69r, 75r, 104r, 140r, 156v, 193r, 251v, 330v, 437r), in two instances surrounding important marginal notes in the form of small cartouches (ff. 18r, 426r); winglike marks frequently added to emphasize important words or acrostics or for decoration (e.g., ff. 66v, 233v, 439v); long zigzags added to the summit of certain letters, perhaps to indicate words or syllables on which the precentor should dwell; tapering text on f. 193r-v; first letters of first four words of I Chron. 16:31 marked on ff. 6v, 31r, spelling the Tetragrammaton. Two original folios lacking between ff. 138-139 (leaving no stubs) and one original folio lacking between ff. 253-254 (leaving a stub) and between ff. 257-258 (leaving a stub); ff. 1-13, 246-247 added later; some liturgical material lacking at head (before f. 1 and presumably before f. 14) and rear of manuscript; slight, scattered staining, heavier on ff. 1, 14, 450; minor thumbing; some natural parchment flaws, occasionally sewn; ink and paint smudged at times; ff. 116r, 128r, and 296r presumably originally intended to be decorated and/or illustrated; periodic strikethroughs and/or (self-)censorship; marginalia occasionally shaved in upper or outer margins; gold and silver leaf on f. 42r-v features craquelure; minor repairs in outer edges of ff. 7, 55, 420, 443-448, 450, upper-outer corners of ff. 38, 116, 246, 254, 416, 425, lower edges of ff. 43, 49-50, 81, 157, 392, 402, and upper edges of ff. 191, 239, 354; slight flaking of text on ff. 10r, 12r, 246r-247v; small holes affecting individual letters on ff. 19, 21, 101, 333, 346, 400, 408; creasing on ff. 31, 267; short slit in outer margins of f. 92; small wormhole in outer margins of ff. 448-450. Modern ivory morocco over wooden boards, slightly worn at edges; two bronze clasps attached to leather thongs catching on the fore-edge; spine in six compartments with raised bands; modern parchment pastedowns and flyleaves. Housed in a modern maroon cloth folding case, threadbare and starting at corners; leather lettering piece bearing shelf mark on spine.

decorated catchword on f. 149v


First Day of Rosh Hashanah (ff. 1r-87v)

ff. 1r-13r: pesukei de-zimrah, beginning in the middle of hodu;
f. 13v: two kavvanot for the prayer leader in an Italian Ashkenazic hand, as well as the text of u-be-makhalot through yishtabbah;
ff. 14r-20r: ha-melekh, birkhot keri’at shema with yotser sequence, and keri’at shema;
ff. 20r-23r: silent amidah for shaharit;
ff. 23r-37r: repetition of the amidah for shaharit;
ff. 37v-39r: Avinu malkeinu and kaddish;
ff. 39r-41v: removal of the Torah and reading of the Torah and haftarah;
f. 42r: first set of shofar blasts;
ff. 42v-52r: silent amidah for musaf;
ff. 52r-87r: repetition of the amidah for musaf;
f. 87r-v: kaddish and conclusion of the morning services.

Second Day of Rosh Hashanah (ff. 88r-159v)

ff. 88r-89v: ma‘ariv sequence for the evening service;
ff. 90r-98v: ha-melekh, birkhot keri’at shema with yotser sequence, and keri’at shema;
ff. 98v-124v: repetition of the amidah for shaharit;
ff. 125r-126v: Avinu malkeinu and kaddish;
ff. 126v-131r: removal of the Torah and reading of the Torah and haftarah;
ff. 131r-159r: repetition of the amidah for musaf;
f. 159r-v: kaddish and conclusion of the morning services.

Ma‘ariv of Yom Kippur (ff. 159v-195v)

ff. 159v-160v: kol nidrei;
ff. 160v-163v: birkhot keri’at shema and keri’at shema;
ff. 163v-171r: amidah for ma‘ariv;
f. 171r: va-yekhulu for when Yom Kippur coincides with the Sabbath;
ff. 171v-193v: selihot;
ff. 194r-195v: Avinu malkeinu and kaddish.

