Lot 171
  • 171

An Exceptional Copy of the Sefer Minhagim of Rabbi Samuel of Ulm, Accompanied by Numerous Other Historical, Rabbinic, and Literary Texts, [Italy: second half of the 15th century]

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  • paper, ink, leather
  • 10 1/8 x 7 1/2 in.
  • 256 x 189 mm.

Catalogue Note

The present lot is an elegantly decorated collection of important Hebrew works copied by two Ashkenazic scribes, [Jacob] ben Seligman Coburg and Isaac ben Mordecai ha-Levi, in fifteenth-century Northern Italy. The first part of the codex contains the earliest-dated (1453) exemplar of the Sefer minhagim (Book of Customs) attributed to Rabbi Samuel of Ulm, which has never been published in full. The latter half includes the only extant copy of the Hebrew First Crusade chronicle attributed to Solomon ben Samson, published for the first time from this manuscript in 1892. Adding to the volume’s prestige, one of its illustrious owners was Solomon Hirschel (1762-1842), the first formally recognized chief rabbi of Britain.

Manuscripts like this one are of immense value to scholars of medieval Hebrew literature due to their wide-ranging, eclectic contents. This codex in particular contains several works that have no parallels among the corpus of surviving Hebrew manuscripts, and a number of the texts here remain unpublished. Following is a detailed description of the volume’s contents:

Treatise 1:

f. 1r-v: a listing of twenty-four of the manuscript’s constituent parts, as well as numerous pen trials, some of them probably by the original scribe, including a few two-line poems, the letters of the Hebrew alphabet written backward, other quotations, the at bash cipher, and the ik bekher cipher used in a manner akin to that of the Freemason’s cipher to spell out the names Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses.

ff. 2r-43r: a compendium of Western German customs for the entire Jewish liturgical year, beginning in Nisan and ending in Adar, in one hundred forty-three chapters (ff. 2r-41v), followed by a table of contents (ff. 42r-43r). The copyist writes in his colophon that the work was originally compiled by his teacher Rabbi Samuel [of Ulm] in 1449, based on the rulings of four known German scholars (f. 39v). The customs recorded here are close in content to those of Rabbi Zalman of St. Goar’s Sefer maharil, a catalog of the practices of the famous leader of Ashkenazic Jewry Rabbi Jacob ben Moses Moellin (ca. 1360-1427), although apparently adapted somewhat for the Ashkenazic Jews living in Northern Italy (e.g., a few of the technical terms are translated not only into Yiddish but into the Lombard language as well). The book is essentially the Western Ashkenazic equivalent of the famous Eastern Ashkenazic Sefer minhagim (Book of Customs) of Rabbi Isaac of Tyrnau (d. ca. 1425), whose goal it was to lay out in simple, user-friendly language all of the detailed liturgical information a Jew would need to practice the daily, Sabbath, and festival rituals.

The text exists in approximately twenty recensions, most of them copied by Ashkenazim living in Italy. The present manuscript appears to be the earliest surviving exemplar, having been produced only a few years after the book was itself composed and having been copied by a student of the author. The work has never been published in its entirety; instead, selections from its discussions of the customs for the period between Hanukkah and 9 Av were incorporated into a customal anthology, entitled Hadrat kodesh, accompanying the first part of a two-volume, folio-sized Ashkenazic mahzor printed in Venice in 1599-1600 by the cantor Isaac ben Jacob Yozvel Segal of Herrlisheim. While this mahzor was reprinted six times in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the original, full-length composition of Rabbi Samuel of Ulm awaits editing and publication.

f. 43r: colophon.

ff. 43v-51r: Sefer hayyei olam (Book of Eternal Life), an anonymous ethical treatise with a significant degree of affinity to the writings of the Hasidei Ashkenaz. It has been noted that although the work is attributed to the renowned Sephardic talmudist and ethicist Rabbi Jonah Gerondi (ca. 1200-1263) in a few manuscripts and in all the printed editions beginning with the editio princeps (Leiria, ca. 1490), the vast majority of the approximately fifty surviving handwritten copies of the text have no authorship ascription whatsoever, and derive from Germany or France, not Spain. It has therefore been theorized that the book was actually composed anonymously at the end of the twelfth or beginning of the thirteenth centuries in Ashkenaz under the title Sefer hayyei olam (not Sefer ha-yir’ah, as it would come to be known on account of the printed editions). In the present copy, the body of the work (ff. 44r-51r) is preceded by a table of contents (ff. 43v-44r).

f. 51r: colophon.

ff. 51r-54r: Shehitot u-bedikot of Jacob Weil (d. before 1456), an important German rabbi who composed this work on the laws of ritual slaughter and inspection of the butchered animal’s internal organs as a kind of quick-reference guide for kosher slaughterers that generally decides the law without entering into complicated Talmudic deliberations. The tract achieved great popularity among Ashkenazim, many of whose leading lights accepted its rulings as binding, and has gone through more than seventy editions since the editio princeps (Venice, 1549), some with the commentary of subsequent halakhic authorities.

f. 54r: an unpublished two-line rhymed poem attributed to Weil’s teacher, the aforementioned Rabbi Jacob Moellin, beginning Ha-musar sar ve-ha-asham sam ve-gavar.

ff. 54r-61r: Tsavva’at ha-tahkemoni (The Testament of Tahkemoni), better known as Minhat yehudah sone ha-nashim (The Gift of Judah the Misogynist), a long rhymed prose narrative in the Andalusian mode by the Spanish Hebrew poet Judah ben Isaac ibn Shabbetai (b. ca. 1188). The story tells of a young man, Zerah, who takes a vow of celibacy at his father’s behest but is seduced and tricked into marrying an intolerable wife, whom he then seeks to divorce. Judah uses this fable as a means of articulating the primary medieval arguments against (rash) marriage. 

