The Rare Oxford Machzor Vitry: A Rosh Hashana essay

The Rare Oxford Machzor Vitry: A Rosh Hashana essay


Oxford Jewish Thought, September 27 (2011)


One of the most important Hebrew manuscripts in Oxford’s Bodleian library is the Machzor Vitry, which includes laws, prayers and liturgical poems, as well as the liturgy for the High Holiday prayers. It is authored by Rabbi Simcha ben Shmuel of Vitry (d. 1105). Rabbi Simcha was a French Talmudist of the 11th and 12th centuries and pupil of the great Biblical and Talmudic commentator Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known as Rashi (1040-1105). His son Samuel married Rashi’s granddaughter and he was the grandfather of the famous Tosafist, Isaac of Dampierre. They both died in the same year.

The Oxford text is a very rare copy and one of only three manuscripts of the Machzor Vitry extant. The oldest, according to Abraham Berliner (1833–1915) in his additions to Hurwitz’s introduction to the Machzor Vitry (p. 172), is from Reggio, Italy, currently in the JTS library, which is in a poor state of preservation. The Reggio manuscript contains the Machzor Vitry proper without any additions.

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