Watch the Incredible Story of the Catalan Mahzor

From the moment the Jewish people entered the annals of history, the Hebrew book accompanied this devout and devoted people on their long journey through their ancient culture. One of these books has a most incredible survival story. In the middle of the 13th century an extraordinary manuscript was scribed and illustrated in Catalonia, Spain. This manuscript was shipped out of Spain along with the expelled Jews, travelling to Italy, then Salonica (which was part of the Ottoman Empire at the time), until it moved over to Germany. When the Second World War broke, the manuscript was smuggled to the United States by Alexander Guttmann - a Jewish scholar - who got a visa in 1940. He carried the Mahzor over the borders with great personal risk.
Beyond the great story behind the manuscript, the illuminated content illustrates the uniqueness of the Jewish communities before the edict of expulsion of Spain. It is a Mahzor for Rosh Ha'Shana and Yom Kippur for the use of a cantor. It is an entirely Jewish creation: Poems written by some of the great Jewish poets in the history of the Jewish poets and it is singular in being the only Mahzor decorated with micrography - a Jewish art form in which tiny lettering creates decorative geometric shapes. This art appears almost exclusively in Bibles and so the use of intricate and breathtaking micrography is considered extremely rare.​


 The Catalan Mahzor | The National Library of Israel, Jerusalem​, circa 1280; MS HEB 8°6527, Page 50

(Photo: Hanan Cohen, NLI)