The giant, ornamental Nuremberg Mahzor contains the prayers for the whole year, according to the Ashkenazi rite, the five Megillot and the Haftarot. It includes also a comprehensive collection of commentaries on the piyyutim (liturgical hymns) and prayers, written in the margins. The manuscript was written in Ashkenazi calligraphy in the year 1331 in Germany by a scribe, clearly identified as Matanya, for Yehoshua ben Yitzhak. The commentaries in the margins, however, were written by another scribe, whose name was apparently Yaakov. The manuscript’s nickname derives from the fact that since the expulsion of the Jews from Nuremberg in 1499, it was held in the Nuremberg Municipal Library until 1951.
It is the combination and juxtaposition of a number of unusual and sometimes unique aspects that make this manuscript so special.
In terms of its physical description, we are looking at a unique cultural object from the Middle Ages. The manuscript was written on parchment and is one of the largest and heaviest codices to have survived anywhere. 50 cm high by 37 cm wide, it contains 521 folios (i.e. 1042 pages). This huge book was written in the finest calligraphic script by a scribe, who was evidently a professional artist.
From an artistic point of view, the ornamentation, painting and decoration in the style of the Upper Rhine valley, are of a very high standard.
The Mahzor is also unique for its textual content, containing many piyyutim not found in any other source. Moreover, the many commentaries have never been researched or published.
Undoubtedly the Nuremberg Mahzor is a cultural asset of inestimable importance for the Jewish people. It reflects magnificently the multi-faceted cultural and intellectual achievements of German Jewry in the 14th century, being a wonderful example not only of the technological creativity used to produce this great work, but also of the arts of calligraphy, book design and decoration. It also illustrates the spiritual and interpretative activity of the Jews of this period. All in all, it represents one of the highest summits of achievement among all the medieval Hebrew manuscripts which have survived throughout the Jewish Diaspora.