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This Me’ah Berachot manuscript, a miniature prayer book, is an exquisite example of how Jewish heritage can be passed down for the delight and enrichment of future generations. It was handwritten and illuminated in Central Europe during the 18th century, and is today in the hands of a private collector in New York.
Traditionally, pious Jews seek to recite blessings on at least one hundred occasions daily. This unique manuscript, the name Me’ah Berachot means ‘one hundred blessings’, is a compendium of blessings, each allocated to a time of day or to a special event. It gathers together morning prayers, Grace after Meals, prayers on retiring at night (Qriat Sh’ema), petitions for the safety of travellers and many other texts to be recited on special occasions – for exe on seeing a beautiful tree, on hearing thunder or on wearing a new garment for the first time. Since it also includes three blessings specifically related to womanly duties (mitzvoth nashim) – on bread making, ritual bathing and kindling the Sabbath lights – the book was probably commissioned as a special gift to a woman. Such a splendid prayer book may well have been presented to a bride and would doubtless have been treasured by generations of her descendants. Indeed it is a miniature handbook of Jewish life intended for Jews of all ages.
Besides the beautifully written text, the manuscript contains an illuminated title-page and twenty-nine miniature panels illustrating some of the activities associated with the blessings included. Each painting is headed by a cartouche containing the relevant blessing, preceded by directions on how to recite it, written in a more cursive Yiddish script. Additional miniatures fascinatingly depict a variety of everyday genre scenes – lighting the Sabbath candles, family mealtimes, tending the garden, putting on new clothes, entering the ritual bath, and even the then common medical practice of bloodletting.
The manuscript’s seventy pages measure 36 x 40 mm (1.4″ x 1.6″). It is bound in its original gold-tooled leather case with handmade silver clasps, bosses and corner plates. Despite the minute size of the book, the script is so clear that all the texts can be read with ease.
This little book is a remarkable example of the revival of Hebrew manuscript illumination in the eighteenth century. At that time, long after the invention of printing, it was recognised that a handwritten and finely illustrated book offered a sense of luxury and respect for religious ritual unmatched since the Middle Ages.
The facsimile edition is a faithful copy of the original manuscript. The publishers, Linda and Michael Falter supervised each stage of work on this limited edition to ensure that the highest possible standards were attained.
No effort was spared in their quest for excellence. Every aspect of the original has been meticulously recreated. The first 400 copies were printed on fine vellum. The remaining 150 copies were printed in up to seven colours on a specially milled paper which precisely imitates the ultra fine quality and feel of the original vellum. The craftsman-made binding of morocco leather is tooled in 23-carat gold and adorned with solid silver clasps, corner-plates and bosses made in one of the last silversmith’s ateliers in Milan, Italy. The presentation case is crafted in full leather, lined in suede, and holds both the facsimile and the commentary volume.
This unique facsimile was printed in a strictly limited edition of 550 copies (400 on vellum numbered 1 – 400 and 150 on specially milled parchment numbered 401 -500. The remaining 50 Ad Personam copies are numbered I – L). The plates have been destroyed (with rabbinic permission and in compliance with Halachic requirements) and no further copies will be issued.
In accordance with the manuscript owner’s wishes, royalties from the sale of this facsimile were donated to the Shaare Zedek Medical Centre in Jerusalem.
The commentary volume contains both a full translation and a full description of the manuscript and the Jewish world from which it comes. It is written by Iris Fishof, formerly Chief Curator of Judaica and Jewish Ethnography at The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, who also describes each miniature and provides a scholarly analysis of the texts that they illustrate. It is translated and edited by Jeremy Schonfield.
The commentary volume was printed on 90gsm Fabriano Ingres and bound in fine-grain goatskin to match the presentation case. The facsimile is housed in its own container within the suede-lined goatskin presentation box which also holds the commentary volume.
An 18th-century miniature book of blessings and prayers.
Private Collection, New York.
Seventy pages size 36 x 40 mm (1.4″ x 1.6″)
Limited edition of 550 copies:
400 copies printed on vellum and 150 copies on a specially milled parchment paper.
The facsimile is bound in goatskin with sterling silver clasps, corners and bosses.
The 109-page commentary volume is printed on Fabriano Ingres and bound in goatskin with top, bottom and fore-edge gilding.
The presentation case containing both the facsimile and commentary volumes is covered in goatskin and lined in suede.
ISBN 0 948223 146