An Important Testimony to the Spiritual Life of Northern French Jews Before their Explusion in 1306, Including Apparently Unrecorded Text


(France: second half of 13th century). 240 x 163 mm. (9 1/2 x 6 3/8"). Five columns, 35 lines of large text, and up to 53 lines of smaller text, written in a French Ashkenazi hand in square script (biblical readings, Targum, and piyyutim) and semi-cursive (notes).

◆Recovered from a binding and thus with some browning and soiling, one small area roughened with loss of a handful of letters (though with sense recoverable), one small hole with old repairs (just touching a couple of letters), but a very satisfactory specimen of a desirable text, apparently with nothing trimmed away.

This leaf from a mahòzor (festival prayer book used on high holy days) is of considerable scholarly interest, preserving the liturgy of a Medieval French community for the final days of Passover, including the following: a) the final verses of the Torah reading for the 7th Day of Passover, Ex 15:25-26, with its Aramaic translation; b) the special additional reading for the maftòir (the last person invited up to read from the Torah), Num 28:19-25, with its Aramaic translation; and c) the additional reading from the Prophets (known as the “haftòarah”), recited on Saturdays and holidays, II Sam 22:1-19 and 50-51, with its Aramaic translation (it is unclear why verses 20-49 are omitted). In between the readings, notes direct the prayer leader or reader to the appropriate next step. Along with the biblical texts, this manuscript preserves two Medieval liturgical additions: the first is an Aramaic “reshut” (literally, asking a "permission") before reading the translation of the “haftòarah.” Its concluding part ("as it was said in prophecy etc.") is found in other Medieval manuscripts of this rite, such as the Mahòzor Vitry, a prayer book attributed to the French rabbi and scholar Simhah ben Samuel of Vitry (ca. 1070 – 1105). However, the beginning of our particular reshut ("[I will recite] with appropriate beauty the translation of these exceptional words") seems to be a previously-unknown composition, and has not yet been identified in any other attestation in manuscript or print. The second liturgical addition is the first two verses of a Hebrew “ma'aravit” (a poetic insertion before prayers) for the last night of Passover, attributed to Joseph ben Samuel Bonfils, a French rabbi of the mid-11th century. Both the textual and paleographic features of this leaf point to an origin in northern France in the second half of the 13th century. In sum, this is an extremely important testimony to the spiritual life of northern French Jewish communities before their expulsion in 1306. (We are grateful to Dr. Noam Sienna for his help identifying and cataloguing this item.).

Price: $7,500.00