Minhat yehudah was quite popular in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, even prompting the composition of rejoinders, and has survived in a large number of manuscripts. The work was first printed in Constantinople ca. 1543 and then again in 1854 by Eliezer Ashkenazi in his Ta‘am zekenim based on the editio princeps and the present manuscript. In recent years, a critical edition of the text that uses this copy of the work for variant readings has also appeared.

f. 61v: Ka‘arat kesef (The Silver Plate), an educational, ethical, and religious poem by the Provencal Rabbi Jehoseph Ezobi (latter half of the thirteenth century), written originally on the occasion of his son Samuel’s wedding. The work, composed in Perpignan, takes its name from its one hundred thirty verses, corresponding to the one hundred thirty shekels each of the silver plates offered by the Israelite princes on the day of the inauguration of the Tabernacle weighed (Num. 7:13ff.). The father exhorts his son to follow the ways of the Torah, not to be misled by Greek philosophy, to learn grammar and poetics, to study the Talmud with its commentators, and not to favor the wealthy over the poor. The poem enjoyed great popularity for several centuries, both in manuscript and in print (editio princeps: Fano, 1504), and has been translated into numerous languages, including Latin, French, Catalan, and English translation.

f. 62r: in our copy, the poem is followed by additional verses written by Rabbi Jehoseph, beginning Nefesh keneh musar, which do not appear in all manuscripts or printed editions of Ka‘arat kesef; as well as his son Samuel’s poetic response, apparently unknown from other sources and published from this manuscript.

f. 62v: owners’ marks in Latin characters that were subsequently crossed out.

f. 63r: blank.

f. 63v: comments on Rashi’s explanation of Gen. 23:15, s.v. beini u-beinkha mah hi, as well as pen trials.

Treatise 2:

ff. 64r-70r: an excerpt from Midrash aseret ha-dibberot, one of the first medieval Hebrew-language collections of moralistic stories, associated by the compiler(s) with each one of the Ten Commandments and meant to inspire in their readers extra-halakhic piety. As opposed to true rabbinic Midrash, the focus here is on the exempla (some of which derive from the Talmud and other ancient Jewish sources, others from international folktales), rather than the exegesis of the biblical verses. The work survives (at least partially) in about thirty manuscripts and many printed editions (editio princeps: Ferrara, 1554). The present version includes stories relating to the first four Commandments.

ff. 70r-73v: an anonymous anthology of halakhot related to the four species and the sukkah (booth) of Sukkot, the Shema, prayer, the public reading of the Torah, the Sabbath, tefillin (phylacteries), tsitsit (ritual fringes), Purim, the cup of wine which accompanies various blessings, when to recite the blessing of ha-tov ve-ha-metiv, and proper behavior during a meal. Much of the material is quoted in the name of Rabbi Eleazar ben Judah of Worms (ca. 1165-ca. 1230), but other sources and authorities, including Rabbis Moses Maimonides’ (1138-1204) Sefer ha-mitsvot, Rabbi Amram Gaon (d. ca. 875), Rabbi Judah he-Hasid (ca. 1150-1217), Rabbi Joseph Karhi, Rabbi Judah ben Barzillai al-Bargeloni’s (late eleventh-early twelfth centuries) Sefer ha-ittim, various ge’onim, and midrashic passages, are also cited. It should also be noted that this anthology preserves one of the rare surviving teachings of Rabbi Baruch of Mainz (f. 73r).

f. 73v: a list of the nine a fortiori arguments made in the Hebrew Bible, followed by an explanation of the three steps back one takes during prayer; an elucidation of the practice of giving three half-coins to charity before Purim; and a catalog of eight activities after which a person must wash his hands.

ff. 73v-75r: Maimonides’ Hilkhot de‘ot (Laws Concerning Character Traits), ch. 4, which discusses eating and hygienic habits that promote physical health.

f. 75r-v: rabbinic statements about proper procedures for bloodletting, including when one should and should not let blood, as well as advice for how to recover afterward; followed by liturgies to be recited when one uses the restroom, when one travels through a forest, and when one arrives late to synagogue.

ff. 75v-76r: an abridged version of Alfa beita de-rabbi akiva, also known as Otiyyot de-rabbi akiva, containing homiletical discussions of the reasons for the shapes of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This tract, probably composed in late antiquity after the compilation of Sefer yetsirah (The Book of Creation), was first printed in Venice in 1546. On f. 76r, a text entitled Alfa beita ha-gedolim treats the reasons some letters in the Bible are written extra large. The custom of writing certain letters in this manner appears to have been current already in Talmudic times but also seems to have evolved over time.

f. 76r-v: a list of thirteen character traits that a person should cultivate as part of his religious persona.

ff. 76v-78v: Midrash petirat mosheh, a medieval homiletical expansion on the story of Moses’ death. While narratives like this one had begun to appear already in Hellenistic times in the writings of Philo and Josephus and later in midrashim like Devarim rabbah 11:10 and Midrash tanhuma to Parashat va-ethanan 6, the present work constitutes the fullest development of the drama and tragedy surrounding Moses’ refusal to submit to death. The text, which exists in numerous versions in about nineteen non-Genizah fragment manuscripts and was first printed in Constantinople in 1517, achieved great popularity from the thirteenth century onward and was even translated into Yiddish (Frankfurt an der Oder, 1693 and Vilna, 1808). With time, a custom emerged in certain eastern communities to study the midrash (sometimes called Sefer neshikot mosheh [The Book of Moses’ Kisses]) on Simhat Torah, the holiday on which the biblical account of Moses’ death is read publicly from the Torah.

f. 78v: a short extract from letters yod and kaf of Alfa beita de-ben sira, a satirical and, at times, heretical and anarchistic narrative in three or four parts, probably written in the geonic period in the East. The section included here comes from the last part, a selection of twenty-two alphabetically-arranged Aramaic epigrams pseudepigraphically attributed to the famous Ben Sira (fl. second century BCE) and then interpreted by his son Uzziel and his grandson Joseph, sometimes via an illustrative story. Alfa beita de-ben sira was also immensely popular and survives in more than one hundred manuscripts, about fifty editions (editio princeps: Constantinople, 1519), and over thirty translations into Persian, Latin, and Yiddish.

