A Maḥzor from Venice 1599/1600

By Michael Pappano FCRH’22

The Maḥzor: ke-minhag k.k. Ashkenazim in Fordham’s collection was published in Venice in 1599/1600 (5360) at the prominent printing business in the Venetian Republic of the era, the Bragadina. This Maḥzor, a Jewish prayer book used on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, was intended for the Ashkenazi Jewish community. The copy in Fordham’s collection measures approximately 6.19 inches x 8 inches x 2.25 inches, and contains approximately 500 pages. It is missing the title page, and the first pages are hand-written.

Maḥzor ke-minhag ḳ.ḳ. Ashkenazim (Venice, 1599/1600), Spec Coll Judaica 1600 1. The first page here starts with a seliḥah אל ארך אפים אתה ובעל הרחמים

The Maḥzor’s cover is made of cloth-covered board and the binding is made from small twine wrapped tightly together, which we can see because the cover is torn off the spine of the book. The individual threads of the binding can be seen when viewing the front and back covers of the book.

The condition of the book, its binding, missing pages, and handwritten restorations signify that the book was heavily used and must have been passed down to many generations, as attested by multiple signatures on the book’s inside covers, in Hebrew and Italian.

Inside cover of The Maḥzor from Venice, Fordham, Spec Coll 1600 1

For a book so old and so heavily used, it is no surprise that many of the pages have blemishes on them. There is water damage on many of the pages and there is a very large number of tears, folded corners, and creases on most all of the pages. Some of the pages also have holes, likely caused by worms.                                     

This book contains both printed pages and handwritten pages. The manuscript pages are written in a handwriting strikingly similar to the font used by the print shop, demonstrating that printed pages were copied in manuscript to replace missing pages.

Maḥzor (Venice 1599/1600), Spec Coll 1600 1. The page on the left is printed, the page on the right is handwritten to resemble the printed page.

Some printed pages have two columns with detailed page borders and intricate borders around titles. 

The Maḥzor was published by a family-owned print shop that eventually became known as “Stamperia Bragadina,”[i] founded by Alvise Bragadin (c.1500 – 1575) in Venice. A Christian, he eventually began printing Hebrew books when offered the chance. After the press was first established and managed by Alvise, his descendants would take over the family business and would keep it successful into the 18th century. [ii] The first book that Bragadin printed in Hebrew was, according to most scholars, Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah in 1550.[iii] This was a very popular book that was published in many editions. The Bragadin family business held a monopoly in the printing business of Hebrew texts for some time in Venice. As a result, the books they published reached many people and places in Europe, North Africa, and the Fertile Crescent. The monopoly ended when a new printing house, Stamperia Vendramina, was established in 1630 by Giovanni Vendramin.[iv]

The presented here Maḥzor was printed by a named printer, Zuan di Gara, better known as Giovanni di Gara, who operated his own printing press but also cooperated closely with the Bragadina, as this Maḥzor attests.

Publishing Competition and Feud in Venice

Marco Antonio Giustiniani, another Venetian publisher, was an ambitious printer. He came before Alvise Bragadin, who began to compete with Giustiniani, and put him out of business. Giustiniani printed many different types of books, including a famous edition of the Talmud, different editions of the Pentateuch with commentaries, works on Jewish law, and more. The feud between him and Bragadin arose over the printing of, Maimonides’ Mishne Torah. Rabbi Katzenellenbogen wrote commentaries in this edition and Giustiniani refused to print. Angered, Katzenellenbogen brought the task to the printshop of Alvise Bragadin who at this point hadn’t yet been publishing Hebrew books.[v] Bragadin accepted the task, and thus began his role as a printer of Hebrew books. Annoyed, Giustiniani printed the book as well, and began to sell it for less than his rival.[vi] In response, Rabbi Katzenellenbogen, who had paid for the printing, went to his distant cousin and leading authority among Ashkenazim in Europe, Rabbi Moses Isserles, seeking to protect his investment in his commentaries. Giustinian’s book was banned as Rabbi Moses Isserles found him guilty under Jewish laws for unfair competition. Angered by the verdict, Giustinian took the issue to Pope Julius III for a trial, urging the pope to examine Katzenellenbogen’s commentaries for heresy. The end result was, that in 1553, Julius III issued a bull ordering the burning of the Talmud and other halakhic works.[vii] This all occurred at a time when Hebrew publications were becoming increasingly questioned and accused of containing blasphemous context.

