Mahzor Worms

David and Fela Shapell Family Digitization Project

   Mahzor for holidays and special sabbaths according to the Ashkenazi rite of the community of Worms, Germany. 2 volumes, illuminated 13th century manuscript. ​​


Festival prayerbook according to the Ashkenazi rite, for the use of hazanim (cantors) in the synagogue, containing mainly cycles of piyyutim (liturgical hymns). 2 vols. of different origin, written on parchment, in beautiful Ashkenazi calligraphy, with illumination and decoration in ink and color, including arcaded pages to open the main divisions of the book.

Vol. I: copied in 1272.  224 fols., 390x310mm.  The vocalization follows the Palestinian-Tiberian and an ancient pre-Ashkenazi tradition; the basic prayers, copied fragmentarily with piyyutim by Palestinian poets preserve versions of the ancient Palestinian rite.Vol. II: copied ca. 1280. 450x310mm.

​​​The Mahzor was in use in the community of Worms until the synagogue’s destruction on Kristallnacht, November 1938.  It was rescued by the city’s archivist, who hid it in the cathedral. In 1957, following legal proceedings in Germany, the manuscript was transferred to the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem.

Vol. I, for the five special Sabbaths, preceding Purim and Pesah (Passover), Shavuot (Pentacost) and the ninth of Av.  According to the colophon (217v.) it was copied during 44 weeks and completed on 28 Teveth 1272, by Simhah ben Yehudah the Scribe, for his uncle R. Barukh ben Itzhak, for use in the synagogue “for the sake of his soul” (probably because he was childless, since the scribe, mentioning him, does not add a blessing for his offspring, as he does for his own).  It was made probably in Würzburg.  On the margin of fol. 80r., a notation to the words “[…] vekhol bekhoreihem haragta […]” in the prayers for 7th day of Passover, reads: “This is said aloud on that day, such is the rite of Würzburg.”  In a piyyut for morning prayers on the 8th day of Passover, in the line “My nobles, teachers, sages and scribes will praise Him forever” (fol. 95r.,), “my scribes” is written in red ink and framed.  Near this, in the margin, the scribe has drawn a scribe, holding in one hand the framed word, in the other a book, on which he has written: ”Judah, the scribe of Nuremberg, Simhah the scribe, Shema’yah the French.” These are the scribe’s father, he himself, and a third person, probably the illuminator.  Nuremberg, apparently the scribe’s native city, is not far from Würzburg. The Mahzor was probably brought to Worms by refugees from Würzburg, after the destruction of this community in the Rindfleisch persecution of 1298.

On fol. 54r., in the interstices of the initial word of the Prayer for Dew, in the additional service for the first day of Passover, “Beda’ato…”, the scribe wrote a rhymed blessing for anybody who would carry this heavy book from its owner’s house to the synagogue: “gut taq im b(e)tag(e) s(e) vaer dis mahsor in beith hakenseth trag(e)” – let a good day shine for him, who will carry this Mahzor to the synagogue.  This is the oldest dated Yiddish text known to us.

Special piyyutim according to the rite of Worms were added to the Mahzor, in a script not later than the 14th century (bound here as fols. 219-224).

The original second part of the Mahzor was lost and replaced by the second part of another mahzor, resembling the original size and style, and close in age.  This second part contains only two illustrations.


Vol. 1-2

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These articles first appeared in the "Introductory Volume" edited by Malachi Beit-Arie which accompanied the facsmile edition of the Mahzor (Vaduz, Cyelar, 1985). The articles appear in this site with the permission of their authors. They are presented in searchable PDF format.

 Malachi Beit-Arie,
The Worms Mahzor: Its History and Its Paleographic and Codicological Characteristics

Ezra Fleischer,
Prayer And Piyut in the Worms Mahzor

Bezalel Narkiss,
The Illumination of the Worms Mahzor: Description and Iconographical Study

Comparative Illustrations

Aliza Cohen-Mushlin,
The Artistic Style of the Mahzor

 Aliza Cohen-Mushlin,
Latter Additions to the Worms Mahzor

Ilan Eldar,
The Vocalization of the Worms Mahzor – English Summary

Chone Shmeruk,
The Versified Old Yiddish Blessing in the Worms Mahzor

Otto Wächter,
The Restoration of the Illuminated Pages of the Mahzor