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Cursing the Christians?A History of the Birkat HaMinim$

Ruth Langer

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199783175

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199783175.001.0001

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(p.203) Appendix 3 Uncensored Medieval European Texts of the Birkat HaMinim

(p.203) Appendix 3 Uncensored Medieval European Texts of the Birkat HaMinim

Cursing the Christians?
Oxford University Press

European Jews begin praying according to Babylonian rabbinic norms at the latest by the last centuries of the first millennium CE. Circa 875, the Ge’onim Natronai and Amram both respond to requests from Spain for liturgical instruction, suggesting recognition among Jews there of a significant degree of ignorance of or noncompliance with rabbinic norms and a desire on the part of at least some to correct the situation. The resultant Seder Rav ‘Amram Ga’on (which comes to incorporate Rav Natronai’s shorter list of blessings) quickly becomes an extraordinarily influential text, setting the pattern universally in Europe not only for the text of the birkat haminim, but also for the structure of all siddurim and halakhic discussions of liturgy.1 However, liturgical patterns from the Land of Israel strongly dominated the forms of the older poetry inserted into this liturgy in Byzantium, Italy, and subsequently in Ashkenaz, suggesting that these communities had earlier adopted rabbinic worship under influence of rabbinic leadership from the Land of Israel.2

Unfortunately, there are no surviving liturgical manuscripts from this period. The earliest manuscripts preserved date from the twelfth century, and these are exceedingly rare. Scribes copying existing texts tend to “correct” them according to their own liturgical customs, meaning that these copies do not serve as reliable witnesses to earlier periods either. Eventually, the vast majority of liturgical witnesses to, or discussions of, the text of the birkat minim even in these manuscripts are censored, leaving us even less usable evidence than the number of available prayer books would suggest. Within these limitations, this appendix will present the European permutations of the blessing itself, moving more or less east to west.3

Romaniote (or Greek or Balkan) Rites

The Romaniote4 rite of southeastern Europe belongs only marginally in this discussion, as the historical and interreligious experience of this community is quite distinct from that of the rest of Europe. However, their statutory prayer texts do belong in this picture. The Romaniote rites represent those of the Greek-speaking Jews of the Byzantine (or former Byzantine) empire, ranging from southern Italy in the west to much of Turkey in the east, Crete to the south and the Crimea to the north. Greek words, translations, or instructions frequently appear in Hebrew characters in the manuscripts, including a Greek announcement of the new moon.5 The majority and official religion in this region was Orthodox Christianity, with allegiance paid to Constantinople and not to Rome. Unlike western Christians whom the Holocaust catalyzed into critical study of their anti-Jewish heritage, (p.204) Orthodox Christians have only begun to engage in this process, and few studies of medieval Greek Orthodox interactions with or thinking about Jews have yet been produced.6 In addition, the medieval rabbanite Jews of this region contributed relatively little literature that influenced the rest of the Jewish world,7 in no small part because they tended to emphasize midrash, liturgical poetry, and mystical traditions over halakhic concerns.8 Even modern scholars have barely begun to study this region adequately. As a consequence, less is known about Romaniote Jews than about Jews from most of the rest of Europe.

Until the thirteenth century, Byzantine Jews were periodically subjected to occasional forced conversions and other persecutions, usually decreed by the emperors who also served as the head of the Church. However, generally the state protected the Jews, and compared to high medieval western Europe, the persecutions were less pervasive and invasive.9 The Church itself rejected the validity of baptism by force,10 but used other methods to teach anti-Judaism, to reinforce social boundaries between Christians and Jews, and to create situations that would encourage Jewish conversion. However, very few examples of actual Jewish conversion to Christianity are known from this realm after forced conversions ceased.11 Nevertheless, a negative and hostile image of the Jew pervades Byzantine Christian literature, both in theological writings and in texts of more direct influence on public opinion, such as sermons and folklore.12 From the tenth century, the region seems to have constant migration of Jews into Byzantium because of a combination of increased Arab intolerance and its own weak central power that allows Jewish communities to prosper in the provinces.13 The fourteenth century itself is a period when the situation of Jews in this area shows constant improvement because of the roles that they are able to play in the shifting political constellations of the Byzantine world and that of its Ottoman conquerors.14 In 1453, Constantinople, the last Byzantine stronghold, falls to the Ottoman Turks, and the Romaniote Jews, for the most part, cease to live under Christian rule.