Historical Context: Burning of the Talmud

The Venetian Republic, in October of 1553, ordered all publications of the Talmud to be burned.[viii] Catholics, those behind the Inquisition, claimed that the Talmud was full of blasphemous assertions regarding God, Mary, and Jesus. Burning the Talmud, a Hebrew publication, affected the printers of Hebrew texts. As a result, the prominent printers Giustinian and Bragadin lost money. Six years later in 1559, the Esecutori ruled that Hebrew books could only be published if they were censored. The printed text would undergo expurgation, and if anyone were to hold unexpurgated books, they would be subject to punishment, such as imprisonment. The Talmud was not allowed to be printed again until 1564.[ix] In 1571, Jews were not even allowed to work at a print shop. The Hebrew presses were now controlled by Christian owners and typesetters. This caused problems as more mistakes were made, complicating the whole process. Jews were then hired to correct and curate the texts if it was permitted by the Catholics in power.[x]

Bragadin Family in Year of Publishing

In 1599/1600 the Bragadin printshop, where the Maḥzor was published, was managed by Giovanni Bragadin, the son of Alvise who took over the press after Alivse had died. He was the head of the Stamperia Bragadina, from 1579 to 1614. Giovanni Bragadin had a standing professional relationship with Aser Parenzo, a prominent editor of the time in Venice. Working with the company for a long time, his loyalty and good-standing relationship with the Bragadin’s was evident.[xi]Giovanni Bragadin’s main competitor at this time was Giovanni Di Gara, though the two frequently collaborated. Di Gara was a prominent Venetian printer that enriched the cultural aspects of Venice with the influence of his press. Between 1565 and 1608, his press issued eight editions of the complete Jewish Bible. Although competitors, both Bragadin and Di Gara published a Torah, Perush ha-Torah meha-ḥakham ha-shalem Don Yitsḥak Abrabanel z[ekher] ts[adik] le-[verakhah]. The colophon of the Torah states that the present work was printed “in the house of the skilled craftsman Zuani di Gara.” Also in this text can be seen 4 crowns; the three represent Stamperia Bragadina, and the added fourth marks the collaboration with Di Gara.[xii]


This essay was written in fall of 2018, during Michael Pappano’s first semester at Fordham, within a course on modern Jewish history (HIST 1851) taught by Professor Magda Teter. Their essays, some of which will be featured here, were published in a volume “You Can Judge Books by Their Covers Jewish History through Used Books.” Fordham’s Judaica collection prides itself in collecting books that were used and popular, often quite quotidian and ordinary, for they reflect a broader Jewish culture that might not be visible through expensive extraordinary items.


[i] Squarcini, F. & P. Capelli. 2016-2017. TRACING THE HEBREW BOOK COLLECTION OF THE VENICE GHETTO. 315. Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.

[ii] “Alvise Bragadin and Stamparia Bragadina,” WUSTL Digital Gateway Image Collections & Exhibitions, accessed September 30, 2018, http://omeka.wustl.edu/omeka/items/show/8387.

[iii] Maimonides, Moses. 1550. [Mishneh Torah … Helek Rishon. Ṿenetsiʼah: nidpas … Aloṿizi Bragadin. See also, Kellner, Menachem. “On the Status of the Astronomy and Physics in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah and Guide of the Perplexed: a Chapter in the History of Science.” The British Journal for the History of Science 24, no. 4 (1991): 453–63. doi:10.1017/S0007087400027643

[iv]“Alvise Bragadin and Stamparia Bragadina,” WUSTL Digital Gateway Image Collections & Exhibitions, accessed September 30, 2018, http://omeka.wustl.edu/omeka/items/show/8387. Yeshaʻyah ben Eliʻezer Ḥayim. 1633. Derekh yashar: ṿe-hu perush kamah maʻaśim yafim, meshalim u-feshaṭim mi-kamah pesuḳim.

[v] Squarcini, F. & P. Capelli. 2016-2017. TRACING THE HEBREW BOOK COLLECTION

OF THE VENICE GHETTO. 315. Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.

[vi] Neil Weinstock Netanel, and David Nimmer. 2016. “Maharam of Padua versus Giustiniani: Rival Editions of Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah”.

[vii] Squarcini, F & P. Capelli. 2016-2017. TRACING THE HEBREW BOOK COLLECTION

[viii] Kenneth R. Stow, “The Burning of the Talmud in 1553  in the Light of Sixteenth Century Catholic Attitudes toward the Talmud.” Bibliotheque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 34 (1972): 435-459.

[ix] Grendler, P. F. (1978). “The Destruction of Hebrew Books in Venice, 1568.” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 45: 103-130.

