Librarian's Lobby 
Daniel D. Stuhlman

August 1998


It is gratifying to me to hear the wonderful response that this column has generated. This is the 14th column. I have heard from readers in person, by phone, by written note and by e-mail. Readers have asked library reference questions, and I have been able to answer them. Thanks for the support. Shanah Tovah.


This time of year, rabbis and their congregations are thinking about Yomim Noraim. The Library has an exhibit of books related to the season. I would like to describe some of the Mahzorim in the display. If you want to learn more about the history of Tefillah and how the siddur evolved I would suggest : The story of the prayer book, by Philip Arian and Azrial Eisenberg and Jewish liturgy and its development, by A. Z. Idelsohn.

Imagine you are in a shul before the days of printing. It is already several hundred years after Rashi and Saadia Gaon. The order of prayers and local customs are somewhat fixed. The hazzan no longer improvises the words. How many books are in this shul? The answer is one for the Hazzan and a few for the very rich members who are able to afford to pay for a manuscript copy. Most of the congregants must either memorize the prayers or listen very carefully to the hazzan. The Hazzan's siddur is written in big letters so that a few people can look over his shoulder.

The word Siddur is from the root [sdr] meaning order. The Siddur is a book of prayers in a fixed order. The word Mahzor is from the root [hzr] meaning cycle. The complete phrase for the name of this book was, Mahzor shel Tefillah. A mahzor was a collection of public and private prayers for the complete cycle of life from birth to death. For example, a mahzor would contain the Pesah seder, while a siddur would not. These are the earlier uses of the words. Today the connotation is to use the word mahzor for a prayer book associated with a particular holiday, usually Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. One of the earliest mahzorim, called Mahzor Yannai, was discovered in the Cairo Genizah. Another early edition, Mahzor Vitri, combined the text of the tefilot with commentary.

The HTC Library owns a manuscript mahzor that was written for individual use (i.e. not for the hazzan). It is about 442 pages and 19 cm. tall. The copy does not indicate a date, place or owner.

Printing made books affordable for the masses. The oldest printed prayer book that the HTC Library owns is from about 1699. The following are samples from our collection.

Sha'ar bat rabim : mahzor halek sheni 'im perush haderet kodesh ki-minhag kahal kodesh Ashkanazim yishmeret ha-'el. Venice, 1711. Leather cover. 2 vol. ; 40 cm.
Both volumes start with Selihot with a very fancy box around the word . The table of contents is in the back of volume 2. Volume 1 has a section of halachot before shaharit. The main text is in large letters with commentary on the outside. Volume 2 contains the prayers for Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Shemini Atzeret. The order of tekiat shofar appears in volume 2.

Mahzor li-rosh ha-shanah vi-yom kippurim, Vilna, 1865. Leather cover. 336 p. ; 29 cm.
The volume begins with shaharit. The text of the prayers is in large letters, with a Yiddish commentary in smaller print in another font on the bottom. Instructions are in Yiddish. Even though the title pages says this is for Rosh Hashanah, the prayers for Yom Kippur are included starting at page 163.

Minha hadasha : mahzor liyom sheni shel Rosh haShanah min Michael Minahem Konavo. Kratashin, 1838. Gold stamped leather cover. 128 p. ; 22 cm.

On display is one volume out of a set, containing a volume for each holiday. The Hebrew text is in one font and a German commentary in Hebrew letters is on the bottom printed in another typeface. The Haftorah has a German translation.

Mahzor likhol mo'ed ha-shanah : ki-minhag ha-midinot Polin, Behemen, Mehareo, vi-Ungaran ... fun Mendel BR"Y Shtern. Wien, 1862. Tooled leather cover.
This is from a set of nine mahzorim, each for different holiday. The Hebrew text and German in Hebrew letters are in parallel columns. The print is mostly in one size font.

Mahzor li-Rosh haShanah = Form of prayers for the New Year with English translation. New York, 1866. Leather, gold stamped cover. Gilded edges. 2 vol. in 1. ; 20 cm.

English translation and Hebrew text are on parallel pages. This edition was actually prepared in 1864. What is interesting is that this is a traditional mahzor in English at a time when many of the American Jews spoke German and were leaning away from the traditional liturgy. There is no introduction to explain the prayers or how the book came to be published.

Seder tephilot kol ha-shanah Gebetbuch fur die neue Synagogue in Berlin. Theil II Neujahrsfelt und Versohnunstag. Berlin, 1881. Leather tooled cover. Gilded edges. 464 p. ; 21 cm.
Hebrew text with German translation and instructions. Includes a prayer for Kaiser Wilhelm in German. The German text is in Gothic typeface.

Mahzor li-Yom Kippur = Prayer book for the Day of Atonement with English translation by A. Th. Philips. New York, 1937 [c1931]. 361 p. ; 20 cm.

Hebrew text and English translation are on parallel pages. This was the standard English translation of the Mahzor used before Philip Birnbaum edited his edition. A companion volume was published for Rosh Hashanah. There is no commentary. The few instructions are in Hebrew.

Mahzor rinat Yisra'el li-Rosh ha-Shanah : nusah sephard. Yerushalayim, [1978] 365 p. ; 22 cm.

This Mahzor is aimed at an Israeli audience. The print is clean, crisp and easy to read. There are notes and explanations in Hebrew at the bottom of some of the pages.

Cataloging Mahzorim

All forms of prayer books require a uniform title. The uniform title is the form found in the Encyclopedia Judaica. The uniform title is the means for the library to keep like materials together. The terms for liturgical works are all familiar to us, i.e., Siddur, Haggadah, Mahzor, Kinot, Selichot, Zemirot. We would also add a date so that the items can be more easily arranged. For example : Mahzor. Hebrew and English. 1978; Mahzor. Hebrew and German. 1881. Added entries are included for the title as it appears on the title page and editor, translator, or other person (or corporate body) responsible for the content. Because so many editions can be published, finding items in the catalog without an exact title or editor may require help from the librarian.

Items are generally cataloged under the uniform title that the editor or publisher suggests on the title page. A book that contains daily prayers and Shabbat prayers is a Siddur. A book with festival prayers may be a Mahzor or a Siddur, depending on the publisher. A book that contains multiple liturgical works would be cataloged under the most prominent one or if none is prominent, under the first to appear in the book.


Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. We are looking for new clients and opportunities. Visit our web site to learn more about knowledge management and what our firm can do for you. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at:

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Last revised July 7, 2003