Page 42 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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eschew representational scenes; their Purim scrolls are frequently
decorated with leaves and flowers. Since the obligation to hear
the story of Esther is not fulfilled if even a single word is not clearly
understood, women as well as men were careful to follow the
reading in their private scrolls. It was customary, therefore, for a
bride’s parents to present her bridegroom with a scroll as beauti­
fully written and decorated as they could afford.
The custom of Sivlonot, betrothal gifts from the bridegroom
to the bride, is responsible for another charming miniature man­
uscript book—a collection of prayers, excerpts from the sacred
writings, explications in old Yiddish, regulations applicable to
the female sex—written on vellum with colorful illuminations of
Biblical and ritual scenes. This minibook is frequently bound in
silver or in embroidered cloth. The Sivlonot booklets are extremely
rare because only those amply blessed with material goods could
afford to engage an artist-scribe and a bookbinder of superior
The need to provide oneself with the means to execute religious
obligations has created two other types of miniature manuscript
books. The author has in his collection a tiny Sefirah book of
German origin, measuring lfy by 2i/£ inches, dated 1785. It con­
tains the blessing for the counting of the Omer, the prayer for the
restoration of the Temple service, and Psalm LXVII voicing the
hope that “Thy way may be known upon the earth, Thy salvation
among all the nations.” The paper of this manuscript is as crisp
today as the day it was written, and its encased parchment has
maintained its freshness all these years. The booklet is decorated
with red scrollwork framing each page. A much more intriguing
Sefirah booklet has a page size measuring 2 by 3 inches. It con­
tains the blessing, psalm and prayer on the first three pages, and
is embellished with fifty-one miniature paintings (one facing each
date page and two more for good measure), each executed in five
brilliant colors. The subjects range from the first, which pictures
Adam and Eve and the serpent coiled around a tree, to the
last, a scene depicting a trumpet blower followed by a figure
riding on a capering horse, while a tall, imposing man playing
a stringed instrument brings up the rear. Below this miniature
is the verse from Malachi 3.23: “Behold, I will send you Elijah
the prophet.” Each date page and each miniature painting is
bordered in dark sepia. Below each scene is a descriptive portion
of a Biblical verse (in one instance a verse from the apocryphal
book of Judith). The painting style and the silver binding are
eighteenth-century Italian. A silver clasp shaped like a fleur-de-
lys permits the book to be locked. The first owner’s initials LTD
and his family’s heraldic crest—a stork holding a stalk of wheat
in its mouth—are engraved on the covers.