Under Ottoman rule, former Byzantine lands become a primary refuge for Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula. Beginning in the sixteenth century, Sephardi Jews dominate the local Romaniote communities numerically, intellectually, and liturgically, resulting, ultimately, in the demise of the Romaniote rite. It is printed only a few times, only in Catholic Venice and hence censored. The earliest preserved manuscripts date only from the fourteenth century, so our evidence represents a relatively compressed time period and shows a fairly uniform rite, but one that we can presume reflects the Byzantine Orthodox Christian milieu. N. R. M. de Lange comments on the surprising absence of Jewish anti-Christian polemic from the Byzantine world, but suggests “that it is in the synagogue liturgy that the pent-up hatred and resentment of Christian rule bursts through, most notably and specifically in the so-called ‘Benediction of the Heretics’ (Birkath ha-Minim), which is in reality a vehement prayer for the overthrow of Byzantine rule.”15 Within the Byzantine context, this is plausible.

(p.205) The Romaniote birkat haminim reads as follows:16

ולמשומדים אל תהי להם תקוה

And may there be no hope for apostates;

וכל המינים והמלשינים והכופרנים והמסורות כולם כרגע יאבדו

and may the minim and the informers (malshinim)and the heretics and the informers (mesorot)all immediately perish;

וכל אויבי עמך ישראל מהרה יכרתון

and may all the enemies of Your people Israel speedily be cut off;

ומלכות זדון מהרה תעקר ותשבר ותמגר ותכניע ותשפיל כל אויבינו מהרה בימינו

and may You speedily uproot, smash, and defeat the empire of insolence; and humble and bring low all our enemies speedily in our day.

ברוך אתה ה' שובר אויבים ומכניע זדים.‏

Blessed are You, Eternal, who breaks enemies and humbles the insolent.


ולמשומדים] ר2, ר4, ר6 למשומדים. ר3 נמחק וכתוב מחדש: ולמלשינים. תהי] ר2 יהי. להם] ר4, ר6, ר7 ח'.‏

וכל המינים] ר2, ר3, ר4, ר6, ר7 והמינים. והמלשינים] ר5 ח'. והכופרנים והמסורות] ר2,ר6 והכופרים והמוסרים. ר4 והמסורות והכופרנ'. ר5 ח'.‏

מהרה יכרתון] ר2, ר3 מהרה מארץ יכרתון. ר6, ר7 מהרה מארץ חיים יכרתו. יכרתון ומלכות זדון] ר5 ח'.‏

תעקר ותשבר ותמגר ותכניע ותשפיל] ר2 תעקר ותשבר ותכניע. ר3, ר4, ר6 תעקר ותשבר ותמגר ותכניע. ר5 תעקר ותשבר ותמגר ותכניעם. כל אויבינו מהרה] ר2, ר3, ר4, ר6, ר7 אותם במהרה. ר5 במהרה.‏

שובר אויבים] ר2, ר6 שובר רשעים.‏


ר1 London, British Library Or. 9150, 14th c. = base text.

ר2 Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale héb. 596, 14th–15th c.

ר3 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Codice de Rossi 1782 (89), 1485, Lecce.

ר4 Paris, Alliance Israelite Paris H.58.A, 15th c.

ר5 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 1791 (435), 15th c., S. Italy.

ר6 Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale héb. 616, 1523 Akarnania.

ר7 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 2587 (947), 17th c.