ff. 78v-79r: the last part of Midrash eikhah zuta (Small Midrash on Lamentations), a story about the recision of an ancient decree against the observance of circumcision, the Sabbath, and the menstrual laws.

f. 79r-v: an old aggadah on the birth and secret circumcision of Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi, as well as the origins of his friendship with the Roman official Antoninus. The text appears in a number of manuscripts, including several of Midrash aseret ha-dibberot (see above). It was also published in Rabbi Isaac Aboab I’s (end of the fourteenth century) Sefer menorat ha-ma’or (Venice, 1504), 38v-39r, and a number of times thereafter.

ff. 79v-80r: a collection of rabbinic statements deriving from yBerakhot 26b, bArakhin 15b, Midrash tehillim to Ps. 12, Rashi to Deut. 12:20, Be-reshit rabbah 34:14, and SifreiDevarim 357:10; as well as two unique teachings from the copyist’s rabbis, a commentary on bBava metsi‘a 52a, and a playful acronym about the unfaithfulness of women, non-Jews, and slaves.

ff. 80r-81v: an apparently unique hagiography of Maimonides, published from this manuscript. The narrative tells of Maimonides’ father having a dream that instructed him to marry the daughter of a butcher in Fez, who bore him his son Moses, and how the boy impressed everyone he encountered, including the local rabbis and even the king of Fez.

ff. 81v-90r: Ruah hen (Spirit of Grace), an anonymous introduction to the sciences and philosophy in the spirit of Averroes, Avicenna, and the Neoplatonists, composed in eleven chapters in Southern France or Italy sometime between 1210 and 1272. The work survives in over eighty manuscripts and many printed editions (editio princeps: Venice, 1544). Various sources have attributed the book to authors ranging from Rabbi Judah ibn Tibbon (ca. 1120-1190) to his son Rabbi Samuel (ca. 1165-1212; as in our manuscript) to his son Rabbi Moses (fl. 1244-1283) to Jacob Anatoli (thirteenth century), Zerahiah ha-Levi Anatoli, and Jacob of Marseilles.

f. 90r: the introductory poem to Maimonides’ commentary on the Mishnah in the Hebrew translation (from the original Judeo-Arabic) of Rabbi Judah al-Harizi (1165-1225). Al-Harizi, an itinerant Sephardic poet, translated this section, as well as the commentary to the first five tractates of the Order of Zera‘im, on behalf of Jonathan ha-Kohen in Lunel.

ff. 90r-91v: rabbinic teachings deriving from bBava batra 147a-b and Sifra to Lev. 25:35; followed by comments of a grammatical nature on three different passages from the liturgy and two short halakhic questions about how priests can go to funerals if the Temple might be built at any time and how anyone can convert to Judaism nowadays, when the requisite sacrifices cannot be offered.

ff. 91v-92r: negative commandments 287, 290, 132, and 135 from Maimonides’ Sefer ha-mitsvot (Book of the Commandments).

f. 92r-v: a short homily on Lev. 19:17 about the importance of giving one’s friend rebuke.

f. 92v: the introductory poem to Rabbi Solomon ibn Gabirol’s (ca. 1021-ca. 1057) Kitāb iṣlāḥ al-akhlāq, an ethical work that was translated into Hebrew by Rabbi Judah ibn Tibbon under the title Tikkun middot ha-nefesh (The Improvement of the Moral Qualities; editio princeps: Constantinople, 1550) in 1167. The poem begins Azov hidot yeshanot va-hadashot.

f. 92v: the introductory poem to Rabbi Meir Abulafia’s (ca. 1170-1244) Kitāb al-rasā’il (Paris, 1871), a collection of letters relating to the philosophical controversies over Maimonides’ thought in which Abulafia, an important Spanish Talmudist and poet, was involved. The poem begins Kol yoshevei tevel ve-shokhenei arets.

ff. 92v-93v: rabbinic teachings deriving from Sifra to Lev. 25:35 (again), mPe’ah 8:8-9, and a version of Va-yikra rabbah 34:8; followed by a short homily on Jer. 9:22.

ff. 93v-94v: an extract from Shir ha-shirim rabbah 2:5:3, which describes the reinstitution of the Sanhedrin and of the position of nasi (prince) in Usha (here spelled Hushah) at the close of the period of persecution following the Bar Kokhba revolt. This “Synod of Usha” was an important convention of scholars whose activities contributed significantly to the efforts to compile and codify the Mishnah. 

ff. 94v-95v: quotations from Sifrei to Deut. 23:8 and Be-reshit rabbah 27:1; followed by a short, unpublished reflection on the beginnings of philosophy and a homily on Lev. 25:14, 17.

ff. 95v-102r: an anonymous, unpublished, and apparently unique treatise on ethics and Jewish thought in nine she‘arim (gates), several of which begin with a verse from the Book of Proverbs and then cite various midrashic statements as expansions on the theme. Topics covered include the importance of humility, human dignity, generosity, benevolence, peacemaking and peace maintenance, honesty in interpersonal relations, contentment with one’s lot in life, the mercy of God and the cruelty of anti-Semites, and the purpose of suffering in this world.

ff. 102r-106r: three letters by Rabbi Hillel ben Samuel (ca. 1220-ca. 1295), an Italian physician, philosopher, translator from Latin, and Talmudic scholar whose grandfather Rabbi Eliezer ben Samuel had been av beit din in Verona. During his time living in Rome, Hillel became friendly with Isaac ha-Rofe (Maestro Gaio), who later served as Pope Nicholas IV’s (1227-1292) physician. These three letters, addressed to Isaac and preserved uniquely in this manuscript (from which they were published), touch on issues surrounding the Maimonidean Controversy of 1289-1290 and include a request that Isaac commission for Hillel a copy of Maimonides’ translated comments on Hippocrates and Galen. 

