The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Minhagim Books in Their Miscellany Contexts: A Window into Their Uses and Reading Audiences in Late Medieval Ashkenaz

Many medieval books are found in miscellany manuscripts, bound together with other works. Although scholars of Christian Europe have focused increasingly on the miscellany contexts of medieval works, this codicological tool has been underutilized in the study of Jewish books despite its potential to shed light on their use and intended readers in the medieval period. This paper will examine miscellanies produced in the thirteenth to the fifteenth century that incorporate any one of five highly related Ashkenazic liturgical minhagim books, including the minhagim of Yehezqiyahu of Magdeburg. All the miscellanies were bound in the medieval period and were likely copied entirely or mostly by a single scribe. Many can be characterized as liturgical-halakhic compendia. Though these vary considerably, typical components include mahzorim and works on synagogue ritual, kashrut, and shehitah. The circulation of liturgical minhagim books with works of this type suggests that they too were considered vital sources of practical ritual guidance for communal leaders in late medieval Ashkenaz. Several other miscellanies do not have a clear organizing principle and, perhaps, should be viewed as one-volume personal libraries. All include works of substantive length that don’t clearly fall in the practical ritual category and that an individual might want for his own scholarly interests. One miscellany consists primarily of a compilation of Torah commentaries, while a dictionary based on the Arukh forms a major part of another. The inclusion of minhagim books with different regional customs in two miscellanies of this latter type may also reflect the scholarly concerns of their original fifteenth-century owners, who, perhaps, were more interested in the study and preservation of customs than in using minhagim books for practical purposes. These observations illustrate that examining minhagim books in their miscellany contexts can lead to valuable insights about their varied uses and readers in late medieval Ashkenaz.