This Me'ah Berachot manuscript, a miniature prayer book, is an exquisite example of how Jewish heritage can be passed down for the delight and enrichment of future generations.
The History of the Book
It was handwritten and illuminated in Central Europe during the eighteenth century, and is today in the hands of a private collector in New York.
Traditionally, pious Jews seek to recite blessings on at least one hundred occasions daily. This unique manuscript, the name Me'ah Berachot means one hundred blessings, is a compendium of blessings, each allocated to a time of day or to a special event. It gathers together morning prayers, Grace after Meals, prayers on retiring at night (Qriat Sh'ema), petitions for the safety of travellers and many other texts to be recited on special occasions – for example on seeing a beautiful tree, on hearing thunder or on wearing a new garment for the first time.
A Special Gift to a Woman
Since it also includes three blessings specifically related to womanly duties (mitzvoth nashim) – on breadmaking, ritual bathing and kindling the Sabbath lights – the book was probably commissioned as a special gift to a woman.
Such a splendid prayer book may well have been presented to a bride and would doubtless have been treasured by generations of her descendants.
A Priceless Heritage
Indeed it is a miniature handbook of Jewish life intended for Jews of all ages. Besides the beautifully written text, the manuscript contains an illuminated title-page and twenty-nine miniature panels illustrating some of the activities associated with the blessings included. Each painting is headed by a cartouche containing the relevant blessing, preceded by directions on how to recite it, written in a more cursive Yiddish script.
Additional miniatures fascinatingly depict a variety of everyday genre scenes – lighting the Sabbath candles, family mealtimes, tending the garden, putting on new clothes, entering the ritual bath, and even the then common medical practice of bloodletting.
Despite the minute size of the book, the script is so clear that all the texts can be read with ease. This little book is a remarkable example of the revival of Hebrew manuscript illumination in the eighteenth century. At that time, long after the invention of printing, it was recognized that a handwritten and finely illustrated book offered a sense of luxury and respect for religious ritual unmatched since the Middle Ages.
Original gold-tooled leather case with handmade silver clasps, bosses and corner plates.