ff. 106r-116v: Sefer ha-kabbalah (The Book of Tradition), a historical treatise by one of the earliest of the medieval Jewish chroniclers, Rabbi Abraham ben David ha-Levi ibn Daud (ca. 1110-1180). By tracing the history of the transmission of the Torah from Moses to the rabbis of twelfth-century Toledo, where he lived, the author sought to polemicize against Karaite teaching about the nature of Jewish tradition. The work, which constitutes the initial section of Ibn Daud’s Dorot olam (Generations of the Ages) and was first printed in Mantua in 1514, exerted enormous influence on subsequent generations of scholars and survives in a large number of manuscripts. The present recension of the text is part of a group of manuscripts containing a somewhat modified and corrected version of Ibn Daud’s original work.

ff. 116v-118r: Sefer kabbalah aher be-kotser, an anonymously compiled, abridged version of Ibn Daud’s Sefer ha-kabbalah. Much of this material would eventually make its way, in slightly modified form, into Israeli’s Yesod olam (see below).

ff. 118r-119r: the last passages of Isaac ben Joseph Israeli’s (first half of the fourteenth century) Yesod olam (The Foundations of the World), part 4, ch. 18. Israeli was an astronomer and scientist, and when Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel (ca. 1250-1327) immigrated from Germany to Toledo in 1305, he asked Israeli to teach him the intricacies of the Jewish calendar. Israeli later composed Yesod olam as a summary of the topics the two had studied together, to whose fourth part he appended a chapter (ch. 18) on human and Jewish history that drew mainly on Ibn Daud’s work but included events that had transpired since the latter’s passing. Israeli apparently published three separate editions of this chapter, the present manuscript reflecting the latest, most expansive version.

f. 119r: a short postscript about the deaths of Rabbis Abraham ibn Ezra (1089-1167), Maimonides, and Joseph ben Shoshan, published from this manuscript by Adolf Neubauer in 1885-1886. Interestingly, MS Jerusalem, Israel Museum 180/051 includes this same postscript appended to Israeli’s Yesod olam, but there, the note is signed by Solomon ben Hayyun (f. 191r). In the present copy, by contrast, it features the name of the copyist of this section of the codex, Isaac bar Mordecai ha-Levi. 

ff. 119r-121r: Ma’amar al ha-middot ve-ha-mishkalot, a treatise in six chapters by philosopher and poet Rabbi Joseph ben Judah ibn Aknin (ca. 1150-1220) that attempts to provide contemporary equivalents for weights and measures mentioned in the Bible and Talmud. The work was translated anonymously from the original Judeo-Arabic and was sometimes copied by scribes following Ibn Aknin’s Mevo ha-talmud (Introduction to the Talmud), which is why it appears in the present manuscript with the title Ma’amar gam lo z[ikhrono] l[i-berakhah] (Another Essay by Him, of Blessed Memory). This text, which has been preserved in only about four other Hebrew manuscripts and two Arabic ones, was first published by Joseph Kobak in 1872.

ff. 121r-140r: the last three parts of Rabbi Abraham ben David ha-Levi ibn Daud’s Dorot olam: Divrei malkhei yisra’el be-bayit sheni (The History of the Kings of Israel during the Second Temple Period; ff. 121r-138v), the Midrash on Zechariah (ff. 138v-139r), and the beginning of Zikhron divrei romi (The Chronicle of Rome; ff. 139r-140r). The first of these polemicized against the ancient Sadducees (and, by extension, their modern-day counterparts, the Karaites) by demonstrating that the biblical prophecies of redemption had not yet been realized. Lest one suggest that the restoration of Jewish self-government under the Persians and later under the Maccabees in the Second Temple period constituted a fulfillment of those prophecies, the second tract interpreted Zech. 1:4-17 as foretelling these events, leaving open the possibility that the full salvation had not yet arrived. The final part polemicizes against Christianity by claiming that the New Testament was only composed three centuries after the events it describes and therefore cannot bear much resemblance to Jesus’ original teachings. Among the eleven copies of these texts that have survived, the present one is one of the two most complete.

f. 140v: some (silly) rhymes and poems that draw on biblical and rabbinic expressions, including quotations of mNiddah 1:1, 1:2 and bNiddah 3b.

f. 141r: Megillat ta‘anit batra, an anonymous list of fast days commemorating terrible tragedies that befell the Jewish people from biblical times through the period following the destruction of the Second Temple. The work’s origins appear to lie in antique Palestine, and it was later incorporated into the geonic Halakhot gedolot. From the evidence we have, it would seem that these fasts were probably never widely observed; indeed, later on, many rabbis would point out the halakhically problematic nature of some of them. Still, the list achieved wide circulation, especially after it was included in Rabbi Jacob ben Asher’s (1269-1343) Arba‘ah turimOrah hayyim, sec. 580, and then in the corresponding section of Rabbi Joseph Caro’s (1488-1575) Shulhan arukh. It also found its way into some manuscripts and all printed editions of Megillat ta‘anit (editio princeps: Mantua, 1513), an unrelated, and earlier, Aramaic-language list of days on which fasting is prohibited, due to the happy occasions they mark. 

f. 141r: a selection of rabbinic quotations culled from bBerakhot 32b and bTa‘anit 16a; followed by a discussion of the proper procedure for cutting one’s nails based on Rabbi Aaron ben Jacob ha-Kohen of Lunel’s (end of the thirteenth-beginning of the fourteenth centuries) Orehot hayyim, Hilkhot berakhot, sec. 67.

f. 141r-v: Perek gan eden, a post-Talmudic account of life in the hereafter for the righteous who merit to enter the Garden of Eden. The work exists in numerous manuscripts; has been printed under various names, including Seder olam ha-ba and Ma‘aseh gan eden; and sometimes appears as chapter one of a larger Massekhet gan eden. A version of this treatise was first published as part of Yalkut shim‘oni to Genesis, at the end of sec. 20 (editio princeps: Salonica, 1521-1526).

