The Klau Library of Hebrew Union College has loaned three items to Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York’s Bernard Museum for their exhibition “Sephardic Journey From Spain Until the Present Day.” These items include Mahzor Sepharadim Le-Yamim Nora’im, Seder ha-Konteres, and a Dutch manuscript, all from the 18th century. Yoram Bitton, Director of HUC Libraries, explains:
HUC-JIR’s library holds one of the world’s great collections of Jewish liturgy in both manuscript as well as printed editions. The library has thousands of Siddurim (prayer books) and Mahzorim (liturgies for the annual cycle of holidays) from the incunabular period (c.1450-1501) to the present day. The three prayer books that are currently on display in the Bernard Museum at the Congregation Emanu-El are a small example of the rich and fantastic prayer books in our collection.
The prayer books are from the 18th century. Two are from Amsterdam and one is from France. Of the two prayer books from Amsterdam, one is a manuscript and the other is a printed book. The manuscript is a lovely Dutch translation of Hebrew prayer according to the Sephardic custom from the Netherlands. This rare Siddur is very neatly written and uses sophisticated language. The other item from Amsterdam in the exhibition is a miniature Mahzor (10 x 6 cm), that contains 360 pages. The Mahzor is for the High holidays. It is beautifully bound with a Moroccan binding.
In the 18th century, when these books were distributed, Amsterdam was a prosperous magnet for travelers and traders from all over the world. Jewish travelers in particular were attracted to Amsterdam, since it offered religious tolerance that was not widespread within Jewish life in that period. The small size of the Mahzor indicates that it was likely designed and produced for travelers.
The prayer book from France is Seder Ha-Konteres (the order of a pamphlet).The book, which was printed in 1765, is one of only five books that were printed in Avignon in the 18th and 19th centuries. This book was printed for the Jews in the South of France, including the Carpentras, Avignon, Cavaillon and Lisle communities. Jews in these communities were known as ‘Juifs du Pape’ the Pope’s Jews. This book is not a typical prayerbook for daily or holidays, but is a collection of benedictions and poetry for special occasions, like Hanukkah, Purim, Passover, wedding and more. Avignon Jewry had its own special rite of prayers and benedictions that appear in this book for the first time. Individual hymns are partially in Judeo-Provençal.
The library recently began to digitize the rare books of liturgy, which you can learn about here. You can also spend time viewing our beautiful illustrated liturgy manuscripts here.