Book of Customs: A Complete Handbook to the Jewish Year

Book of Customs: A Complete Handbook to the Jewish Year

Hardcover(First Edition)



Fifteen years ago while researching Jewish imagery, award-winning book designer Scott-Martin Kosofsky happened upon a 1645 edition of the Minhogimbukh—the "Customs Book"—a beautifully designed and illustrated guide to the Jewish year written in Yiddish, the people's vernacular. Captivated, he investigated further and learned that from 1590 to 1890, this cross between a prayer book and a farmer's almanac was immensely popular in households all across Europe. Published in dozens of editions and revised over the centuries in Venice, Prague, Amsterdam, and throughout Germany before moving eastward in the nineteenth century to Poland and Russia, these books detail the evolution of Jewish custom over three hundred years. But by the 1890s, as Jewish practice became polarized between the secularist and traditionalist views, the Minhogimbukh disappeared.

There are no works quite like the historical customs books available today—none so thorough and concise, intuitive in organization, and beautiful. Inspired by the originals, Kosofsky set out to make his own, adapting the books for modern use, adding historical perspective and contemporary application. The result is the reappearance of the Minhogimbukh after more than a hundred-year absence, and the first complete showing of all the original woodcuts—a visual vocabulary of Jewish life—since the 1760s. Faithfully based on the earlier editions, The Book of Customs is an updated guide to the rituals, liturgies, and texts of the entire Jewish year—from the days of the week and the Sabbath to all the months with their festivals, as well as the major life-cycle events of wedding, birth, bar and bat mitzvah, and death. With the revival of this lost cultural legacy, The Book of Customs can once again become every family's guide to Jewish tradition and practice.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060524371
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/28/2004
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 464
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.52(d)

About the Author

Scott-Martin Kosofsky is an award-winning book and typeface designer in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For the past fifteen years he has worked increasingly in the field of Jewish studies, having produced such notable books as The Harvard Hillel Sabbath Songbook, The Jews of Boston, A Survivors' Haggadah, and Esther's Children, a lavishly illustrated history of the Jews of Iran.

Read an Excerpt

The Book of Customs
A Complete Handbook for the Jewish Year


A Discovery

Fifteen years ago, while looking for illustrations to use in my first Judaica project, The Harvard Hillel Sabbath Songbook, I came across reproductions of several Renaissance woodcuts in an old Jewish encyclopedia. Their source was given as "Sefer minhagim, Amsterdam, 1645." At the time I had reclaimed only enough of my Hebrew school education to know that sefer means "book"; the other word was familiar, but I couldn't quite remember its meaning. To learn more, I would have to see the book. The Harvard libraries had several books with that name or similar names, and still more on microfilm, including one that matched the particulars given in the encyclopedia. When I saw how minhagim was spelled in Hebrew, I looked it up and found that it means "customs." What I had stumbled upon was the Book of Customs.

I was charmed at first sight. I had in my hands something I had never seen before: a compact guide to the Jewish year, complete with over forty delightful illustrations of the main holidays and rituals. I knew this because, despite the Hebrew title by which it was cataloged, the book was in Yiddish with prayers in Hebrew. So rather than a lofty Sefer minhagim or Sefer haminhagim, it was in reality a humble Yiddish customs book, the Minhogimbukh. I grew up in a household in which Yiddish was a principal language, and that I still had some ability in the language gave me an entrée. That it was a fine example of book design brought it into my professional realm. I noticed interesting differences in the six editions I saw at Harvard, which inspired me to ask about the books at other institutions and before long I saw some thirty more at the libraries of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Hebrew Union College, and Brandeis University and still others from the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Their dates were spread across the range of the book's history, 1566 to 1874.

I was surprised to discover that while a few of the illustrations were known, having been reproduced here and there, the book itself had no reputation. It was just one of the myriads of old Jewish books. I learned from a few Judaica librarians that it was especially well neglected because scholars of Judaism have paid little attention to books in Yiddish, written as they were for the unwashed and unlettered; Yiddish scholars, as a rule, are interested in literature, not in religion. That the early editions are in Old Yiddish, before the Slavic influences had become so much a part of the language, placed it even further from mainstream interests. Curiously, this book, which had been so useful for so long, had no successor. I was quite pleased to hear this; the book's outsider status made it available to become my book, my point of departure for a journey into the realm of Jewish learning.

From the many editions of the Minhogimbukh I had photocopied, ten of the woodcuts made their way into The Harvard Hillel Sabbath Songbook. The others were pasted into a scrapbook, arranged by theme: Sabbath cuts on one page, Passover cuts on another, whole sets bundled at the back. The thought of preparing a new edition occurred to me early on, but it was years before I felt capable of doing so. Fortunately, the Songbook was a success (it's still in print after all these years), and many more Judaica projects came my way, each an opportunity to become more engaged with Judaism. This wasn't to be a Homeric journey home through rough seas and great perils. Instead, it was an near-accidental discovery that became an ever-increasing influence on my work and life. Perhaps it was bashert -- "meant to be," as one says in Yiddish. My grandmothers would have thought so.

