Hebrew Prayer Books for Public Use

The majority of Hebrew manuscripts were copied out by Jews for their personal use. But during the second half of the thirteenth and the first half of the fourteenth centuries large and elaborately decorated prayer books for the festivals (mahzorim) were produced for communal use in the liturgy. Wealthy laymen vied with each other for the honour of leading prayers on festive occasions. These were the same men who commissioned large and splendidly decorated prayer books as status symbols. They wanted to enhance their prestige by employing the most sought-after professional scribes, by commissioning larger and larger volumes, and by engaging the best illuminators – often Christian artists. In fact, all three of the great Bodleian mahzorim were illuminated by Christian painters in collaboration with and under the supervision of Jewish scribes.

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