A Medieval Prayer Book Contains the Oldest Known Example of Written Yiddish

Sept. 12 2018

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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More about: Books, Haggadah, History & Ideas, Yiddish

Iran Is Back on Israel’s Doorstep

Feb. 15 2019

On Monday, the IDF shelled Iranian-linked targets—most likely held by Hizballah—in the Quneitra province, which lies in the Syrian part of the Golan Heights. There can thus be little doubt that the Islamic Republic has positioned its proxies in deadly proximity to Israel’s borders. Yossi Yehoshua comments:

Hizballah is trying to entrench itself in Syria now that Bashar al-Assad has reclaimed the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, precisely as it did in 2014 and 2015, [before Syrian rebels retook the area]. This was when one of the terror organization’s more prominent members, Jihad Mughniyeh, was appointed by Hizballah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to be in charge of the Golan Heights area and of planning terror attacks against Israeli civilians. Mughniyeh was killed in a 2015 airstrike attributed to Israel. . . .

In addition, an increase in the number of incidents along the Syrian border was noted over the past two months, with the Israeli strikes in Syria . . . meant to signal to the enemy that it is best not cross any red lines. This is similar to the message Jerusalem conveyed to Iran when it [previously] attempted to entrench itself in [this part of] Syria and was pushed out of there after a series of Israeli airstrikes.

Unlike the situation of four years ago, Iran now has a real presence along the Syrian border, while Hizballah is working to resume its confrontations with Israel. And since the organization is up to its neck in domestic problems and thus cannot allow itself to face Israel on the Lebanese front, it finds Syria to be a more comfortable staging ground from which to take on the Jewish state.

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More about: Golan Heights, Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Syria