[x] Squarcini, F&P. Capelli. 2016-2017. TRACING THE HEBREW BOOK COLLECTION

[xi] Squarcini, F&P. Capelli. 2016-2017. TRACING THE HEBREW BOOK COLLECTION

[xii] Abravanel, Isaac, Zuani di Gara, Asher Prikhtsu, Zuan Bragadin, Henry Cohen, and Mollie Cohen. 1579. Perush ha-Torah meha-ḥakham ha-shalem Don Yitsḥak Abrabanel z[ekher] ts[adik] le-[verakhah]. Be-Vinitsiah: [Printed by Asher Prikhtsu for Zuan Bragadin].

Jews of India: Highlights from Fordham’s Special Collections

In February 1807, Claudius Buchanan, a Scottish theologian and missionary of the Church Missionary Society, wrote in his letter from Cochin, 

I have been now in Cochin, or its vicinity for upwards of two months, and have got well acquainted with the Jews. They do not live in the city of Cochin, but in a town about a mile distant from it, called the Jews’ Town. It is almost wholly inhabited by the Jews who have two respectable Synagogues. Among them are some very intelligent men, who are not ignorant of the present history of nations. There are also Jews here form remote parts of Asia, so that this is the fountain of intelligence concerning that people in the East; there being constant communication by ships with the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the mounths of the Indus. The resident Jews are divided into tow classes, called the Jerusalem or White Jews; and the Ancient or Black Jews. The White Jews reside at this place. The Black Jews have also a Synagogue here; but the great body of that tribe inhabit towns in the interior of the province. I have now seen most of both classes. My inquiries referred chiefly to their antiquity, their manuscripts, and their sentiments concerning the present state of their nation.[i]

Claudius Buchanan, Christian Researches in Asia: With Notices of the Translation of the Scriptures into the Oriental Languages (Boston: Published by Samuel T. Armstrong, Cornhill, 1811), which includes a section about Jews in India on pages 164-206.

The history of Jews in India is long and complex. The Jewish population is diverse, with different groups claiming different roots and histories. There are the Jews of Cochin, some of whom claim millennia long-history, some, known as the Paradesi, can trace their roots to early modern Sephardic Jewish traders. There are Jews of Madras, whose roots go back to Sephardic traders from Livorno, Amsterdam, and other places of Western European Portuguese Jewish diaspora. There are also Bene Israel, whose language and culture until the nineteenth century was largely Marathi, and who settled in Mumbai.

Maḥzor li-yeme ha-seliḥot ṿe-Hatarat nedarim ke minhag kahal kadosh Sepharadim (Bombay: Shelomoh ben Salạm Sharʻabi, 5601 [1840]), SPEC JUDAICA 1840.1

Fordham has several items related to that history. One of them is a Maḥzor according to the Sephardic rite for the High Holidays printed in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1840. This small, 40-page-long book, bound in a repurposed paper wrapper with inscriptions in English and Marathi, belonged in 1870 (or 1872) to a man named Jacob “inhabitant of Bombay.” Fordham is only one of four other libraries in the world holding this item.

Maḥzor li-yeme ha-seliḥot ṿe-Hatarat nedarim ke minhag kahal kadosh Sepharadim (Bombay: Shelomoh ben Salạm Sharʻabi, 5601 [1840]), SPEC JUDAICA 1840.1, owner’s signature and repurposed paper wrappers serving as cover.

The Bene Israel community were introduced to Hebrew by both the Cochin Jewish community and European missionaries. As a result, Bene Israel were gradually encouraged “to align and modify their religious practices to accord with more conventional expressions of Judaism.”[ii] A rare copy of a textbook for Hebrew instruction in Marathi and English is found at Fordham. Written by Ezekiel Mazgaonkar (1875-1951), it was first published in 1910 in Bombay, then republished in several editions. Fordham’s copy is the second edition, published also in Bombay in 1920. There were eight additional editions, the last one in 1966. Only three libraries worldwide have copies of this edition: Fordham, University of Florida at Gainsville, and the National Library of Israel.

Ezekiel Mazgaonkar, Le-lamed bene Yiśraʼel = Hibru vācanapāṭha = the elementary Hebrew reader (Bombay: Printed at The Lebanon Type & Litho Works, 1920), SPEC JUDACIA 1920.1
Ezekiel Mazgaonkar, Le-lamed bene Yiśraʼel = Hibru vācanapāṭha = the elementary Hebrew reader (Bombay: Printed at The Lebanon Type & Litho Works, 1920), SPEC JUDACIA 1920.1
Basant, 1942