f. 141v-144r: Milhamot melekh ha-mashiah (The Wars of the Messiah-King), also known as Otot ha-mashiah (The Signs of the Messiah), a treatise on Jewish eschatology. During the late antique/early medieval period, apocalyptic literature describing the events leading to the advent of the messiah began to flourish. Milhamot melekh ha-mashiah, which lists ten stages in the redemptive process – including a battle with Armilus, ruler of Rome, who is explicitly identified with the Antichrist – was one of the most important of these works. It was first printed in Constantinople in 1519 and has survived in numerous manuscripts, though the present copy includes a prologue and epilogue not found in all of the printed editions (see, however, the first section of the Augsburg 1540 edition of Sefer avkat rokhel).

f. 144r: three stories about the famous sage Rabbi Akiva, the last of which tells of his meeting with a zombie who taught him the power of a child reciting Barekhu and Yehe shemeih rabba as a merit for his late parents. A similar version of this latter story appears in at least one manuscript of Midrash aseret ha-dibberot, namely MS Moscow, Russian State Library, Guenzburg 111.

f. 144v: the beginning of Yalkut shim‘oni to Jeremiah 9, sec. 285, with an expansion on the section discussing Solomon’s demotion from kingship at the hands of the demon Asmodeus, as told in Midrash al yithallel.

ff. 144v-145r: a version of the story about an extremely generous man named Ben Savar who was saved from death by the sage Shefifon. This tale, too, appears in two other manuscripts of Midrash aseret ha-dibberot: MSS Moscow, Russian State Library, Guenzburg 111 and Zurich, Zentralbibliothek Heid. 192.

f. 145r-v: a version of the story about the High Priest Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha’s conception and ascent to greatness, including his journey to the Heavens and what he saw therein.

ff. 145v-146v: Ma‘aseh be-r. yehoshua, a short composition reporting on the sights Rabbi Joshua ben Levi saw in the course of his journeys to the Garden of Eden and Gehenna. In some manuscripts, this work is incorporated into the aforementioned Massekhet gan eden.

ff. 146v-147r: Massekhet gehinnom, a post-Talmudic account of life in the hereafter for the wicked upon whom suffering in Gehenna has been decreed. The work exists in numerous manuscripts and was first published as part of Rabbi Elijah ben Moses de Vidas’ (sixteenth century) Reshit hokhmah, Sha‘ar ha-yir’ah, ch. 13 (editio princeps: Venice, 1579). The last part discusses the punishment of hibbut ha-kever (harrowing of the grave) visited upon the deceased before they stand in judgment.

ff. 147v-149v: Massekhet derekh erets zuta, one of the minor tractates of the Talmud, which provides guidelines for moral behavior and encourages the cultivation of character traits like temperance, resignation, gentleness, modesty, patience, respect for age, and an attitude of forgiveness. Scholars have long debated how to date this work, with hypotheses ranging from the early third century to the latter half of the eighth century. Examination of the manuscript tradition reveals that the current form of the text, as it is usually printed at the end of the Talmudic tractates of Nezikin (Torts), consists of what were actually originally three smaller, independent units: Massekhet yir’at het (comprising chs. 1-4 and 9 of contemporary editions), Derekh erets ze‘ira (comprising chs. 5-8), and what is now referred to as ch. 10. The popular nature of the material probably accounts, at least in part, for the chaotic state of these recensions. The present copy contains the chapters of Massekhet yir’at het and Derekh erets ze‘ira, i.e., chs. 1-9 of today’s printed editions.

ff. 149v-151r: Massekhet kallah, one of the minor tractates of the Talmud, which discusses the topics of betrothal, marriage, modesty, and moral purity both in thought and action. This work, like its predecessor, is usually printed at the end of the Talmudic tractates of Nezikin, and the date of its composition is also the subject of considerable scholarly debate. While it is generally ascribed to Rabbi Yehudai Gaon (eighth century), some believe that the core of the treatise was likely written by a disciple of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, who is mentioned both in the halakhic and aggadic sections of the text, and that a later compiler added material from the Babylonian Talmud and other sources.

ff. 151r-163r: a collection of narratives recounting the persecutions visited upon Ashkenazic Jewry in the late eleventh through twelfth centuries. This composite work may be divided as follows: ff. 151r-161v constitute the so-called Solomon bar Samson Chronicle concerned with the events of the First Crusade in 1096; ff. 161v-163r comprise an account, known as the Orleans Narrative, and letters written in the aftermath of the ritual murder accusation in Blois in 1171; and f. 163r includes some final remarks on the Jewish community of Speyer.

The Solomon bar Samson Chronicle, named for the author noted at the end of one of its component parts (f. 158r), is a literary pastiche of various sources, including the earlier narrative of the anti-Jewish riots in Speyer, Worms, and Mainz known as the Mainz Anonymous, as well as shorter chronicles of persecutions that took place in Cologne, Trier, Metz, and Regensburg. The Chronicle as a whole was likely compiled by a single editor sometime between 1140 and 1148-1149, in the shadow of the Second Crusade, in order to provide a sweeping sense of the earlier tragedy. Among the three Hebrew First Crusade Chronicles that have come down to us, the present one is by far the longest and most detailed. Throughout the text as it has been preserved in the present manuscript, a number of derogatory references to Jesus and other anti-Christian formulations were expurgated (though some of the words were subsequently restored).

The next unit contains materials, including the so-called Orleans Narrative and various letters, related to the ritual murder accusation in Blois in 1171 and the massacre of over thirty Jews on the orders of Count Theobald V of Champagne that followed. These letters are some of the most important sources we have for the history of this tragic episode given their level of detail and relatively early date of composition.

