One of the most important liturgical compilations in Judaism is the siddur (from the Hebrew root sdr meaning order). It contains a time-based order of daily prayers often accompanied by commentaries and instructions, and the Sabbath liturgy for the whole year. The siddur is used at formal synagogue services by observant Jews who are required to recite prayers three times daily: early morning, or morning light (Shaharit), afternoon (Minhah), and evening or nightfall (‘Arvit or Ma’ariv). The order of prayers known to us today was formally fixed over many centuries.
By the 8th century CE two major Jewish liturgical rites had developed: the Erets Yisra’el or Palestinian rite which flourished until the 12th century CE, becoming known to the scholarly world only in the 19th century CE, and the Babylonian rite, a product of the famed Jewish academies in Babylonia that thrived between the 4th and 11th centuries CE.
Some of the earliest Jewish liturgies were compiled in Sura, Babylonia by Rav Amram Gaon and Rav Saadia Gaon, in 850 and 950 CE respectively. From these two major ancient usages various localised rites emerged in Jewish communities living in Ashkenaz (Franco-German lands), the Byzantine Empire, Italy, Sepharad (Iberian Peninsula), Provence, Yemen and other areas. The Italian usage belongs to the Palestinian group who kept a unique set and order of prayers, cantillation style, melodies and original liturgical songs. This distinctive rite is known as Kahal Kadosh Roma (of the sacred community of Rome) or Bene Roma (of the sons of Rome), emphasising the importance of Rome.
This Italian rite siddur dated 1469 CE, was copied and illustrated by the famed scribe/artist Joel ben Simeon Feibush, for patrons Menahem ben Samuel and his daughter Maraviglia. It features three types of script: Ashkenazi vocalised (with vowels) square, Italian non-vocalised semi-cursive, and Sephardi vocalised square scripts. The manuscript contains decorations, including drawings of animals and dragons, numerous embellished initial words and initial-word panels, as well as marginal illustrations, some depicting figures wearing contemporary costumes and headgear.
Browse through the entire manuscript on the Digitised Manuscripts website.
- Article by:
- Evelyn Cohen
- Illuminations and the art of writing
The exceptional collection of decorated Hebrew prayer books in the British Library contains an intriguing work produced in Italy in 1469 CE. Dr Evelyn M Cohen explores its unique representations of women participating in Jewish rituals.
- Article by:
- Christina Duffy
- Jewish Liturgy, Illuminations and the art of writing, New technologies and digital research
Dr Christina Duffy explores the use of multispectral imaging at the British Library, and how it recovered erased illustrations from the margins of Add MS 26957, a 15th-century CE Hebrew prayer book.