Shaharit of Yom Kippur (ff. 195v-299v)

ff. 195v-202r: ha-melekh, birkhot keri’at shema with yotser sequence, and keri’at shema;
ff. 202r-208r: silent amidah for shaharit;
ff. 208r-294r: repetition of the amidah for shaharit;
ff. 294r-295v: Avinu malkeinu and kaddish;
ff. 296r-299v: reading of the Torah and haftarah.

Musaf of Yom Kippur (ff. 299v-384v)

ff. 299v-307r: silent amidah for musaf;
ff. 307r-384r: repetition of the amidah for musaf;
f. 384r-v: kaddish.

Minhah of Yom Kippur (ff. 384v-425r)

ff. 384v-390r: reading of the Torah and haftarah;
ff. 390r-423v: repetition of the amidah for minhah;
ff. 424r-425r: Avinu malkeinu.

Ne‘ilah of Yom Kippur (ff. 425r-450v)

ff. 425r-433v: silent amidah for ne‘ilah;
ff. 434r-449r: repetition of the amidah for ne‘ilah;
ff. 449v-450v: Avinu malkeinu, kaddish, and final shofar blast;
f. 450v: beginning of weekday evening service.


Anon., “Séance du 8 juin 1870,” Bulletin de l’Alliance Israélite Universelle (1st semester 1870): 22-24, at p. 23.

Malachi Beit-Arié, Kodikologyah ivrit: tippologyah shel melekhet ha-sefer ha-ivri ve-itsuvo bi-yemei-ha-beinayim be-hebbet histori ve-hashva’ati mi-tokh gishah kammutit ha-meyussedet al tei‘ud kitvei-ha-yad be-tsiyyunei ta’arikh ad shenat 1540, ed. Zofia Lasman (preprint internet version 0.13 / November 2020), 294, 320, 329-332, available at: https:// continuously-updated-online-version.pdf.

Bernard Chapira, “Les Manuscrits de la Bibliothèque de l’Alliance [israélite],” Revue des Études Juives 4 (104) (July-December 1938): 165-168; 5 (105) (1939): 53-79, at pp. 166, 67-68 (no. 24).

Ilan Eldar, Massoret ha-keri’ah ha-kedem-ashkenazit: mahutah ve-ha-yesodot ha-meshuttafim lah u-le-massoret sefarad, vol. 1 (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1979), 53-54, 149-152, 158-165.

Michel Garel, D’une main forte: manuscrits hebreux des collections françaises (Paris: Bibliothèque nationale, 1991), 139-140 (no. 102).

Ernst Daniel Goldschmidt (ed.), Mahzor la-yamim ha-nora’im lefi minhagei benei ashkenaz le-kol anafeihem, 2 vols. (Jerusalem: Koren, 1970).

Eisig Gräber (ed.), Iggerot shadal, vol. 7 (Krakow: Josef Fischer, 1891), 999-1003 (no. CDVI).

Zvi Groner, “Ha-berakhah al ha-viddui ve-gilguleha,” Bar-ilan 13 (1976): 158-168.

Joseph Luzzatto (ed.), Catalogue de la bibliothèque de litterature hebraïque et orientale de feu Mr Samuel David Luzzatto de Trieste professeur au collége rabbinique de Padoue (Padua: Louis Crescini, 1868), 9 (no. 82).

Bezalel Narkiss, “On the Zoocephalic Phenomenon in Medieval Ashkenazi Manuscripts,” in Norms and Variations in Art: Essays in Honour of Moshe Barasch (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, 1983), 49-62, plates LXXIII-LXXX.

New York, Jewish Theological Seminary
Ms. 2863, f. 24v (no. 83), available at:
h t t p s : // w e b . n l i . o r g . i l / s i t e s / N L I S / h e / ManuScript/Pages/Item.aspx?ItemID=PNX_ MANUSCRIPTS990001060940205171& SearchTxt=990001060940205171.

Benjamin Richler, Guide to Hebrew Manuscript Collections, 2nd ed. (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 2014), 130, 285-287 (Appendix I, no. 28).

