A Mah­zor From Worms: Art and Reli­gion in a Medieval Jew­ish Community

Katrin Kog­man-Appel
  • Review
By – July 24, 2013

Illu­mi­nat­ed Hebrew man­u­scripts from the Mid­dle Ages pro­vide mate­r­i­al for innumer­able Jew­ish cal­en­dars, post­cards, and book cov­ers. The mem­o­rable images have become icon­ic sym­bols of medieval Jew­ish life, but often they do so in pris­tine lone­li­ness, shorn of their bib­li­o­graph­ic con­text. A Mah­zor from Worms con­sid­ers a sin­gle man­u­script, kept today in Leipzig, in the full com­plex­i­ty of its set­ting. Kog­man-Appel painstak­ing­ly recon­structs the orig­i­nal struc­ture of the man­u­script and gives ample atten­tion to its litur­gi­cal pro­gram before focus­ing on the rich illus­tra­tions that appear with­in it. 

The bulk of the book is devot­ed to thick descrip­tions of some of the indi­vid­ual pan­els through inves­tigation of the rit­u­als, laws, and beliefs which may con­ceiv­ably have inspired the artist who cre­at­ed them. Promi­nent atten­tion is giv­en to sources that orig­i­nat­ed in Worms, the same com­mu­ni­ty where the Mah­zor was pro­duced. This local focus alle­vi­ates a major method­ological pit­fall of deter­min­ing which lit­er­ary sources can be assumed to have been known to a giv­en medieval illu­mi­na­tor — even if he nev­er read any of Rab­bi Eleazar Rokeah’s liter­ary works, to take a major exam­ple, it seems rea­son­able to sug­gest that he would have been aware of some of the major themes in the writ­ings of Rokeah, who lived in Worms in the ear­ly thir­teenth cen­tu­ry. Kogman-Appel’s study is informed by the lat­est schol­ar­ship in a vari­ety of fields, allow­ing her to embed the Mah­zor in a rich intel­lec­tu­al por­trait of the com­mu­ni­ty that pro­duced it and in which it was used.

Relat­ed: Illu­mi­nat­ed Hebrew Man­u­scripts Read­ing List

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