This is a decorative page from the machzor (festival prayer book): Machzor According to the Customs of the Jews of Rome. It is the introductory page to the festival of Shavuot that is ornately decorated and written in Hebrew calligraphy. The text includes instructions for observing the festival, explanations of which prayers should be said, and an illustration of the Revelation at Mount Sinai. The design of this page is based on the tradition that Shavuot commemorates the day on which the Israelites received the Torah at Mount Sinai.
The page is decorated with an exquisite border of gold, red, blue, and green. The top two corners contain images of musicians holding lutes – a string instrument that was very popular during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The main picture is on the lower part of the page. On the right-hand side is a mountain surrounded by plants, trees, and birds. Standing on the mountain is Moses holding what seems to be a Torah scroll with the Ten Commandments. This is not consistent with the biblical text, which explains that Moses held tablets of stone. Above him three shofars can be seen descending from the sky. There are also rays that look like fire and smoke, illustrating the biblical description of the event (Shemot 20:12):
All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the shofar and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they fell back and stood at a distance.
The Hebrew words “and you shall set bounds for the people” appear at the bottom of the mountain, referring to the verse from the Torah with the commandment to keep away from the mountain (Shemot 19:12):
And you shall set boundaries for the people around, saying, Beware of ascending the mountain or touching its edge; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.'
A group of men, women, and children are depicted beneath the mountain, with Aaron standing at the front. The people are not dressed in what would probably have been the clothing of people living in the hot climate of the Middle East; instead, they are dressed in Italian clothing of the period. As in many illuminated manuscripts of the period, the illustrator most likely depicted the Israelites as a reflection of his own culture.
This machzor was printed in 1450. It was written by the scribe and artist Yoel ben Shimon. It is named the Machzor According to the Customs of the Jews of Rome, referring to the unique traditions of the ancient Jewish community in Italy which is neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardi. The machzor consists of two volumes which contain the prayers for all of the festivals as well as for weekdays, Shabbat, Rosh Hodesh (the New Moon), and fast days. Most of the pages do not contain such decorations, only pages like this that introduce one of the major festivals.
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Shavuot - Shavuot, the festival mentioned in the article – also known as the Festival of Weeks – is celebrated on the sixth of Sivan. Shavuot, one of the three biblical pilgrim festivals, commemorates many different things: it marks the day that the Israelites received the Torah on Mount Sinai; it celebrates the wheat harvest in Israel; and it signifies the end of the Counting of the Omer. It is celebrated with many colourful and festive traditions such as holding bikkurim ceremonies, eating dairy food, decorating the synagogue with flowers and greenery, reading the Book of Ruth, and studying the Torah all through the night (Tikkun Leil Shavuot).
The Jews of Italy - The Italian Jewish community has ancient roots that can be traced back to the Roman era in the second century BCE. In ancient Rome the community was highly organized with several synagogues. With the introduction of Christianity to Italy the situation of Italian Jews generally declined, and anti-Jewish laws were passed. Similar to other European countries, the Middle Ages brought persecution and expulsions. However, this was also a flourishing period for Bible commentary, Talmud, Hebrew grammar, and halacha (Jewish law). Jews were also known as skilled medical practitioners, some serving as physicians to the kings, nobles, and clergy. The fifteenth century was a time of migration: many Spanish Jews arrived in Italy following the Spanish expulsion of 1492, and a few years later, more arrived from France. In the sixteenth century, when many Italian areas fell under Spanish rule, Jews fled the inquisition and moved to southern Italy and other European countries. This was also the period when the first Jewish ghetto was established in Venice and other prohibitions were issued against the Jews including a yellow badge, ghettos in additional cities, forced labour, and expulsions. This continued into the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Influenced by liberal thought, French rule in Italy, and the decline of the Papal influence, the Jews slowly gained emancipation during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By 1910, a Jew was prime minister of Italy, one of the first in the world. Another Jew served as mayor of Rome from 1907 to 1913, and Jews also served as senators. Italian Jews fought in World War I, half of them as officers. The 1930s brought Mussolini, fascism, and, ultimately, anti-Semitism to Italy, influenced by Nazism and the racial ideologies of the time. Despite the fascist regime’s alliance with Germany, the Italians did not initially cooperate with the deportation of Jews to the camps. The deportation of Italian Jews only began in September 1943, when the Allies captured southern Italy. While many Jews were saved by local Italians and the Church, approximately 7,500 Jews were murdered. The Jewish community has declined since World War II due to immigration to Israel and other countries, assimilation, and low birth rates. It is estimated that 45,000 Jews live in Italy today.