Written in the city of Würzburg in 1271 and 1272, the Worms maḥzor (High Holy Day prayer book) gets its name from the city that housed it for most of its existence—which was also home to one of the three original communities of Ashkenazi Jewry. The illuminated manuscript, now on display at the National Library of Israel, is written mostly in Hebrew, but contains the oldest extant example of the Yiddish language in the form of a brief prayer for whoever brings it to synagogue. Ilan Ben-Zion writes:
The prayer book, with its medieval European cityscapes, bird-headed humans, and menagerie of beasts, was used by the Worms Jewish community for centuries, up until the rise of Nazi Germany in the 20th century. . . .
[The curator Yoel] Finkelman said the Yiddish inscription is not only an important glimpse of the language in its early form but also suggests to historians that “beautiful maḥzorim were owned by individuals and used by communities, unlike today where the synagogue owns the siddurim.” A family might own a [regular] prayer book, but a tome of this size would cost “a flock of sheep and a year’s worth of scribal work and decoration,” making it more than most people could afford. . . .
The early glimpse of the Yiddish language in its infancy [found in the maḥzor] is extremely rare. “You have to realize that after this inscription from 1272, we have to make a leap of 110 years till the next dated document in Yiddish, that is 1382,” said Avraham Novershtern, [a leading expert on the history of Yiddish], referring to the Cambridge Codex, a Yiddish text found in the Cairo Geniza. . . .
The Worms synagogue was destroyed in Kristallnacht in 1938, ending centuries of the maḥzor’s use on Jewish holidays.
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