Without question, this text follows the model of the Babylonian Version 5, that of the Seder Rav ‘Amram Ga’on. We cannot know whether the Romaniote Jews adopted this because of Rav Amram’s influence or not; other liturgical texts in (p.206) his Seder may also reflect the rite of this community, suggesting the possibility of some sort of deeper connection.17 We also do not know when Romaniote Jews adopted this text. There is speculation that, as fellow residents of the Roman/Byzantine world, they originally aligned themselves with rabbinic traditions from the Land of Israel, but that this became more difficult politically after the Arab conquest. However, the Arabs also conquered Babylonia, from whence this rite’s authority originated. Perhaps the Amram-style text arrived with the influx of Jews from Arab lands in the tenth and eleventh centuries? As these communities at this point were coming increasingly to accept Babylonian halakhic norms, including its liturgy, this migration might have encouraged the adoption of a Babylonian influenced liturgy. However, it is safer simply to presume that the influence of the Babylonian Ge’onim that was felt at the far end of the Mediterranean, in western Christendom, also made its mark in Byzantium.

At the same time, in its expansiveness, this text is clearly a post-geniza rite. Its long list of miscreants in the second line is reminiscent of that encountered in Persia, although there the first and second lines merged. As we shall see, this is not a normal point of expansion for the other European rites (except in Spain). As in most European rites, Romaniote Jews directed a longer list of verbs at the empire than in our geniza exemplars. Extra and unique points of emphasis found in this rite include the addition of lahem (for them) to the first line, making emphatic the application of the curse to the apostates.18 Four of the seven exemplars clarify from where the enemies are to be speedily cut off, adding either me’ereẓ (from earth) or, in later texts, me’ereẓ haḥayyim (from the land of the living).19 One manuscript and the two printed editions preserve the alternative Babylonian concluding berakhah, “who breaks evildoers.” There is nothing in any of this language that is obviously a response to the specific experience of Jews in Byzantium—a situation that we will see universally in these rites.

Italian or Roman Rites

Because of Rome’s status as administrative center of its empire, Jewish leaders from the Land of Israel travel there from the Maccabean period on. In the second century CE, there is reported to be a rabbinic academy in the city.20 However, when the majority of Italian Jews begin to understand themselves as participants in rabbinic understandings of Judaism is not yet well understood—especially as evidence regarding Jews in Italy is rather sparse for most of the first millennium. The largest Jewish communities are for many centuries in the south, in the areas of Byzantine and Muslim control. Given that these communities adopt (and from the ninth century, imitate) the liturgical poetry of R. Elazar b”R. Kalir (early seventh century) and his predecessors who lived in the Land of Israel,21 it would seem that we can date a sophisticated rabbinically influenced community at least from then. The eleventh century Megillat ’Aḥima‘aẓ, which presents a history of the Italian Jewish community from 850 to 1054, suggests that Italian Jews follow the rite of the Land of Israel, but we have no direct verification of this.22

(p.207) Our earliest Italian liturgical manuscripts date only from the second half of the thirteenth century and represent a Babylonian-style rite distinct from that of the Jews of either the Land of Israel or Byzantium, leaving us a significant gap and no way to fill it properly. The rite of the Land of Israel may persist until this point in southern Italy, but a crusade in the late thirteenth century under the Angevin Charles II to convert the Jews there results in significant conversions or flight and decimates those communities. The “Roman” rite, that which survives, dominates Italy from this point on, and the rabbinic literature emerging from Rome now reflects heavy reliance on the Babylonian halakhic traditions.23 This is also the point at which Italian Jews, under the influence of Iberian Jews, radically revise their poetic aesthetics, contributing to the physical abandonment of older prayer books and their extensive collections of poetry.24 The terms “Roman” and “Italian” are used with little meaningful distinction in the literature and in the cataloging of the manuscripts of this cluster of rites. There are regional subrites within Italy, but in the medieval period, these are difficult to identify. Relatively few manuscripts tell us the community for which they are written, and Italian Jews are sufficiently mobile due to local expulsions that these rites may simply blend.

Thus, at some point in the early centuries of the second millennium, the liturgical rite followed by Jews in Italy apparently undergoes a radical shift. Because our manuscript evidence begins only after the new version consolidates, we have no access to the original Italian custom. A hint of this shift may appear in the thirteenth-century R. Ẓidqiyah ben Avraham HaRofe Anav’s discussion of the birkat haminim in his Shibbolei HaLeqet. He mentions the birkat haminim only in the context of citing a midrash that purportedly explains the order of the nineteen blessings of the Babylonian-rite ‘amidah. However, this midrash refers to the birkat haminim only by its concluding benediction, in the form found only in the Land of Israel, makhnia‘ zedim (who humbles the insolent), making it likely that this midrash, not known from earlier sources, originated to explain that rite.25