Ilia Rodov, “Dragons: A Symbol of Evil in European Synagogue Decoration?” Ars Judaica 1 (2005): 63-84, at pp. 71-73.

Ernst Róth, “Machsor-Handschriften in der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek,” in Hans Lamm (ed.), Von Juden in München: ein Gedenkbuch (Munich: Ner-Tamid-Verlag, 1958), 43-49.

Ernst Róth, “Ha-sherafraf ba-teki‘ot u-ba-shevu‘ah ha-yehudit,” Yeda-am: bamah le-folklor yehudi 8 (26) (Autumn 1962): 3-7; additional notes by Yom-Tov Levinsky, ibid., p. 8.

Samson ben Zadok, Sefer tashbets ha-mekhunneh tashbets katan, ed. Shlomo Engel (Jerusalem: Mekhon Yerushalayim, 2011), 61, 63, 65 (no. 119), 105 (no. 198), 122 (no. 227), 126 (no. 238).

Sándor Scheiber, “Ha-shofar be-tekes ha-kevurah,” Sinai 29 (1951): 80-89, at pp. 85-87.

Moïse Schwab, “Un mahzor illustré,” Revue des Études Juives 48 (96) (April-June 1904): 230-240.

Moïse Schwab, “Les manuscrits et incunables hébreux de la bibliothèque de l’Alliance israélite,” Revue des Études Juives 49 (97) (July-September 1904): 74-88; 49 (98) (October-December 1904): 270- 296, at p. 271 (no. 24).

Gabrielle Sed-Rajna, Le mahzor enluminé: les voies de formation d'un programme iconographique (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1983).

Gabrielle Sed-Rajna and Sonia Fellous, Les manuscrits hébreux enluminés des bibliothèques de France (Leuven; Paris: Peeters, 1994), 208-213 (no. 79).

Sarit Shalev-Eyni, Jews among Christians: Hebrew Book Illumination from Lake Constance (London; Turnhout: Harvey Miller Publishers, 2010), 178 n. 10.

Sarit Shalev-Eyni, “Livre de prières (mahzor) pour la nouvelle année et le jour du Grand Pardon,” trans. Nicolas Hatot, in Nicolas Hatot and Judith Olszowy-Schlanger (eds.), Savants et croyants: les juifs d’Europe du nord au moyen-âge (Gent: Snoeck Ducaju & Zoon, 2018), 234-235 (no. 61).

Joseph Shatzmiller, “German Jews and Figurative Art: Appreciation and Reservation,” in Cultural Exchange: Jews, Christians, and Art in the Medieval Marketplace (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), 57-80 (ch. 5), at p. 74.

Daniel Sperber, “Tsurat ha-amidah shel ba‘al ha-tokea, u-teki‘ah be-tsad yamin,” in Minhagei yisra’el: mekorot ve-toladot, vol. 7 (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 2003), 239-251 (ch. 16).

Moritz Steinschneider, Vorlesungen über die Kunde hebräischer Handschriften, deren Sammlungen und Verzeichnisse (Leipzig: Otto Harrassowitz, 1897), 59.

David Stern, “‘Jewish’ Art and the Making of the Medieval Prayerbook,” Ars Judaica 6 (2010): 23-44.

Isaac Tyrnau, Sefer ha-minhagim, 2nd ed., ed. Shlomo J. Spitzer (Jerusalem: Mekhon Yerushalayim, 2000), 86, 90 (no. 116).

Georges J. Weill, “Introduction,” in Georges J. Weill with Samuel Kerner and Richard Ayoun (eds.), Alliance Israélite Universelle: Catalogue des manuscrits de la bibliothèque, vol. 1 (Paris: Alliance Israélite Universelle, 1979), 11-17.

Zalman of Sankt Goar, Sefer maharil: minhagim, 3rd ed., ed. Shlomo J. Spitzer (Jerusalem: Mekhon Yerushalayim, 2005), 295 (no. 2), 345 (no. 16), 348 (no. 20).