Both the Solomon bar Samson Chronicle and the Blois accounts were first published in 1892 by Adolf Neubauer and Moritz Stern based on the present unique manuscript; no other copies of these texts have survived. They were subsequently reprinted and popularized by A.M. Habermann in 1946 and have been translated into English a number of times.

ff. 163v-181v: Mishlei shu‘alim, fox fables by Rabbi Berechiah ben Natronai ha-Nakdan (twelfth-thirteenth centuries), an important Norman fabulist, translator, grammarian, and punctuator of Hebrew texts. Many of the contents of the work derive from non-Jewish sources, especially Marie de France’s (fl. 1150-1215) famous French collection of Aesopian fables, but also from oral traditions and stories found in midrashic literature. The language is almost entirely Biblical Hebrew interspersed with Talmudic quotations, biblical puns, and plays on words. The number of fables included in the various manuscripts and printings varies widely; the present copy contains eighty-six. The book achieved great popularity among both Jews and non-Jews, partially influencing subsequent medieval bestiaries and going through numerous editions in Hebrew, Latin, Yiddish, and English. While no critical edition exists, A.M. Habermann produced a corrected version of the editio princeps (Mantua, 1557-1559) in 1946 by comparing its text with that of four manuscripts.

ff. 181v-183r: Rabbi Judah Halevi’s (ca. 1070-1141) Mi ka-mokha ve-ein ka-mokha, a lengthy poetic paraphrase of the Purim story in four parts, which is traditionally recited in many communities on Shabbat zakhor, the Sabbath before the holiday. The first three sections epitomize the Book of Esther, citing biblical verses and Talmudic traditions, while the final stanzas treat the rituals associated with the holiday, as well as the narrative surrounding the Song of the Sea (Ex. 15). The present version of the text does not include the stanza beginning Degalim averu ba-yabbashah, often printed at the end of the poem.

ff. 183r-187v: Divrei ha-yamim de-mosheh rabbeinu a[lav] h[a-shalom], an anonymous biography of Moses probably composed in the tenth or eleventh centuries in Southern Europe based on rabbinic traditions about the life and death of the most important prophet in the Jewish tradition. The legends contained in this work achieved great popularity in the Middle Ages and were adapted by numerous authors, including the anonymous compiler ofSefer ha-yashar (The Book of Righteousness). The text, a critical edition of which remains a scholarly desideratum, was first published in Constantinople in 1516.

One final point of particular interest for Hebrew manuscript enthusiasts is the significant degree of overlap between the contents of the present volume and the famous Rothschild Miscellany (MS Jerusalem, Israel Museum 180/051) mentioned above. Both works include the Sefer minhagim of Rabbi Samuel of Ulm, Sefer hayyei olam, Tsavva’at ha-tahkemoni, Sefer ha-kabbalah, as well as several shorter texts (Ka‘arat kesef, Perek keitsad din ha-kever, Alfa beita de-ben sira, Ma’amar al ha-middot ve-ha-mishkalot, Divrei ha-yamim de-mosheh rabbeinu a[lav] h[a-shalom]), prompting some scholars to argue that the scribes of these manuscripts were either working off of one another or shared a common source from which they both copied. This volume is thus significant not only on account of its constituent parts – some of which, as already noted, have no parallels elsewhere in the surviving corpus of Hebrew manuscripts and/or have yet to be published – but also for what it can tell us about other important Hebrew codices.

Physical Description

187 folios (10 1/8 x 7 1/2 in.; 256 x 189 mm) on equalized parchment; modern foliation in pencil in Arabic numerals in upper-outer corner of recto; plummet ruling applied to rectos and versos of the unfolded sheet; pricking in outer margins only; table of contents of entire volume listing twenty-four separate works on f. 1v. Two separate treatises bound together: I. ff. 1-63 (collation: i-viii8 [viii7 removed]), written in elegant Ashkenazic Gothic square (titles and incipits) and semi-cursive (text body) scripts in brown ink with titles, incipits, highlights, and decorative flourishes in red ink, copied by [Jacob] ben Seligman Coburg; single-column text of thirty-two lines; minimal vocalization in a later hand (ff. 4r, 51r, 53r); decorated catchwords at the ends of quires, often cropped (though see ff. 24v, 56v); decorated section numeration in Hebrew characters in outer margins; marginalia and strikethroughs in hand of primary scribe throughout, with some later additions in a different hand; small-font glosses sometimes inset in text body (see esp. ff. 21v-22r). Enlarged incipits; frequent ornamental flourishes; justification of lines via use of anticipatory letters and abbreviations; repeating pen trials and ciphers on f. 1; large initial on f. 2r; headers on ff. 2v-4r; calendaric charts on ff. 38r-40v; decorated initial word panels on ff. 44r, 51r, 53r; ff. 61v-62r written in micrography by a different scribe; Latin-character owners’ marks on f. 62v. II. ff. 64-187 (collation: i-xv8, xvi4), written in neat Ashkenazic square (titles and incipits) and semi-cursive (text body) scripts in dark brown ink with titles, incipits, highlights, and decorative flourishes in red ink (sometimes alternating brown and red ink), copied by Isaac ben Mordecai ha-Levi; single-column text of thirty-two (ff. 64-71) or forty-one to forty-three (ff. 72-187) lines; minimal vocalization (see, e.g., ff. 71v, 91r, 159r-v, 162v-163r, 181v, 183v); decorated catchwords at the ends of quires, often cropped (though see ff. 159v, 167v, 175v); marginalia and strikethroughs in hand of primary scribe throughout (insertions and corrections often indicated by miniature manicules), with some later additions in a different hand. Enlarged incipits; frequent ornamental flourishes; justification of lines via dilatation of letters, horizontal pen strokes, ornamental space fillers, anticipatory letters, abbreviations, and “quotation marks”; decorated initial word panels on ff. 64r, 81v, 106r-v, 145v, 148r, 149v; header on f. 101v, slightly cropped; illustrations on ff. 79v, 106v, cropped. Slight scattered staining; some margins cropped, with periodic losses; natural holes in parchment episodically throughout (see esp. f. 49); minor dampstaining in upper margin and gutter of first treatise, frequently causing red ink to run somewhat; some pages in second treatise slightly cockled; small tears in outer margins of ff. 3, 98, in lower margins of ff. 7, 22-30, 56, 62, 142, and in upper margins of ff. 34, 63; text somewhat faded/chipped on ff. 51r, 53r, 54r, 59r, 73r, 78v, 82v, 84r, 93v, 95r-v, 102v, 106r, 120r, 122r, 124v, 129r-131r, 133r-134v, 186r; old silk repairs in lower margins of ff. 55, 57-58; strip of parchment cut from lower margin of f. 56; small holes in center of ff. 60-63, 80, 170, 185 affecting only individual letters; ff. 63v, 187v reinforced along gutter; ink smudged in center of f. 82v; paper repair to tear on f. 141 with some loss; evidence of censorship on ff. 152r-153r, 154r-155r, 156r-v, 158v-159r, 160r, 161v, 162r. Modern blind- and gilt-tooled morocco; gilt floral motifs, title, and shelf mark (in the library of the London Beth Din) on spine; spine in six compartments with raised bands; blue paste-patterned paper edges; modern paper flyleaves and pastedowns.


