Archive for High Holidays

Rare Mahzorim at your Fingertips

At this time of year, many of us are spending much time with our mahzor. While many of us are using the Gates of Repentance, Birnbaum or Koren, (I use the excellent Goldschmidt critical edition) many variations of the liturgy exist in manuscripts in the HUC collection and beyond.

Not long ago, using manuscripts for liturgy research involved traveling to rare book rooms around the world or looking at microfilm in the basement of the National Library of Israel (Department of Manuscripts and The Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts – National Library). Progressively, the digitization of Hebrew manuscripts gives librarians and scholars the opportunity to view manuscripts without leaving one’s chair. The manuscripts or Jewish prayer books are a great resource for Jewish art, liturgy, history and more.  Entering “mahzor” or “siddur” into Google gives you the Wikipedia articles ( and, which provide a good introduction to the mahzor and siddur.Once you get oriented, it is time to begin seeing the world of Jewish liturgy on the Web.

images from Worms mazhor

Worms Mazhor

You may want to start with the National Library of Israel manuscript collection website that has a few good examples of mahzorim, including the famous Worms Mahzor, copied in 1272.

image from Nuremberg mahzor

Nuremberg mahzor

There is also the beautifully illustrated Nuremberg Mahzor copied in 1331. The website includes an introduction to the manuscripts as well as scholarly articles related to them. ( and

Another website that includes many manuscripts, including mahzorim, is the Braginsky collection. This is a must-see website for anyone interested in manuscripts. This private collection includes beautifully illustrated manuscripts of Ketubot, Passover Hagadot, Megilot Esther and more. The website allows you to englarge the high-resolution images to see a very fine level of detail.

Another research tool for finding rare books is the website. Just type in Mahzor using the virtual Hebrew keyboard and find hundreds of titles which can all be viewed online or downloaded. Dozens of these mahzorim are from the 16thcentury, which are very valuable in liturgical study.

However, for those of you who prefer to see and touch the manuscripts (like me), the Klau Library in Cincinnati has a good collection of mahzorim including some from the 14thcentury.

Shana Tova!

That one special High Holiday tune

This time of year always seems to bring on that yearning to hear that one song or melody from your childhood or from your previous congregation. For many years, I attended a small Sephardic shul.   The melodies were very different from the ones that I had grown up with – a combination of soulful Ashkenazi chants, Debbie Friedman melodies, and contemporary choral works.

One song from the Rosh HaShanah service in particular, stuck in my mind: Et shaarei ratzon. The words and the melody seemed to meld together perfectly into a haunting piece.  After moving away, Rosh HaShanah just didn’t seem complete without hearing it. I tried to find a recording of the piyut with that tune.  I found many (many!) different versions from beautiful to rather odd.  Yesterday, a co-worker reminded me of the site, An Invitation to Piyut.  It was easy to find this piyut and I listened to all the versions on the site.  But none were quite right.  I gave up and decided to just listen to some other hymns.  I clicked on the Yigdal page and chose Turkish High Holiday  and  voila! there was my Et shaarei ratzon melody!  If anyone knows of a recording with the words and melody combined – please let me know!

If you are in the mood to listen to liturgical or other Jewish music, there are many sites now that are posting audio files.  We collected them on our music page.  And let us know your music stories.