Mahzor Vitry


Jews have used prayer books in the synagogue communal services since early medieval times. One of the most significant liturgical books is the Mahzor, from the consonantal Hebrew root hzr (hazor), meaning cycle or repeating. It incorporates the prayers for the major holidays, fasts and special Sabbaths of the Jewish year.

This mahzor is one of eleven extant manuscripts of the lost 11th-century CE original. The work has been attributed to the French rabbi and scholar Simhah ben Samuel of Vitry (c. 1070 – 1105 CE), who was a pupil of Solomon ben Isaac of Troyes, best known as Rashi (1040 – 1105 CE).  

Stored in various libraries around the globe, the surviving non-identical manuscripts date from around the 12th to the 14th century CE. Each includes prayers for the entire year and laws pertaining to the annual Jewish festivals and to life-cycle customs and traditions. The Mahzor Vitry specimens created from c. 1250 CE onwards, present richer contents where additional literary genres including calendrical, ethical, mystical and scientific supplement the liturgical-legal core. The inclusion of such a diversity of texts suggests that these mahzorim (plural form of mahzor) were meant for both prayer and study.

The British Library Mahzor Vitry was written c. 1242 CE. It consists of 451 folios bound into two exceptionally large parchment volumes. The anonymous scribe penned the text in square and semi-cursive Ashkenazic script (of French origin). This is a unique compendium holding not only prayers for the entire year according to the north French rite and a host of laws on everyday practices, but also many anonymous commentaries on these laws. Mahzor Vitry is acknowledged as the principal source of the lost northern French custom which disappeared when the medieval Jewish communities were banished from France in 1306 CE.

Images 1 (f.156v), 2 (f.45r) and 3 (f.37r) are from volume 1, Add MS 27200, of the Mahzor Vitry and you can browse through the entire manuscript on the Digitised Manuscripts website.

Images 4 (f.37r), 5 (f.40v) and 6 (f.190r) are from volume 2, Add MS 27201, of the Mahzor Vitry and you can browse through the entire manuscript on the Digitised Manuscripts website.

Full title:
Maḥzor Viṭry by Śimḥah, mi-Ṿiṭri
1242–1299 CE, France
Śimḥah mi-Ṿiṭri (author), Isaac ben Dorbolo (Durbal) (author), Avraham ben Natan Yarhi (author), Solomon ben Isaac (Rashi) (author)
Usage terms

Copyright status: Public Domain in most countries, other than the UK – please read our usage guide.

Held by
British Library
Add MS 27200-27201

Full catalogue details

Related articles

The Maḥzor Vitry of the British Library (Add MS 27200-Add MS 27201)

Article by:
Justine Isserles
Jewish Law, Jewish Liturgy

The British Library Maḥzor Vitry is one of 11 preserved manuscript copies of the lost 11th-century original attributed to Simḥah ben Samuel of Vitry. Dr Justine Isserles revisits this highly significant manuscript.

Judaism introduction

Article by:
The British Library

An overview of the articles and British Library resources relating to Judaism

The Abrahamic religions

Article by:
Anna Sapir Abulafia
Christianity, Islam, Judaism

Dr Anna Sapir Abulafia looks at three of the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and explores the role and narrative surrounding the figure of Abraham in their sacred texts and traditions.

Related collection items