1. London, David Sofer Mss. 1-2.
2. Note, however, that its practice vis-à-vis the recitation of the selihot entitled Emunah omen etsot and Elleh ezkerah at the minhah service accords with the customs of Northern Italy and Nuremberg-Fürth. Further complicating the picture, the Luzzatto mahzor contains a number of texts normally associated with the Eastern Ashkenazic rite. These include, for example: the poetic introductory formula ve-ha-hayyot yeshoreru in the blessings before the recitation of the Shema (ff. 18r, 95r, 200r); the phrase et yom ha-shabbat ha-zeh within Ya‘aleh ve-yavo when Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur coincides with the Sabbath (ff. 21v, 35v, 166r, 203v, 262r, 397r, 427v, 438v [though cf. f. 123r, where the phrase is absent since the second day of Rosh Hashanah cannot coincide with the Sabbath]); and the piyyut for the musaf service of Yom Kippur Al tizkor lanu avonoteinu (ff. 313v-314v). The placement of mehal la-avonoteinu be-yom ha-kippurim ha-zeh during the communal viddui (confessional) of the ma‘ariv and musaf services on Yom Kippur (ff. 184v-186r, 372v-374r) likewise mirrors the minhag polin practice. Moreover, some of the formulations found in the Luzzatto mahzor bear a strong resemblance to those of two mahzorim representing the Northern French rite (Oxford, Bodleian Library Ms. Opp. Add. fol. 68; Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 3007). Similarly, the presence of the poem Ve-ye’etayu kol le-ovdekha in the musaf services of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (ff. 67r, 332v-333r) is more typical of minhag tsarefat than it is of minhag ashkenaz.
3. Evidence of the scribe’s apparent lack of exposure to Maharam’s practices includes: the fact that the silent amidot for shaharit of Rosh Hashanah and for ma‘ariv of Yom Kippur begin with Ps. 65:3, Ps. 51:17, and Deut. 32:3 (ff. 20r, 163v [though cf. f. 202r]), which Maharam opposed (see Tashbets katan no. 227); the expression ki makdishekha ke-erkekha kiddashta in the lines following the kedushah at musaf of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (ff. 65r, 137v, 326v), which Maharam changed to be-erkekha (see Tashbets katan no. 119); the language used to describe the additional sacrifices during the musaf service of Rosh Hashanah, which Maharam felt should make mention of the New Moon offerings (see ibid.), whereas the scribe left them out (ff. 68v, 139v); the inclusion of the blessing ha-E-l ha-solhan at the end of the viddui on Yom Kippur (ff. 170v, 189v, 207v, 307r, 433v), which Maharam opposed (see Haggahot maimuniyyot to Seder tefillot: nussah ha-viddui); and the conclusion of the silent amidah with the formula shalom bi-semoli ve-shalom bi-yemini ve-shalom aleinu ve-al kol yisra’el ve-imru amen (ff. 171r, 208r, 433v), which Rabbi Eleazar ben Judah of Worms (ca. 1160-ca. 1240) endorsed but Maharam did not (see Tashbets katan no. 238). (Cf., however, the aforementioned ve-ha-hayyot yeshoreru, as well as the formula le-hallot u-le-hannen penei adonei ha-adonim, part of the poetic proem to the precentor’s repetition of the amidah on the High Holidays [ff. 23r, 52r], both of which Maharam recited [see Tashbets katan no. 119].)
4. For instance, the blessing that immediately precedes the morning Shema reads, in part, ve-have aleinu berakhah le-shalom me-arba kanfot ha-arets (f. 18v [though cf. ff. 96r, 200v]); the kedushah for shaharit of both days of Rosh Hashanah includes the texts addir ve-hazak mashmi‘im be-kol and ki-mehakkim anahnu lakh (ff. 34v, 121v), which echo the language of (certain versions of) the Mahzor vitry, an early French liturgical-halakhic compendium; the amidot throughout Rosh Hashanah feature the wording ve-yeda kol po‘al (rather than pa‘ul; ff. 22r, 36r, 47v, 74r, 123v, 145v); and the silent amidot throughout Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (even during ma‘ariv!) include birkat kohanim (the priestly benediction; ff. 22v, 51v, 167r-v, 204v-205r, 303v, 428v-429r), in accordance with a practice discussed by Rabbi Moses Isserles (Darkhei mosheh to Arba‘ah turim, Orah hayyim 127:3; Rema to Shulhan aruh, Orah hayyim 121:3).
5. The piyyut sequence for the first night of Rosh Hashanah has most likely been lost from the beginning of the volume.
