In the archives of the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem sits an ancient High Holy Day prayer book, one of the earliest and rarest known books of its kind. The book, which covers 154 pages of prayers for the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement, was apparently produced in the early 1400s by a writer from Catalonia.
The book was written in a splendid Andalusian script, about which Dr. Aviad Stollman, Judaica collection curator at the National Library, said "The script the author used indicates the heavy Spanish-Muslim influence of the time."
A unique aspect of the book is its use of micrographic illustrations and miniature handwritten captions that present images of hunting and prey. The illustrations highlight the grandeur of Spanish-Jewish artwork, which itself was influenced by Muslim art of that period.
According to Dr. Dalia-Ruth Halperin, of the Department of Art, Talpiot College of Education in Holon, there is a definite connection between the texts and the illustrations in the book. Taken together, she says, they express both philosophical and religious concepts.
Stollman pointed out that liturgies in the rare prayer book were authored by some of the greatest poets in Muslim Spain, such as Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Yehuda Halevi and Moshe Ibn Ezra. "Some of them were written in a style common in the Kingdom of Aragon before Spain was unified," he said.
The book's whereabouts were unknown for many years. It was known to have left Spain upon the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, and believed to have landed somewhere in Europe. At the beginning of the 20th century, the book turned up at a center for the study of Judaism in Berlin. It disappeared again during the Holocaust and reappeared at an auction in 1984. Ludwig and Erica Jesselson purchased the book, that survived the Jewish expulsion from Spain and the Holocaust, at the auction and donated it to the National Library.