The Indian American Jewish artist Siona Benjamin, who spoke at Fordham on August 18th, 2020, recalls her childhood in Mumbai, “the oil lamps, the velvet-and-silver-covered Torahs, a chair left vacant for the prophet Elijah.” Siona Benjamin comes from the Bene Israel in India. As she remarked, discussing her art, “having grown up in a Hindu and Muslim society, educated in Catholic and Zoroastrian schools, raised Jewish in India, and now calling America home, I have always had to reflect on cultural boundary zones.” Her art brims with cross-cultural references to different religions or cultural icons, from American pop art to Bollywood, from Jewish symbols to Christian and Hindu references. Fordham’s Special Collection has a few artifacts from Bollywood, the “Hollywood” of Bombay, among them are press booklets of two films with Pramila, a Bollywood star and film producer, born in Calcutta in 1916 as Esther Victoria Abraham: Basant (1942), the highest grossing film of 1942, in which she played Meena, and Beqasoor (1950), the seventh highest grossing film of Bollywood. (A recent documentary Shalom Bollywood traces the history of Jews in Bollywood, including Jewish actresses like Pramila.)

Besaqoor, 1950
Poster for “Yahudi,” a 1958 Bollywood film by Bimal Roy.

One of the most fascinating films that came out of Bollywood is the 1958 film Yahudi, directed by Bimal Roy and based on a play Agha Hashar Kashmiri, an Urdu poet also known for adaptations of European plays, including by Shakespear, into Urdu. Yahudi is set in the Roman Empire. The play was based on the 19th-century play The Jewess, which inspired the opera La Juive by Jacques-François-Fromental-Élie Halévy that premiered in 1835. The film, the opera, and these nineteenth-century plays draw on the plot developed by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s 1779 play Nathan the Wise. Made in 1958 in India, Yahudi also spoke to the India-Pakistan partition and the impact it had on interreligious relations, especially poignantly since some of the stars were Muslims who remained in India after the partition.


Blue Like Me: The Art of Siona Benjamin


Siona Benjamin, Finding Home #79, Lilith, 2006.
Siona Benjamin, Finding Home #82, Joseph, 2006.

Below is a video of Siona Benjamin and art historian Ori Z. Soltes discussing her art.

This program was co-presented with Be’chol Lashon’s speakers’ bureau. For 20 years, Be’chol Lashon  has been addressing questions of diversity within the Jewish community. For more information see their website www.globaljews.org


[i] Claudius Buchanan, Christian Researches in Asia: With Notices of the Translation of the Scriptures into the Oriental Languages (Boston: Published by Samuel T. Armstrong, Cornhill, and sold by him, by A. Lyman & Co. Portland; H. Whipple, Salem; Thomas & Whipple, and E. Little & Co. Newburyport; S. Butler, Northampton; A. Shearman, Newbedford; H. Brewer, Providence, Hale & Hosmer, Hartford; Beers & Howe, Newhaven; Whiting and Watson and John Tiebout, Newyork; E.F. Backus, Albany; George Weller, Newark; D. Allinson and Co. Burlington; W.W. Woodward, Philadelphia; J. Kingston, F. Lucas, Jr. and P.H. Nicklin, Baltimore, 1811),  171.

[ii] Mitch Numark, “Hebrew School in Nineteenth-Century Bombay: Protestant Missionaries, Cochin Jews, and the Hebraization of India’s Bene Israel Community,” Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 46, No. 6 (2012):  1767.

Jews, Race, and the Story of Ethiopian Jews

Famine in Ethiopia of 1983-1985 led to over one million deaths, with hundreds of thousands refugees leaving the country. Among those refugees were Beta Israel, Ethiopian Jews, who found their way on foot to Sudan. As neither Muslims nor Christians, they were persecuted in Sudanese refugee camps. In an international operation, later called Operation Moses, thousands of Beta Israel were rescued and brought to Israel between November 21, 1984 and January 5, 1985.

In Israel, state agencies, social workers sought to integrate the refugees into a new life in Israel. Passover of 1985 would be their first Passover in a new home. That year, the Office for Cultural Integration of Ethiopian Jews (Misrad le-kelitah ruḥanit shel yehudei etiopia be-Israel) published a bilingual haggadah in Amharic and Hebrew, Haggadah shel Pesaḥ, edited by Yosef Hadana, Chief Rabbi of Ethiopian Jews, translated by Yona Bugale.

Haggadah shel Pesaḥ, Amharic and Hebrew, edited by Yosef Hadana, Chief Rabbi of Ethiopian Jews, translated by Yona Bugale (Bnei Brak: Misrad le-kelitah ruḥanit shel yehudei etiopia be-Israel, 1985). Fordham, O’Hare Special Collections and Archives, Walsh Family Library.