6. One final observation should be made about this mahzor’s relationship to the minhagim of Rabbi Jacob ha-Levi Moellin (Maharil; ca. 1360-1427), another highly influential German halakhist. On the one hand, the order of the poetic lines preceding Ha-ohez be-yad middat mishpat in musaf of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (ff. 65r, 137v-138r, 326v) reflects the pre-Maharil practice of Ashkenazic communities (see Sefer maharil, Seder musaf shel rosh ha-shanah no. 2; Hilkhot yom kippur no. 20). On the other hand, the kedushah recited during musaf of Yom Kippur lacks piyyutim, with the exception of Elekha teluyyot einenu (ff. 325v-326r), in agreement with the custom of Maharil (see ibid., Hilkhot yom kippur no. 16). One possible way to resolve this seeming contradiction is to note that, with the exception of musaf for Rosh Hashanah, the mahzor’s rite generally calls for very few piyyutim to be said during kedushah (see ff. 34r-v, 121v-122r, 395r-v, 436v-437r). In fact, folios 246-247, which contain piyyutei kedushah for shaharit of Yom Kippur, were inserted into this codex from a manuscript written by a different scribe, presumably because the mahzor had migrated to a congregation whose minhag differed in this way from that of the community for which the prayerbook was originally copied. Thus, the near-absence of piyyutim during the kedushah of musaf on Yom Kippur likely has little to do with Maharil’s liturgical reforms, and the mahzor’s early dating need not be questioned on that basis.
7. Oxford, Bodleian Library Mss. Mich. 617, 627.
8. These include the Munich High Holidays and Sukkot Mahzor (late 13th-early 14th century; Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Cod. hebr. 86, f. 40r), Kaufmann Mahzor (14th century; Budapest, Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Ms. Kaufmann A 388, vol. 2, ff. 12v, 163v), Vienna High Holiday and Sukkot Mahzor (ca. 1300-1350; Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Cod. hebr. 174, f. 19v [though cf. ff. 36r, 39v]), Hammelburg Mahzor (1348; Darmstadt, Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Ms. Cod. Or. 13, f. 187v), Yoselin Vatican Siddur (1353-1367; Vatican City, Vatican Library Ms. ebr. 326, ff. 68r, 69r), and Cambridge Ashkenazic Siddur (14th-15th century; Cambridge, University Library Ms. Add. 662, f. 65r).
9. See the Kaufmann Mahzor, f. 12v; Vienna High Holiday and Sukkot Mahzor, f. 19v; and Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor, f. 84v.
10. Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Cod. hebr. 5.
11. See Avodah zarah 43a-b.
12. See Asher ben Jehiel, Piskei ha-rosh to Avodah zarah 3:5, and Jacob ben Asher, Arba‘ah turim, Yoreh de‘ah, end of sec. 141.
13. Examples of such evidence include: the seeming interchangeability of the tseireh and segol vowels in words like hereg and henek (e.g., ff. 170r, 189r, 207r, 285r, 306v); the addition of a hirek vowel beneath a consonantal yod in final position (e.g., ff. 31v, 32v, 34v, 42v, 55v, 61r, 70r, 71v, 79r, 90r); and the marking of a sheva semi-vowel beneath a consonantal vav in final position (e.g., ff. 78v, 179v, 181v, 231r). The anonymous nakdan was also heir to early Ashkenazic traditions about how to graphically represent at least two phonological phenomena: he usually placed the mappik diacritic beneath rather than within a consonantal heh in final position (e.g., ff. 28v-29r, 33r, 34v, 55v, 72r, 82v, 87r) and often inscribed the sheva portion of a hatef semi-vowel within rather than below the vocalized guttural letter (e.g., ff. 22v, 36v, 41r-v, 51v, 52v, 56v, 66v, 71r-v, 75r, 83r, 84v, 102v, 117r, 345v).
14. For instance, he did not vocalize ve-ha-hayyot yeshoreru two out of the three times it occurs in the mahzor (ff. 95r, 200r), instead noting that the custom was not to say this passage on the High Holidays. Even more conspicuously, the nakdan left unpointed the entire aforementioned poem Al tizkor lanu avonoteinu (ff. 313v-314v), explaining in the margin that “we do not recite this” (similarly, see f. 442r). And on at least one occasion, he emended the text in order to bring it into line with the practice of “Maharam, of blessed memory” (f. 68v), who, as cited above, held that one must mention the New Moon sacrifices at musaf on Rosh Hashanah.
