A Nostalgic Filter: A University of Pittsburgh Exhibition

Worms Mahzor


Jerusalem, National Library of Israel, MS 4° 781

This Hebrew liturgical book was created by the scribe Simcha ben Yehuda and likely taken from its point of origin in Würzburg, Germany to Worms shortly thereafter when its owners sought safety from the horrific violence of the Rintfleisch massacre of 1298. Its modern history is likewise marked by close encounters with vicious antisemitism; during Kristallnacht in 1938 it was moved from the synagogue to the nearby cathedral of Worms by Friedrich Maria Illert, a local archivist hoping to save the medieval treasure from destruction. Illert succeeded; in 1957 the book entered the collection of the National Library of Jerusalem in Israel, where it remains to this day.

Ashkenazi Jews used the Mahzor (literally ‘cycle’) to celebrate the annual recurrence of the High Holy Days, including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The cyclical passage of time is also evident in the book’s representation of the Signs of the Zodiac and the Labors of the Months. The bird-headed figures in these medallions reflect a general reluctance to depict human figures in Jewish religious manuscripts during this period; they also lend a lighthearted atmosphere to the laborers that reap and sow the fields and figures like Virgo, depicted with an elegant crown.

To the best of our knowledge, this manuscript has yet to be fully digitized and made available online.  If you would like to bring an open-access digitization to our attention, please contact the UAG at Pitt.

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