Exhibit Location: The Joseph Regenstein Library, Fourth Floor.
Exhibit Dates: July 7 – September 30, 2015
Who knows what you can find in the stacks of the Regenstein Library? David Frankel, Ph.D student in History of Judaism at the Divinity School, went looking and discovered a fascinating assortment of Jewish prayer books (siddurim, singular: siddur). The siddur, perhaps even more than the Talmud or the Bible, has been the practical guide for Jewish people since the inception of printed Hebrew in the 16th century. The availability of books contributed to the all-encompassing nature of the liturgical texts included in siddurim.
While the siddur is first and foremost a book for the laity, it also offers scholars of Jewish Studies a glimpse into the history of Jewish ritual practice. The subfield of Jewish Liturgy within Jewish Studies provides the discipline at large with a broad understanding of not only the religious developments of Jews but also historically significant evidence. Prayer books can be used to track the movements of populations of Jews through time and space. Even when intellectual activities were scant, prayer books were commonly produced and provide scholars today with a way to peer into the world of Jewish societies that would otherwise have been lost to the ages.
Displayed in the exhibit are siddurim published between 1795 and 2015. Not displayed in the exhibit, but pictured here, are two “texts” added to final pages of one of the siddurim of the exhibit, Siddur kol tefillot u-teḥinnah (Prague, M. Landau, 1839). The first is a beautifully, handwritten additional prayer and the second is a recipe for “tar beer,” a mixture of tar and beer used medicinally in Jewish communities in the 19th century.