15. It seems the reference here is to the vocalization of the second person singular direct object suffix with a kamets followed by a sheva (-akh), rather than the opposite (-ekha), throughout the piyyut, including in the first word (hence, na’amirakh, rather than na’amirekha). See also other pages in the mahzor where the nakdan has noted in the margin alternate vocalizations for certain texts (e.g., ff. 100r, 136r, 208r, 327v).
16. For example, it was probably he who added the text of Er‘ad ve-efhad, recited according to minhag tsarefat during shaharit of the first day of Rosh Hashanah and during musaf of Yom Kippur, at the bottom of f. 193v; the last few lines of Shofet kol ha-arets (f. 274r), which were generally not in use among Western Ashkenazic communities; and the first six lines of Ani hu ha-sho’el (f. 411v).
17. For instance, he added the text of ve-ha-ofanim ve-hayyot ha-kodesh in the margins of ff. 18r and 200r (though not on f. 95r) after the nakdan had simply commented that ve-ha-hayyot yeshoreru is not recited. Similarly, he made sure to note changes to the liturgy of the first day of Rosh Hashanah when it coincides with the Sabbath (ff. 24r, 25v, 27r, 53r, 57v, 74v, 80r, 84v-85r), in one instance quoting Maharam on the topic (f. 18r; see Tashbets katan no. 119). Possibly also under the influence of Maharam (see ibid. no. 198), he wrote the E-loheinu ve-E-lohei avoteinu formula that precedes birkat kohanim in the margins of pages where the scribe had neglected to include it (ff. 36v, 85v, 292v; though cf. ff. 382r, 448r).
18. It is also possible that the aforementioned ff. 246-247, comprising the piyyutei kedushah for shaharit of Yom Kippur, were added to the mahzor in Northern Italy, though admittedly they were written by a different scribe than the one who copied ff. 1-13.
19. These include the verses to be recited by the precentor while the community is saying Aleinu during musaf of Rosh Hashanah (f. 69r; see Haggahot maimuniyyot to Seder tefillot: nussah ha-berakhot ha-emtsa‘iyyot 3) and the line bi-yeshivah shel ma‘lah prescribed by Maharam at the beginning of the Kol Nidrei service (f. 159v; see Orhot hayyim, Hilkhot yom ha-kippurim 29).
20. This censor expurgated ve-olatah tikpots piha ki kol ha-rish‘ah kullah ke-ashan tikhleh ki ta‘avir memshelet zadon from the amidah (ff. 21r, 35r, 43v-44r, 122v, 203r, 261v, 331v, 396r, 426v; though cf. f. 165r), often replacing it with (ki ta‘avir) ha-hote’im in the margins; blotted out nekom (le-einenu) nikmat dam avadekha ha-shafukh from Avinu malkeinu (ff. 38v, 125v, 194v, 295r, 450v); and completely scratched out she-hem mishtahavvim la-hevel va-rik u-mitpallelim el el lo yoshia from Aleinu (ff. 45v, 69r, 139v, 333v; see also kilkulam on f. 409r). See also ff. 70v-72v, 82v-83r, 118v-119r, 141v, 145r-v, 343r, 352v, 353r, 414v, 415v-416r, 417r. In a few instances (ff. 106r, 211v, 219v), he substituted terms for “enemies” like oyevekha and mastinenu/mastini in the margins. (It is also possible that more than one hand was involved in the censorship of the mahzor.)
21. For example, while most of the poem Adderet mamlakhah al mah hushlakhah was expurgated on ff. 27r-28r, the word tag‘ilennah from that piyyut still appears in the glossary on f. 28r (cf. f. 71r, where censorship was applied to the glossary as well). Similarly, the vengeful request ha-yom tidrosh dam avadekha ha-shafukh was expurgated on ff. 86v, 158v, 448v but not on ff. 293v, 383r; likewise for nekom nikmat dam avadekha ha-shafukh on ff. 372r, 418v (cf. f. 444v).
22. The two poems in question bear the titles Ha-goyim efes ve-tohu negdekha hashuvim and Ha-goyim eimim zamzumim kedar va-adomim. Because the poem Melekh tar kol sitrei [genazim] extended onto the first of the removed leaves, the missing text of that piyyut had to be inscribed on ff. 253v-254r, including over erased portions of Ha-goyim efes ve-tohu on f. 254r. Virtually the same procedure was followed in the second case as well: because the final lines of the poem Hakhmei tom derekh ha-me’ahalim likkon were cut off as a result of the excision of the following folio, they had to be supplied in the lower margin of f. 257v (the portions of Ha-goyim eimim zamzumim originally on f. 258r were erased). Interestingly, and perhaps a bit inconsistently, the leaf containing the poem Malkhutam be-abbedkha ovedei pesilei nesakhim (f. 259) was neither excised nor expurgated, despite its content.
23. See New York, Jewish Theological Seminary Ms. 2863, ff. 22r-25r.

