Worms Machzor

Worms Machzor Facsimile Edition

Rhine Valley (Germany) — 1272

A richly illuminated prayer book in use for over 650 years: the oldest surviving Ashkenazic manuscript and one of the most important sources of Jewish life in the Middle Ages

  1. The oldest Ashkenazi manuscript is also a vital source on German Jewish life in the Middle Ages

  2. This gloriously illuminated manuscript was used by the cantors of Worms for over 650 years

  3. It is an important source on the vocalization and pronunciation of Hebrew in medieval Germany

Worms Machzor

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  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Worms Machzor

The Worms Machzor is one of the most important sources for information on German Jewish life in the Middle Ages and is one of the oldest Ashkenazi manuscripts in existence. The 13th century liturgical prayer book was used on high holidays by the cantors of Worms for more than 650 years and is illuminated to an unusual extent for a book of that type and time. The artistic style is clearly influenced by Rhineland illumination, but the manuscript is even more significant for linguists than for art historians. This is because the text constitutes an important source for the research on vocalization and pronunciation of the Hebrew language in medieval Germany. Additionally, the Worms Machzor has helped researchers to cast light on the beginnings of German Jewish literature.

Worms Machzor

Gloriously illustrated machzorim, especially in the Ashkenazic tradition, have come down to the present from the 13th century and the Worms Machzor is an impressive example. While the early manuscripts of this type were only sparsely illustrated, the Worms Machzor develops a very special decoration pattern. Virtually all festivals are illustrated to accompany the relevant text. These illuminated scenes reflect the life of the Ashkenazic community of this period and their world of thought. The machzor of the Jewish community of Worms comprises two volumes and the first volume of this Jewish prayer book is presented in a facsimile edition (MS 4°781/1 in the Jewish National and University Library Jerusalem). The facsimile further contains the faithfully reproduced illuminated pages (2 leaves) of the second volume.

One of the Oldest Ashkenazi Manuscripts

The Worms Machzor is among the oldest known prayer books written for the Ashkenazic rite and an excellent testimony to Jewish book illumination in the Middle Ages. A machzor (Hebrew for cycle) contains the recurring prayers at high festivals and thus constitutes a collection of festival prayers for liturgical use. The Worms Machzor was produced in 1272 on the Rhine and used by the cantors of Worms for more than 650 years as their “official” festival prayer book.

The Artful Decoration

The illustrations contained in the Worms Machzor rely either on earlier sources or constitute original creations by the master who painted this prayer book. His style suggests a** clear influence of contemporary painting schools in the Rhineland**. One of the most fascinating particularities of the Worms Machzor is the human figures, depicted with birds beaks, shown in profile, and wearing a Jewish headgear typical of this period. Another interesting trait is the expression in the faces of some figures despite the lack of characteristic features. These particularities appear to have been common in German Jewish manuscripts of the 13th and 14th centuries. The Worms Machzor also contains numerous representations of animals, including elephants, unique to this period of Jewish book illumination.

An Invaluable Source for Linguists

The illustrations in the Worms Machzor are laid out in clear connection to the text which is written on a large-format parchment in a square, calligraphic Ashkenazic hand, including vowels. According to the colophon, the copyist Simchah bar Judah whose father, Yehuda of Nuremberg, was also a professional scribe, wrote this work on behalf of his uncle Rabbi Baruk ben Yizhaq. Vocalisation was performed in accordance with the pronunciation used for the prayers and piyyutim (hymns of the Jewish liturgy) at that time in this environment and today the text constitutes an important source for the research on vocalization and pronunciation of the Hebrew language in medieval Germany. Some verses couplets in folio 54r are of great significance since they represent the oldest known example of a text in the Yiddish language so far dated. They have helped researchers to cast light on the beginnings of German Jewish literature. The contents of the verse couplets are a blessing which does not belong to the original text but is used as an ornament in a small hand and inserted in a reduced space provided in the Hebrew text.

The Preservation of a Precious Codex

Since the machzor of the Jewish community in Worms had been regularly used over the centuries, it was subject to considerable wear and tear. It was therefore renovated by the Library in Jerusalem where it is kept today. Ten leaves, however, had to be transferred to Vienna for a special restoration process.


Alternative Titles
Machzor of Worms
Wormser Machsor
Size / Format
454 pages / 40.0 × 31.0 cm
Numerous decorative initials as well as figural representations of humans and animals

Available facsimile editions:
Worms Machzor – MS 4° 781/1 – Jewish National and University Library (Jerusalem, Israel) Facsimile Edition
Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA) – Graz, 1985
Limited Edition: 330 copies
Detail Picture

Worms Machzor

Money Changer

The predecessors of modern banks, money changers were a critical part of the economy of medieval Europe, which had a galaxy of currencies with many cities and trading towns issuing their own coins, typically adorned with the face of the local lord or bishop. Merchants and farmers visiting a market fair would have to exchange their coins for the local currency, as would pilgrims visiting shrines. This bird-head money changer stands under an elaborate arch holding the scales critical to his profession.

Das Worms Mahzor
Single Page

Worms Machzor

Deer Hunting Scene

Although the contents of this codex are primarily religious in nature, Hebrew manuscripts typically contained many depictions of animals, including animal hybrids. The text in red and black ink is masterfully executed and precisely arranged as though it were printed. In a minor hand above the thick black initials, notes written in Yiddish can be seen, some of the oldest in existence.

Titled “The Beloved Doe”, the miniature at the top of the page shows a hunter blowing a horn and pursuing a deer with a pack of hounds, two of whom have chased the doe up a hill while the third approaches on a leash. The hunter is dressed in an orange tunic with a green hood and, upon closer examination, has the feet of a bird and the face of a dog.

Das Worms Mahzor
Facsimile Editions

#1 Das Worms Mahzor

Limited Edition: 330 copies
Binding: Leather binding, on wood boards, is a true copy of the old binding of the manuscript, including 10 metal fittings and two clasps. Hand sewn on tape. All folios are cut according to the original.
Commentary: 1 volume (252 pages)
Languages: English, Hebrew

The comprehensive scholarly commentary is written both in English and Hebrew and contains articles by prominent international experts on Jewish Studies, codicology, the history of Jewish art and book restoration. The reader learns about the codicological analysis and the significance of the manuscript in history, liturgy, the history of art and linguistics.

With contributions of most important, internationally known experts in Judaic Studies, codicology, Jewish Art History, and preservation of manuscripts.
252 pp., Cloth binding, on cardboard with a leather spine.
1 volume: Partial reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size). This facsimile edition reproduces only the first volume from the manuscript MS 4° 781. All folios are cut according to the original.
Price Category: €€€ (3,000€ - 7,000€)
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