Not surprisingly, then, the Italian rite of the High Middle Ages and Renaissance also demonstrates a general similarity to the geniza’s Babylonian Version 5. At the same time, the vast manuscript evidence preserved from Italy in the later Middle Ages presents a picture of significant variety in this text, some of it likely the result of self-censorship as Christian-Jewish relations deteriorated and Jews became more self-conscious of the impact of this prayer; and some of it likely just due to local preferences.26 Our ability to trace this rite is also greatly hampered by the particularly efficient imposition of official censorship in Italy from the sixteenth century. Of about 175 manuscripts and early editions that I examined that predate official censorship, less than a third still present texts intact enough to be useful, and most of these have characteristics that suggest (self-)censorship. Because self-censorship shapes the medieval Italian rite, at least in its written forms, I include them here.27 The base text presented here is reasonably representative of an uncensored medieval Italian rite.28

ולמשלינים בל תהי תקוה

And may there be no hope for informers (malshinim);

וכל המינים כולם כרגע יאבדו

and may all the minim, all of them, immediately perish;

וכל גוים אויבי עמך ישראל מהרה יכרתו

and may all the gentiles, the enemies of Your people Israel, speedily be cut off;

ומלכות זדון מהרה תעקר ותשבר ותכניע אתם במהרה בימינו

and may You speedily uproot and smash the empire of insolence; and humble them speedily in our day.

בא"י שובר אויבים ומכניע זדים.‏

Blessed are You, Eternal, who breaks enemies and humbles the insolent.

(p.208) Variants

ולמלשינים] ט2 ולמשומדים. ט4, ט21, ט31 למינים. ט43 ולמינים. ט6, ?ט10 למינים ולמלשינים. ט12, ט20, ט50 ולמינים ולמלשינים. ט9 למלשינים. ט18 ולמלשינים ולמינים.‏

וכל המינים … יאבדו] ט1, ט10, ט12, ט18, ט26, ט39 ח'. וכל המינים כולם] ט2 וכל המינים. ט4, ט21, ט30, ט31 וכל המלשינים כולם. ט17, ט23, ט37, ט44, ט51, ט52 וכל הזדים כולם. ט33 .וכל הרשעים והזדים כולם. ט40 וכל הרשעים כולם. ט8, ט11, ט14, ט15, ט16, ט19 .ט24, ט27, ט34, ט35, ט36, ט41, ט42, ט43, ט45, ט46, ט47, ט48, ט49, ט50, ט53 וכולם. כרגע] ט51 ח'.‏

וכל גוים … יכרתו] ט30, ט32, ט35 ח'. גוים אויבי עמך ישראל] ט1, ט4, ט7, ט8, ט9, ט10, ט11, ט12, ט13, ט14, ט15, ט16, ט17, ט18, ט19, ט21, ט22, ט23, ט24, ט25, ט26, ט27, ט28 ,ט29, ט31, ט33, ט34, ט36, ט37, ט38, ט39, ט40, ט41, ט42, ט43, ט44, ט45, ט46, ט47 ט48, ט49, ט50, ט51, ט52, ט53 אויביך. ט6 [      ] אויביך ה' אלהינו. ט20 גוים עמך ישראל. מהרה] ט1, .ט7, ט8, ט10, ט11, ט13, ט14, ט15, ט16, ט17, ט19, ט23, ט24, ט25, ט26, ט27, ט29, ט34, ט36, ט42, ט43, ט45, ט46, ט47, ט48, ט49, ט50, ט51, ט53 ח'.‏