The Alliance Israélite Universelle

On May 17, 1860, seventeen young French Jewish professionals met in Paris to establish the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU). The Alliance Appeal, the founding document of the new institution, set forth its goals:

"To bring together all generous hearts to fight against hatred and prejudice. To create a society of young idealistic and activist Israelites who feel solidarity with all those who suffer because of their Jewishness. […] If you believe that it would constitute an honor to your religion, a lesson for the nations, progress for humanity, and a victory for truth and universal reason to see the concentration of all the living forces of the Jewish people, small in number but great in love and in the will to do good, come to us; we are founding the Alliance Israélite Universelle. "

An international Jewish institution dedicated to education, the Alliance Israélite Universelle occupies an exceptional place centered on academic and professional success as well as on the transmission of an identity based on the texts of tradition, culture, history, and the geography of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

Today, the Alliance Israélite Universelle is mainly active in France, Israel, and Morocco in the fields of education, culture, and interfaith dialogue. In France, the AIU enrolls more than 2,000 students in the Alliance des Pavillons-sous-Bois and Alliance Rachi school groups, the Georges Leven high school, and the Alliance Gustave Leven elementary school. It promotes the transmission of Jewish values, attachment to the Republic, and the cultivation of a strong connection with the State of Israel. Lastly, it develops programs of Jewish study and culture for adults while supporting the emergence of new leadership. Its future growth prospects are focused on three themes: digital transformation, social cohesion, and the dissemination of Jewish culture to the wider public. For more information, visit

La création de l’Alliance

Le 17 mai 1860, dix-sept jeunes juifs français se réunissent au domicile parisien de l'un d'entre eux. Parmi eux, des médecins, des enseignants, des journalistes, des juristes, des hommes d'affaires... A l'issue de cette rencontre, six d'entre eux rédigent l'Appel de l'Alliance, texte fondateur de la nouvelle institution.