The process of integration was not easy, Israel’s rabbis questioned the refugees’ Jewishness requiring conversions, while within the Ethiopian Jewish community, traditional values and practices were challenged, including traditional gender roles. Among those refugees was Avishai Yeganyahu Mekonen, whose compelling film “400 Miles to Freedom” combines a deeply personal story with broader questions of trauma, race, gender, and identity. Mekonen’s deeply personal story also raises questions that were a driving force for early Jewish historians, even those focused on mostly European Jewish history: how Jews survived for thousands of years and maintained their Jewish identity as a tiny minority settled among other peoples. But the film also raises broader questions about what it means to be Jewish and how the Jewish community accepts its own diversity.

On August 6th, Avishai Yeganyahu Mekonen discussed his film and family story with scholars of Beta Israel, Steven B. Kaplan, a professor emeritus of African studies and comparative religion at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he also served a Dean of the Humanities, and the author of many books and articles on the history of Ethiopian Jews, including The Beta Israel: Falasha in Ethiopia: From Earliest Times to the Twentieth Century, and Kay Shelemay, the G. Gordon Watts Professor of Music and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University and the author of Music, Ritual, and Falasha History (1986), A Song of Longing: An Ethiopian Journey (1991); and Ethiopian Christian Chant: An Anthology (3 vols., 1993-97), among others.

The conversation can be viewed on our YouTube chanell

And you can watch “400 Miles to Freedom” on Vimeo:

Avishai Yeganyahu Mekonen’s compelling film “400 Miles to Freedom” from from Seventh Art Releasing

This program was co-presented with Be’chol Lashon’s speakers’ bureau. For 20 years, Be’chol Lashon  has been dealing with diversity in the Jewish community. The organization also supported the creation of Avishai’s movie. For more information see their website www.globaljews.org

Passover 2020 and The Iconography of the Plagues

The Golden Haggadah, second quarter of the 14th century, Spain, British Library MS Additional 27210, 12v. Four plagues: frogs, lice, “arov” (wild beasts), and murrain.

As we endure the pandemic of COVID-19, the plagues from the story of Exodus and the Haggadah acquire a different meaning. The iconographic representation of the plagues can already be found in medieval illuminated Haggadot, like the 14th-century Spanish haggadot: Golden Haggadah and the “Brother Haggadah,” now at the British Library. Both begin with a sequence of magnificent illuminations depicting the story of Exodus.

The “Brother Haggadah”, third quarter of the 14th century, Spain. British Library, MS Oriental 1404, fol. 5r. Plagues of boils (top) and hail (bottom)

The “Brother Haggadah” has depicts eight of the ten plagues, skipping the first (blood) and the last (the killing of the first born). Both the Golden Haggadah and the “Brother Haggadah” were were commissioned by affluent Spanish Jews. These are two of several surviving illuminated haggadot from Spain. Among the other known Spanish haggadot are the so-called Sarajevo haggadah and the Rylands haggadah from the the John Rylands Library in Manchester.

Histoire de la Bible et de l’Assomption de Notre-Dame, France, Paris, between 1390 and 1400
The Morgan Library and Museum, New York, MS M.526, fol. 14r

Christian illuminated bibles, especially the so called moralized bibles, also included illustrations of the plagues. Here is a late 14th century French bible, now at the Morgan Library, Histoire de la Bible et de l’Assomption de Notre-Dame, France, Paris, between 1390 and 1400 (MS M.526). Folios 12r-14v depict the scenes from Exodus relating the ten plagues. Here is the plague of locust. On top right Moses speaks with Pharaoh, depicted as a king, and at the bottom right Moses speaks to God, who is depicted as Christ.

The iconography found in many modern haggadot does not draw from these medieval examples, but rather from the iconography developed in the printed haggadot of the early modern era. This is the case for the 1946 Haggadah from Cairo. Below are images of the first five plagues: blood, frogs, lice, ‘arov (wild beasts/swarms), and murrain.

Below are images from a haggadah issued for the first Passover after the end of World War II. It was published in a Displaced Persons Camp in Fernwald in 1946. The Haggadah’s wine stains show it was used for a Passover seder (below). The pages below illustrate the dependence of modern haggadot on premodern iconography. The bottom image, marked by wine stains, shows the section shefokh ha-matkha (“Pour forth thy wrath”) section of the Passover Haggadah, which must have been particularly meaningful in 1946.

The break away from that “traditional” imagery came only from the more artistic modern haggadot, such as the 1969 El Al Haggadah.

Haggadah shel Pesah (Hagada for Passover) edited by Shaham Lewenson, Printed for El Al 1969. Fordham University, SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1969 1

To see more –though not all– examples of Haggadot from the Fordham collection, see the catalogue of the exhibition “Haggadah and History,” which was on view in 2019.