The Esslingen Mahzor

The Esslingen Mahzor was written and decorated by Kalonymos ben Judah; it is his only recorded professional accomplishment and holds the rites for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. In the colophon, ben Judah writes that he finished this work on 28 Tevet 5050/12 January 1290.[1] This makes it the earliest recorded and dated Hebrew manuscript from Germany.  

The Library of the JTS has the first part of the mahzor. This folio holds the text for Rosh Hashanah Second Day Maariv through Yom Kippur Musaf. The other codex is housed in the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, one of the Special Collections of the Library of the University of Amsterdam. Columbia Art Historian Evelyn M. Cohen identified the manuscript as the first part of the Rosenthaliana. Throughout the mahzor, there are floral and dragon motifs. One of the most striking pages is the gothic castle illumination around “Melech Ozer Gvora.”

“The decoration in the Esslingen Mahzor is typical of that found in thirteenth-century Ashkenazic manuscripts. It is comprised primarily of ornamentation, rather than illustration. The scribe has been inventive in creating original page layouts. Especially in his copying of the piyyutim, we find a wealth of decorated large display scripts, acrostics, and multi-column text layouts along with a skillful use of the blank spaces on the page.”

Dr. David Kraemer, Joseph J. and Dora Abell Librarian and Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics, describes how the mahzor would have been used in medieval times.

The Artist as Teacher

Explore the Digitized Esslingen Mahzor

[1] “The Esslingen Mahzor.”