1. The first section of the first treatise was copied by the son of Seligman Coburg in Treviso, Italy, between 1 Iyyar 5213 (April 10, 1453) and 1 Sivan 5213 (May 9, 1453), as we learn from the colophon on f. 43r: “Blessed is the One Who gives the weary strength. These customs were established by the honorable, pleasant nobleman, my mentor and teacher, Rabbi Samuel, of blessed memory, based on [the teachings of] my father, my master, the crown of my head, our teacher Rabbi Seligman Coburg, may he live; and based on [the teachings of] our master, the halakhic authority, our teacher Rabbi Solomon Spira, of blessed memory; and based on [the teachings of] our teacher Rabbi Baruch, may he live; and based on [the teachings of] our teacher Rabbi Enshchen, may he live. I, the humble, lowly one, copied them here, in the city of Treviso, and I began writing Monday, 1 Iyyar [5]213, and finished, with the help of the Rock, may He be blessed, Wednesday, 1 Sivan [5]213.” The following section was completed by the same scribe about a month and a half later, as recorded on f. 51r: “Finished and completed, with the help of the God of the Universe, Tuesday, 12 Tammuz [5]213 [June 19, 1453] here, in the city of Treviso. These are the words of the scribe, may he live forever, amen.” We know that Coburg had a son named Jacob who immigrated from Germany to Italy, and so it seems probable that he was the copyist of the first treatise, almost all of which is written in the same hand. The last section, ff. 61v-62r, appears to have been written by a later scribe named Abraham, judging by the decoration of that name when it appears in the text at the end of f. 61v.

2. The second treatise was copied by Isaac ben Mordecai ha-Levi, most probably in close geographical and chronological proximity to the first, as can be learned from the colophon on f. 119r: “May the Eternal One, Whose existence shall never cease, be blessed and elevated. The word of Isaac ben Mordecai ha-Levi, may his days be long and good.” Isaac’s role as scribe is confirmed by numerous instances of the name Isaac in the text being written in red ink, sometimes accompanied by marginal manicules (see ff. 64r, 65r, 68v, 70r, 72v, 73v, 90r-v, 93v, 96v-97v, 101v, 104v, 106r, 110r, 111r, 112r-v, 114v-115r, 117a, 119r). Isaac copied at least two other texts that have come down to us – MSS Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 2421, and Oxford, Bodleian Library Mich. 78, ff. 143r-190r – the latter of which was completed in [5]227 (1467). Interestingly, the name Moses is also marked several times in the present treatise (see ff. 105r, 106v, 115r-v, 120v), and texts having to do with the biblical Moses and with Rabbi Moses Maimonides abound among its contents. Perhaps we can deduce that Isaac’s patron was named Moses?

3. The two parts of this codex appear to have come together relatively early on in their lives, given the significant degree of overlap between the texts represented here and those in the famous Rothschild Miscellany (MS Jerusalem, Israel Museum 180/051), which was also copied in Northern Italy sometime between 1454 and 1479.

4. At various points, our manuscript came into the possession of Jews named Asher ben Naphtali ha-Kohen (f. 1r), Moise Vitta Morescho (f. 62v), Isach Cleile? (f. 62v), and Efraim ebrei (f. 62v).

5. By the early nineteenth century, it had migrated into the collection of Solomon Hirschel (1762-1842), the first formally recognized chief rabbi of Britain, as noted by Zevi Hirsch Edelmann in 1856.

6. In 1845, three years after Hirschel had passed away, his collection of 148 manuscripts was purchased for about £300 and came to form the core of the library at the Ashkenazic Beth Din and Beth Hamidrash in London, referred to in Hebrew as Beit ha-Midrash di-K[ehillah] K[edoshah] Ashkenazim be-London and in English as Jews’ College, London (not to be confused with the institution of the same name founded as a rabbinical seminary in 1855). When Adolf Neubauer cataloged the Beth Din library in 1886, he assigned the present codex the shelf mark 28 (see f. 1r and spine).


Eliezer Ashkenazi (ed.), Ta‘am zekenim: kibbuts hibburim u-ketuvim ve-shirim be-inyanei ha-hokhmah ve-ha-emunah ve-ha-madda (Frankfurt am Main: I. Kauffmann, 1854), 1r-12v, 70v-73r.

Malachi Beit-Arié, “The Rothschild Miscellany – MS Jerusalem, Israel Museum 180/51: Northern Italy, ca 1454-1479,” The Makings of the Medieval Hebrew Book: Studies in Palaeography and Codicology (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1993), 181-215, at p. 198; see also p. 234.

Berechiah ben Natronai ha-Nakdan, Mishlei shu‘alim, ed. A.M. Habermann (Jerusalem; Tel Aviv: Schocken, 1946).