ומלכות זדון] ט1, ט6, ט7, ט8, ט10, ט11, ט13, ט14, ט15, ט16, ט17, ט19, ט26, ט27, ט28, ט29, ט30, ט33, ט34, ט35, ט36, ט39, ט40, ט41, ט42, ט43, ט44, ט45, ט46, ט47 ט48, ט49, ט50, ט51, ט52, ט53 ח'. מהרה תעקר ותשבר] ט1, ט6, ט27, ט30, ט40, ט41, ט49, ותשבר. ט10, ט26, ט29, ט33, ט39, ט47, ט53 ותשברם. ט8 [      ] ותשברם. ט12, ט18 מהרה תעקר ותשברם. ט32 במהרה תעקר ותשבר ותמגר. ט7, ט11, ט13, ט14, ט15, ט16 ט17, ט19, ט28, ט34, ט35, ט36, ט42, ט43, ט44, ט45, ט46, ט48, ט50, ט51, ט52 ח'. ותכניע אותם] ט8 ותכניעם ותשפיל אותם. ט10, ט12, ט17, ט18, ט19, ט26, ט29, ט32, ט33, ט35, ט39, ט47, ט53 ותכניעם.‏


ט1 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 1793 (854), 1326.

ט2 Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale héb. 609, 1348 Spello.

ט3 Cluj, Academia RSR Ms. O. 301, 1399 = base text. The first two words have been erased but remain legible.

ט4 Paris Bibliothèque Nationale héb. 595, 14th c.

(p.209) ט5 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 1901 (1024), 14th c.

ט6 Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica ebr. 331, 14th c. This text is in poor condition and difficult to read with certainty.

ט7 Cambridge Trinity College F. 12.122, 14th–15th c.

ט8 Leeds Brotherton Library Ms. Roth 9, 14th–15th c.

ט9 London, British Library Or. 10148, 14th–15th c.

ט10 Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale héb. 598, 14th–15th c.

ט11 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 1748 (919), 14th–15th c. Apparently a self-censored text.

ט12 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 1754 (1056), 1479 Cremona. Minim and malkhut have been erased but are legible.

13ט Cincinnati, Hebrew Union College 331, 1484 Bologna by Farissol.

ט14 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 1755 (1335), 1487.

ט15 Modena, Biblioteca Estense Or. 67 = α.J.9.21, 1490 Florence.

ט16 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 2075–2076 (1146), 1491 Montecchio.

ט17 New York, Jewish Theological Seminary 4653, 1492 Ferrara, Farissol Mahzor for Emanuel Camerino.

ט18 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 1775 (1060), early 15th c.

ט19 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 2891 (882), early 15th c.

ט20 Cambridge, University Library Add. 491,1, 15th c.

ט21 Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana Conv. Sopp. 33, 15th c.

ט22 Leeds, Brotherton Library Ms. Roth 58, 15th c.

ט23 London, British Library Add. 18230, 15th c.

ט24 London, British Library Or. 8885, 15th c.

ט25 London, British Library Or. 13260, 15th c.

ט26 London, Scholem Asch 4, 15th c.

ט27 Moscow, Guenzburg 665, 15th c.

ט28 Moscow, Guenzburg 679, 15th c.

ט29 New Haven, Yale Beineke Heb. 109, 15th c.

ט30 New York, Jewish Theological Seminary 4072, 15th c.

ט31 Oxford, Bodleian Library Ms. Opp. Add. Qu. 73 (1072), 15th c. Minim and malkhut zadon and their associated phrases have been blacked out but are still visible.

ט32 Paris, Alliance Israelite H.35.A, 15th c., according to the text for Saturday night. The weekday text was heavily censored. Both versions include utemagger (and defeat) in the fourth line, unusual in the Italian rite.

ט33 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 1737 (229), 15th c.

ט34 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 1770 (974), 15th c.

ט35 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 1787 (375), 15th c.

ט36 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 1913 (762), 15th c.

ט37 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 1915 (967), 15th c.

ט38 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 1924 (1149), 15th c.

ט39 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 2739 (894), 15th c.

ט40 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 3003 (420), 15th c.

(p.210) ט41 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 3142 (955), 15th c.

ט42 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 3499 (Stern 22), 15th c.

ט43 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 3504 (Stern 25), 15th c.

ט44 Philadelphia, Free Library Lewis Oriental Ms. 142, 15th c.

ט45 Rishon LeẒion, Private Collection [2] (IHMH f 71131), 15th c.

ט46 Vienna, Oesterr. Nationalbibliothek Wien Cod. Hebr. 86, 15th c.

ט47 Cambridge, University Library Add. 675, 15th–16th c.

