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Witnesses to History: A Glimpse at Jewish Religious Life

What better way to catch a glimpse of Jewish religious life in the late Middle Ages in central Europe than through the illustrations of a book on Jewish customs. Those in the 1707 Amsterdam edition of Minhagim, published by Solomon ben Joseph Proops, have become the standard. The woodcut illustrations are authentic and comprehensive, covering Sabbath and holiday observance, and home and synagogue rituals. Among them are a mother blessing the Sabbath lights of a Sabbath oil lamp; a father chanting the Havdalah (service of "separation" at the conclusion of the Sabbath), while he holds a cup of wine by the light of a candle held by a child whose sibling holds a spice box; four men blessing the new moon; a rabbi preaching on the Great Sabbath (preceding Passover); grinding flour for and baking matzoh; searching for chametz (leaven); and scouring pots and pans. Also shown are a man having his hair cut on Lag B'Omer--the thirty-third day of the fifty between Passover and Shavuot, when restrictions obtaining during that period of sernimourning are relaxed; Moses on Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments; worshipers seated on the floor on Tisha B'Av, mourning the destruction of the Temple; the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, the New Year; a man building his tabernacle for the Feast of Tabernacles; the gathering of palms, willows, and myrtle to join the citron in its celebration; children receiving sweets to celebrate the Joy of the Law, Simhat Torah; the kindling of a Hanukkah lamp; and Purim jesters sounding their musical instruments. The life cycle is also marked: bride and groom under the huppah (canopy); an infant boy entering the Covenant of Abraham; and finally, a body borne in a coffin to its eternal resting place.

The woodcut illustrations of Jewish holiday and ritual observance in Minhagim (Customs), published by Solomon Proops, Amsterdam, 1707, with descriptions and instructions in Yiddish, offer us a glimpse of Jewish life at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries, Minhagim (Customs), Amsterdam, 1707. Hebraic Section, Library of Congress Photo).
Blessing the Sabbath Candles, Library of Congress Photo).


The Havdalah Service, Library of Congress Photo).
Sounding the Shofar on Rosh Hashana, Library of Congress Photo).
The Lulav: Palm Branch, Myrtle, and Willow, Library of Congress Photo).
Hanukkah, Festival of Lights Library of Congress Photo).
The Merry Festival of Purim, Library of Congress Photo).
Removing the Leaven from the Home, Library of Congress Photo).
Under the Huppah, the Wedding Service, Library of Congress Photo).
Brit Milah, the Circumcision, Library of Congress Photo).
Carrying the Deceased to the Cemetery, Library of Congress Photo).


Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, (DC: Library of Congress, 1991).