" Rassembler tous les cœurs généreux pour lutter contre la haine et les préjugés. Créer une société de jeunes israélites idéalistes et militants qui se sentiraient solidaires de tous ceux qui souffrent par leur condition de juifs [...] Si vous croyez que ce serait un honneur pour votre religion, une leçon pour les peuples, un progrès pour l'humanité, un triomphe pour la vérité et pour la raison universelle de voir se concentrer toutes les forces vives du judaïsme, petit par le nombre, grand par l'amour et la volonté du bien, venez à nous, nous fondons , nous fondons l'Alliance israélite universelle. "

Plus d’un million d’enfants scolarisés

Le combat pour l'égalité des droits - non seulement pour les juifs, mais pour toutes les minorités religieuses - figure parmi les priorités de l'Alliance. L'accès à la culture est aussi une condition sine qua non de l'émancipation, qui a pour but de faire des juifs des citoyens modernes et éclairés, partout à travers le monde. La création d'écoles s'impose donc d'emblée comme corollaire indispensable à l'action d'aide et de soutien aux juifs opprimés. En octobre 1862, l'Alliance ouvre sa première école à Tétouan, au Maroc. La première pierre est posée de ce qui va peu à peu devenir un réseau scolaire intense et rayonnant qui offre à tous – garçons et filles – un enseignement moderne, en langue française, tout en ne négligeant pas les valeurs et la religion juives. A la veille de la Première Guerre mondiale, elle compte 183 écoles réparties dans 90 villes : en Afrique du Nord, dans l’Empire ottoman et les Balkans, au Moyen-Orient. L’Alliance ouvre à Paris une école de formation des maîtres, l’Ecole normale israélite orientale qui sera dirigée après 1945 par le célèbre philosophe Emmanuel Levinas.

En terre d’Israël

Dès 1870, l’AIU s’implante en Palestine avec l’installation de la célèbre école d’agriculture de Mikveh-Israël. Conçue, construite et dirigée par l’inlassable Charles Netter, celle-ci se proposait de préparer ses élèves au travail de la terre. Peu après, ouvrait une école à Jérusalem où Eliézer ben Yéhouda, en croisade pour la renaissance de l’hébreu, mettra en pratique ses méthodes d’enseignement. D’autres écoles sont créées à Tibériade, Safed, Haïfa et Jaffa. Le rôle de l’Alliance israélite universelle dans la création du nouveau Yichouv, la propagation de l’hébreu et la préparation des esprits est de première importance.

Face aux bouleversements internationaux

Avec la dislocation de l’Empire ottoman, l’Alliance quitte progressivement la Turquie et les Balkans. Parallèlement, entre les deux guerres, elle renforce son réseau d’écoles au Moyen-Orient et en Afrique du Nord. Dans les années 1930, l’Alliance participe, avec d’autres institutions juives à la lutte contre l’antisémitisme et vient en aide aux réfugiés qui arrivent en France. En 1943, alors que les Alliés libèrent petit à petit les régions où sont implantées les écoles, Charles De Gaulle nomme René Cassin, depuis Londres, à la tête de l’Alliance. Premier civil à répondre à l’Appel du 18 juin 1940, René Cassin participe activement à la « France libre », en tant que conseiller juridique notamment … Lors d’une mission effectuée au Moyen-Orient pendant la guerre, il visite les écoles de l’Alliance et prend la mesure des actions de cette institution dont les valeurs rejoignent les siennes.

Après la guerre, ce nouveau président affirme les positions de l’institution face à la décolonisation et à la création de l’État d’Israël, lui donnant ainsi un nouveau souffle. Des écoles et de nombreux projets sont développés en France. L’AIU s’implique également dans la défense des droits de l’homme et dans la lutte pour permettre aux Juifs d’URSS d’émigrer.


L’Alliance israélite universelle poursuit son action en oeuvrant principalement en France, en Israël et au Maroc dans les domaines de l’éducation, de la culture et du dialogue inter-religieux.

En France, l’Alliance scolarise plus de 2 000 élèves au sein des groupes scolaires Alliance des Pavillons-sous-Bois et Alliance Rachi, du collège-lycée Georges Leven et de l’école primaire Alliance Gustave Leven. Elle y défend les valeurs de transmission du Judaïsme, l’attachement à la République et lien solide avec Israël. Enfin, elle développe des programmes d’étude et de culture juives à destination des adultes en favorisant l’émergence d’un nouveau leadership. Ses prochaines perspectives de développement sont axées sur trois thématiques : la transformation numérique, le vivre-ensemble et la diffusion des trésors de la Bibliothèque.


Related Stories