The Esslingen Mahzor

A Digital Reunion of the New Amsterdam and the Old Amsterdam Volumes


In the winter of 1290, Kalonymos ben Judah of Esslingen (near Stuttgart in North Württemberg) completed his only recorded professional accomplishment, the writing and decorating of a so-called ‘winter Mahzor’ for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. The second half of this Esslingen Mahzor has long been well known in the scholarly world. In its colophon the scribe makes explicit mention of the place and date in which the manuscript was produced (28 Tevet 5050/12 January 1290). The codex, housed in the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, one of the Special Collections of the Library of the University of Amsterdam (Hs. Ros. 609), is therefore the earliest recorded dated and localized Hebrew manuscript written in Germany. For many years, the first part of the Esslingen Mahzor appeared to have been lost.

In the year 1990, Dr. Evelyn M. Cohen identified a manuscript in the collection of The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York (JTS MS 9344) as the missing first part of the Rosenthaliana volume. The texts are complementary and most of the decoration was done by the same artist. Later changes to the manuscript are identical: the same characteristic patch- and pastework occurs in both manuscripts, as do the extensive marginal annotations so typical of the Mahzor. Separated at some unknown time in the past, the original volume is here re-united electronically for the first time.


For the New York volume, click here.


For the Amsterdam volume, click here.

It is important to underscore that, even as presented here, the manuscript is not quite complete. The volume opens with the text of the latter part of the Ma’ariv (evening) service for the second day of Rosh Hashanah, in the middle of a piyyut. It is therefore obvious that several folios must have originally preceded the present text. In addition, even a cursory examination shows that the margins of the manuscript have been cropped considerably. So, however grand the surviving manuscript might be, it was even grander originally.


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.
For a detailed description of the manuscripts click here

View the manuscripts online