Celebration and Commemoration
Throughout its long history, the synagogue commemorated historical events at regular and special services, and
persons of note were honored with liturgical odes. The liturgy
collection of the Library's Hebraic Section is rich in such special
commemoration and celebration publications.
An aesthetically pleasing order of service, Simhat
Mitzvah (Joy of the Commandment), celebrating the dedication of
its new synagogue, was issued by the Italian congregation (the other
was the Spanish and Portuguese) of Florence in 1793. On page four of the publication we note the presence of a
choir and musicians, and special directions to their leader. This is
a representative publication of the many others which celebrated
dedications of synagogues, schools, orphanages, homes for the aged,
and other communal institutions.
The Italian rite congregation
in Florence dedicated new synagogue in 1793. The dedication
service, published in black and red type that year, indicates the
presence of a choir and musicians, and records the special
instructions given to their director.
Simhat Mitzvah (Joy of the Commandment), Florence, 1793.
Of greater historical significance are the many
special services, poems, and prayers published in praise or memory of
non-Jewish persons of power-some, like Pope Leo X, deserving of Jewish
praise; some, like Pope Pius VI, not. Maria-Theresa, honored by one of
the most beautiful of liturgical publications, was surely unworthy of
the praise showered upon her; while her son, Joseph II, Holy Roman
Emperor and ruler of Austria and the north Italian provinces, was. In
1781 he abolished the Jew's badge, rescinded the poll tax, and issued
his Toleranzpatent, providing for gradual elimination of
restrictions against Jews and allowing them to enter the broader
political and cultural life of his domains. "Toleration" was
not granted but imposed, for in return it demanded a too rapid
assimilation on the part of the Jews in the life of the society at
large. Joseph II's attitude towards the Jews was that of a benevolent
despot; to him they were human beings, consumers, and tax payers,
useful, if kept in check. Jews were still confined to ghettoes,
restricted in marriage rights, and forbidden to hold office; but the
most humiliating edicts were removed, and opportunities for
participation in educational and economic life were expanded.
In 1789 the Jewish
community of Mantua seized the opportunity to express its gratitude
to Joseph II by celebrating his army's success in the siege of
Belgrade. It took the form of an elegant publication, L'Elohei
M'uzim Roni Todot (To the Lord of Might Sing Gratitude), prayers
and poems in Hebrew with Italian translation by Azriel Isaac Levi,
rabbi and scribe of the Mantuan community, Rabbi Solomon Norsa, scion
of one of the city's leading families, and Rabbi Abraham Cologna, who
later gained fame as vice-president of the Sanhedrin convened by
Napoleon in 1807.
The Jewish community Of Mantua
then under the sovereignty of the Austrian Emperor Joseph II, held
a special service to celebrate the victory of the emperor's force
in its battle for the conquest of the city of Belgrade. A
collection of'prayers and poems specially prepared for the
celebration was published by the community in 1789. We see here
Rabbi Solomon Norsa's sonnet in Hebrew and Italian.
L'Elohei M'uzim Roni Todot (To the Lord of Might Sing Gratitude),
Mantua, 1789. Hebraic Section.
Napoleon's benevolence to the Jews was far greater.
Ghetto walls fell, and he permitted the participation of Jews in
political, social, and economic life. On August 15, 1808, the Jews of Livorno celebrated the emperor's birthday with special prayers in their Great
Synagogue, and issued Hod Malchut (Glory of Sovereignty), an
order of service in Hebrew with Italian translation, which culminated
in a benediction for "His Imperial Majesty, Napoleon I, Emperor of
France, King of Italy and Protector of the Confederation of the
May the King of Kings place compassion in the
heart of the Emperor and his counsellors and officers, to deal kindly
with us, and with Israel our brethren. In his days and ours, may
Judah be saved, and Israel dwell securely, and may the Redeemer come
The Jews of Livorno (Leghorn)
celebrated the thirty-eighth birthday of Emperor Napoleon I with a
service of worship, for which a special liturgy was prepared and
published in Hebrew and Italian. Here we see the prayer for:
His Imperial Majesty, Napoleon I, Emperor of France, King of Italy
and Protector of the Confederation of the Rhme.
Hod Malchut (Glory of Sovereignty), Livorno, 1808. Hebraic
A special Order of Service and Prayer "for the Day of Assembly, devoted to mourning by the Jewish
Congregations, throughout England" was published in London, for
use on the 24th of Tamuz, AM 5590 (July 15, 1830), that "being the
day of burial of His late, Most Gracious Majesty, King George IV."
By all accounts George IV was a profligate, immoral, contentious king
but, together with all other English subjects, the Jews gathered in
their houses of worship to join in public mourning and announced their
participation by issuing a two-page broadside containing the prayers
The illustration says it all,
that Jewish Congregations throughout England held special services
in memory of their departed monarch George IV, on the day of his
burial, July 15, 1830, using this published uniform liturgy, in
Hebrew with English translation.
Order of Service and Prayer, London, 1830. Hebraic Section.
The supplications "for life and peace" for
the newly crowned Bey of Tunis, Muhammad al-Sadiq-expressed by
"the Jews dwelling under his sovereignty, here, in the city of
Tunis," and published there in 1860 in Hebrew and Arabic-were
genuine. His predecessors, Ahmad and Muhammad, treated their Jewish
subjects with a benevolence unmatched in the Islamic world, the former
so much so that he was called the "bey of the Jews"; the
latter, under French pressure to be sure, issued a constitution which
provided that duress may not be used to force Jews to change their
faith, nor may they be hindered in the free observance of their
religion. Jews had every reason to expect the new bey would continue
these policies, hence, the prayers for his well-being, but a revolution
in 1864 brought about abrogation of the constitution, and the Jews
suffered both from revolution and abrogation. Only in 1881, when Tunis
became a dependency of France, were its Jews accorded equal rights.
Special prayers for life and
peace for the new Bey of Tunis, Muhammad al-Sadiq, were intoned and
published in Hebrew and Arabic in 1860, by the Jews of Tunis.
Bakashat ha-Hayim V'ha-Shalom L'Adoneno ha-Melech (Entreaty
for life and Peace of Our Master, the King), Tunis, 1860. Hebraic
A collection of occasional prayers, written in
Casale Monferrato in 1817, is one of a number of such collections in
the manuscripts collection of the Hebraic Section. Under French
occupation from 1799 to 1814, the Jews of that area were granted equal
civil rights, which with the end of French rule were revoked. The
ghetto, established in 1724, was reinstituted, and rights granted were
rescinded. In 1817 the scribe, remembering fifteen years of freedom and
equality now gone, inscribed the most mournful dirge in all the
liturgy, Ele Ezkara, recounted on the Day of Atonement, with a
These things do I remember and my heart is
grieved. How the arrogant have devoured my people! ... With humble
and mournful hearts we pray to Thee, O merciful God, look down from
heaven on the blood of Thy righteous. Oh make an end of bloodshed by
man and wash away the stain, O thou King, who sittest on the throne
It was not until 1848 that Jews were granted full
Among the many liturgical
manuscripts in the Hebraic Section of the Library of Congress is
this compendium of various prayers and petitions for special
occasions and special needs. Open to a dirge to be said on Tisha
B'Av the Fast Day commemorating the destruction of the Temple, Ele
Ezkara (These Things Do I Remember).
Tefilot U-Vakashot (Prayers and Petitions), Casale Monferrato,
1817-18. Hebraic Section.
Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From
the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress,
(DC: Library of Congress,