Robert Chazan, God, Humanity, and History: The Hebrew First Crusade Narratives (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000).

Gerson D. Cohen, A Critical Edition with a Translation and Notes of The Book of Tradition (Sefer ha-Qabbalah) by Abraham ibn Daud (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1967).

Joseph Dan, “Otiyyot de-r. akiva u-tefisat ha-lashon ha-hadashah,” Da‘at 55 (Winter 2005): 5-30.

Zevi Hirsch Edelmann (ed.), “Mikhtav a[l] d[evar] sifrei ha-rambam” and “Ketav she-shalah r. hillel le-maestro gaio,” Hemdah genuzah 1 (Königsberg: Gruber & Euphrat, 1856), 18r-22v.

Ofer Elior, Ruah hen yahalof al panai: yehudim, madda u-keriʼah 1210-1896 (Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi, 2016).

Shulamit Elizur, Lammah tsamnu? Megillat ta‘anit batra u-reshimot tsomot ha-kerovot lah (Jerusalem: The World Union for Jewish Studies, 2007), 50, 54, 237.

Judah Even Shemuel (Kaufmann), Midreshei ge’ullah: pirkei ha-apokalipsah ha-yehudit me-hatimat ha-talmud ha-bavli ve-ad reshit ha-elef ha-shishi (Tel Aviv: Mossad Bialik; Masadah, 1943), 294-300, 318-323.

I. Freedman, “The Silver Bowl,” Jewish Quarterly Review 8,3 (o.s.) (April 1896): 534-540.

Judah D. Galinsky, “Ha-rosh ha-ashkenazi bi-sefarad: ‘Tosafot ha-rosh’, ‘Piskei ha-rosh’, yeshivat ha-rosh,” Tarbiz 74,3 (2005): 389-421, at pp. 416-421 (appendix).

Michael Higger (ed.), Massekhtot ze‘irot (New York: Bloch, 1929), 7-8, 73-81.

Michael Higger (ed.), Massekhtot kallah (New York: “De-Bei Rabbanan,” 1936), 13, 36-37.

Matti Huss, “‘Minhat yehudah’, ‘Ezrat ha-nashim’, ve-‘Ein mishpat’ – mahadurot madda‘iyyot bi-leviyyat mavo, hillufei girsa’ot, mekorot u-peirushim” (Ph.D. diss., Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1991).

Tamar Kadari, “New Textual Witnesses to Midrash Song of Songs Rabbah,” Zutot 13 (2016): 41-54, at pp. 4-5. See also: http://www.schechter.ac.il/schechter/ShirHashirim/lon_28.pdf.

David Kaufmann, Letter to the Editor, Israelietische Letterbode 11 (1885-1886): 70-71.

Joseph Kobak (ed.), Sefer ginzei nistarot, vol. 3 (Bamberg: Joseph Kobak, 1872), 185-194. 

Rella Kushelevsky, Moses and the Angel of Death, trans. Ruth Bar-Ilan (New York: Peter Lang, 1995).

Abraham Marmorstein, “Doro shel r. yohanan ve-‘Otot ha-mashiah,’” Tarbiz 3 (1931-1932): 161-180.

Adolf Neubauer, “Pseudo-Biografie von Maimonides,” Israelietische Letterbode 7 (1881-1882): 14-17.

Adolf Neubauer, “Samuel Esobi’s Antwort auf seines Vaters Ka‘arat kesef,” Israelietische Letterbode 10 (1884-1885): 190.

Adolf Neubauer, “Joseph ben Elieser ha-Sefardi,” Israelietische Letterbode 11 (1885-1886): 72-80, at p. 79.

Adolf Neubauer, Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts in the Jews’ College, London (Oxford: Horace Hart, 1886), 9-12 (no. 28).

Adolf Neubauer and Moritz Stern, Hebräische Berichte über die Judenverfolgungen während der Kreuzzüge, trans. Seligmann Baer (Berlin: Leonhard Simion, 1892), 1-35.

Binyamin Richler, “Al kitvei ha-yad shel ‘Sefer ha-yir’ah’ ha-meyuhas le-rabbeinu yonah gerondi,” Alei sefer 8 (1980): 51-59.

Binyamin Richler, “Iggeret nosefet me-et hillel ben shemu’el el yitshak ha-rofe?” Kiryat sefer 62,1-2 (1988-1989): 450-452.

Isaac ben Jacob Yozvel Segal of Herrlisheim (ed.), Mahzor helek rishon ke-minhag k[ehillah] k[edoshah] ashkenazim yishmerem ha-e-l (Venice: Bragadin and Juan da Gara, 1599).

Anat Shapira, Midrash aseret ha-dibberot: tekst, mekorot u-peirush (Jerusalem: Mossad Bialik, 2005), 204-205, 224-225, 228-229.

Avigdor Shinan, “Divrei ha-yamim shel mosheh rabbenu: li-she’elat zemanno, mekorotav ve-tivo shel sippur ivri mi-yemei-ha-beinayim,” Ha-sifrut 24 (January 1977): 100-116.

Vered Tohar, Avraham be-kivshan ha-esh: mered be-olam pagani (Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2010), 54-55, 165-167.

Katja Vehlow, Abraham Ibn Daud’s Dorot ‘Olam (Generations of the Ages): A Critical Edition and Translation of Zikhron Divrey Romi, Divrey Malkhey Yisra’el, and the Midrash on Zechariah (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2013).

Eli Yassif, Sippurei ben sira bi-yemei ha-beinayim: mahadurah bikkortit u-pirkei mehkar (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1984).

Shalom Zerbib, Ha-piyyut Mi ka-mokha ve-ein ka-mokha me-et rabbi yehudah ha-levi, 2nd ed. (Jerusalem: Misrad ha-Hinnukh, 2001).

Eric Zimmer, “Sefer minhagim de-bei ha-maharil (sekirah rishonit),” Alei sefer 14 (1987): 59-87.