A History of the Minhogimbukh

For over four hundred years, the Minhogimbukh was among the most popular Jewish books in the European Diaspora, just after the Bible, the siddur (prayer book), and the Passover haggadah. It was published as the people's guide to the Jewish year in dozens of editions from Amsterdam to Venice to Warsaw and Kiev. In addition to its rich presentation of the rituals and prayers, the book's illustrated editions featured the zodiac and the seasons of farm life, giving it an additional role as a kind of Jewish Old Farmers' Almanac. Its roots were in the Hebrew Sefer minhagim written in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century by the Hungarian rabbi Eyzil (Isaac) Tyrnau, one of a number of such works from the late Middle Ages. The Tyrnau text circulated in manuscript for about one hundred fifty years before its first printed edition, still in Hebrew, was published in 1566 in Venice.

Eyzik Tyrnau's time was one of tragedy and loss. His book was writ ten in the aftermath of the Black Death (1348-1350) in the belief that there was a kind of symbolic equivalence between a people and it customs. By preserving its customs, even if only in writing, the community would survive the pestilence, expulsions, harsh laws, and persecution that characterized Jewish life of the period. Tyrnau's work was thorough and well organized, setting the pattern for the later books customs...

The Book of Customs
A Complete Handbook for the Jewish Year
. Copyright © by Scott-Martin Kosofsky. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Discoveryxv
A Welcome from 1593xxxi
Custom and Law1
Fundamentals of Prayer7
The Days of the Week19
Prayers upon Waking21
Shaharit: The Morning Synagogue Service22
Blessings of Food and Drink43
Minhah: The Afternoon Synagogue Service48
Maariv: The Evening Synagogue Service49
The Bedtime Shema51
Preparations for the Sabbath56
Friday Evening: Kabbalat Shabbat59
Friday Evening Service63
Friday Evening at Home65
Saturday Morning71
Musaf Service78
The Sabbath Day Meal80
Sabbath Afternoon Service81
The Third Sabbath Meal83
The Conclusion of Sabbath85
Rosh Hodesh91
The Prayers for Rosh Hodesh93
When Rosh Hodesh Falls on Sabbath96
Shabbat Mahar Hodesh97
Blessing the New Moon97
The Month of Nisan101
Shabbat Hagadol103
The Preparations for Passover104
Preparing the Flour for Matzoh105
The First Night of Passover115
The Seder116
The First Day of Passover131
General Laws of Festivals135
Forbidden and Permitted Foods on Passover137
The Second Night of Passover139
The Counting of the Omer140
The Second Day of Passover141
Hol Hamoed: The Intermediate Days of Passover142
Sabbath During the Intermediate Days of Passover144
The Last Days of Passover146
Yom Hashoah149
The Month of Iyar153
Yom Hazikaron, Yom Haatzmaut, Yom Yerushalayim156
Lag b'Omer158
The Month of Sivan163
The First Day of Shavuot165
The Second Day of Shavuot168
The Month of Tamuz175
The Month of Av185
Tishah b'Av188
The Customs of Tishah b'Av190
The Month of Av After the Ninth197
The Month of Elul205
Teshuvah and Selihah: Repentance and Forgiveness207
Tzedakah: Charity as Justice210
The Day Before Rosh Hashanah217
The Month of Tishrei221
The Book of Life and the Book of Death223
Rosh Hashanah225
The First Day of Rosh Hashanah226
The Second Day of Rosh Hashanah241
The Fast of Gedaliah243
Shabbat Shuvah: The Sabbath of Return245
The Day Before Yom Kippur247
Yom Kippur251
Kol nidrei: The Eve of Yom Kippur253
The Morning of Yom Kippur259
Musaf Service266
Afternoon Service268
Neilah: the Last Appeal270
The Conclusion of Yom Kippur271
The Sukkah274
The Four Species276
The First Night of Sukkot277
The First Two Days of Sukkot279
The Intermediate Days of Sukkot283
Sabbath During the Intermediate Days of Sukkot284
Hoshana Rabbah287
Shemini Atzeret289
Simhat Torah292
The Month of Heshvan295
The Month of Kislev305
The Customs of Hanukkah307
The Synagogue Customs of Hanukkah310
The Month of Tevet321
The Tenth of Tevet322
The Month of Shevat333
Shabbat Shekalim: The Sabbath of the Shekel Tax342
The Month(s) of Adar345
Shabbat Zakhor: The Sabbath of Remembrance347
The Customs of Purim355
Shabbat Parah: The Sabbath of the Red Heifer359
Shabbat Hahodesh: The Sabbath of the Month364
Concepts and Artifacts of Betrothal and Marriage368
Modern Weddings372
Pidyon haben: The Redemption of the Firstborn Son382
Bar and Bat Mitzvah383
The Background of Bar and Bat Mitzvah384
The Customs of Bar and Bat Mitzvah387
Death and Mourning389
At the Time of Death391
Preparation of the Corpse392
The Funeral and Burial394
Notes and Bibliography399
Transliterations and Translations399
Page Notes400
Other Works Consulted407

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