This manuscript comprises the order of piyyutim (liturgical hymns) to be included into the liturgy on certain holidays, fast days and special Sabbaths according to the rite of the Jews of Avignon. Piyyutim are lyrical compositions designed to embellish the obligatory prayers in a liturgical service. In ancient times, the piyyutim frequently replaced set versions of prayer and served as substitutes. This ensured variety within the obligatory prayers, mainly on Sabbaths and festivals. In a later period, when the prayers became fixed, sections of piyyut were interspersed in certain places within the set pattern of the prayers. Naturally, most of the very extensive piyyut literature is devoted to the adornment of the major holy days. However, liturgical compositions were also produced in great abundance for regular Sabbaths, and for simple fast days. Representing the only French communities not expelled in 1305, the liturgical rites of the Jews of the Papal states are the sole remaining examples of the authentic Provençal traditions.
The poets whose works are included here cover a broad geographic and temporal swath: Isaac ben Judah Ghiyyat (11th century Italy), Judah ha-Levi (11/12th century Spain), Judah ben Samuel (12/13th century Germany), and Isaac ha-Levi, (13th century Orient). However, the lengthiest single piyyut in this manuscript is a poem indigenous to the rite of Avignon, penned by Israel ben Joseph Kaslari. A physician and poet who lived at Avignon in 1327, Kaslari was the author of a liturgical poem for Purim in 240 stanzas, called Mi Khamokha ve-Ein Khamokha (Who is like You; there is none like You). The final 20 stanzas each begin with a single word, which has been rendered in large square script. When read together they form an elaborate acrostic whose final phrase reprises the name of the piyyut:
This was done by the physician called Israel ben Joseph Kaslari of the sons of Yizhar who dwells in the city of Avignon may The Rock protect us, amen, be strong. The God of the salvation of Israel, who is like You; none is like You. Who resembles You; none resemble You.
L. Zunz, "Ritus der Synagogue von Avignon," Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, vol.2- 4, 1838-1842; Ruth Langer, To Worship God Properly: Tensions Between Liturgical Custom and Halakhah in Judaism, 2005.
Provenance: Collection of Chimen Abramsky.
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