ט48 London, British Library Or. 10359, 15th–16th c.

ט49 London, University College Mocatta Library 3, 15th–16th c.

ט50 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 1739 (561), 1504.

ט51 Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica Rossianio 328, 1512 Ferrara.

ט52 Paris, Musee Cluny 13995, 1512 Ferrara.

ט53 Leeds, Brotherton Library Ms. Roth 3, 1514.

In the late-medieval Italian rite, the general structure of the blessing, as in all the European rites, is stable. Other stable elements include the verbs of the first three lines and the appearance, unique to this rite, of the biblical negative particle bal instead of ’al in the first line. The concluding benediction is also unchanging, showing influence neither of the rite of the Land of Israel nor of the Babylonian variant “evildoers” instead of “enemies.” More interesting are the places where this rite shows changes, all showing marks of censorship, whether self-imposed or not, to remove elements offensive to Christians.

Unique in Italy is the virtual absence of any mention of meshummadim in the blessing. It is impossible to know if this was always the case, but only a single manuscript suggests otherwise.29 However, the presence of the equally problematic term minim as an object of the opening line, either standing alone or in addition to malshinim in a significant number of manuscripts, undercuts the possibility that the absence of meshummadim is a result of self-censorship. It is tempting to suggest that the removal of meshummadim was a response to the forced conversions that accompanied the late thirteenth-century persecutions in southern Italy, but one likely witness to such a text is too early, dated to 1265.30 However, Jews of southern Italy were subject to earlier Byzantine persecutions as well, making it possible that the sensitivity to cursing (unwilling) apostates predates this. In addition, the evidence from Aleppo discussed in Appendix 2, pp. 198–199 also suggests the possibility that a rite exists in this period in the eastern Mediterranean not reflected in the geniza evidence that begins with an address to the minim and not to meshummadim.

No matter what their origins, the objects of the first two lines of the birkat haminim in Italy reflect a cluster of objects drawn from the rabbinic list of those who “go down to Gehenna.” Compared to some of the eastern rites, this is not an elaborate list. However, probably as a result of (self-)censorship, another term also appears in these lines in the Italian manuscripts from their earliest representatives: zedim (insolent), the noun already present in the concluding benediction as well as, in abstract form, as a description of the empire. This term has the graphic advantage of fitting well into the gap left by the erasure of minim, and indeed, it (p.211) is often difficult to determine whether this rewriting has occurred. Other scribes writing new texts—and hence not needing to fill existing spaces—and lacking any nonsensitive objects for the second line simply transform its “all” into “all of them” (kulam), effectively collapsing the first two lines into a single statement with their verbs both applying to the object of the first line. This is a common result of the desire to keep the verbal structure of the prayer intact even when the objects of these verbs change.

This same strategy sometimes affects the last two lines of the body of the blessing in Italy. The term goyim (nations, non-Jews) is very rarely preserved as part of the object of the third line, and most scribes seem never to have included it. Many others go further and avoid the frequently censored “enemies of Your people Israel” by shortening the line’s object to “Your enemies.” This choice makes the line inoffensive to Christians, who do not consider themselves God’s enemies. Censors also regularly erased the references to the “empire of insolence,” and Italian Jews consequently simply eliminated the object of this fourth line, making its verbs apply to the enemies of the previous one. The Italian list of verbs is the shortest of the European rites, but more elaborate than all but Version 4B of the geniza.

Because Italy becomes the primary locus of early Hebrew printing and also of Catholic censorship of Hebrew texts, its text of the birkat haminim and the choices made there to pre-empt censorship have widespread influence, providing models for the printed postcensorship texts of all other European rites.

Ashkenazi Rites

Jewish presence in the Rhineland can be documented from the third century CE, and Carolingian kings encouraged Jewish traders and settlers in their domains. Their Jewish legislation mostly concerned the interfaces between Jews and Christians and did not touch the internal affairs of the Jewish community except when Louis the Pious apparently abrogated the Roman law prohibiting the building of new synagogues.31 However, as elsewhere, we know essentially nothing about the ritual life that took place in these synagogues in the first millennium CE. The Babylonian Talmud begins to be known and accepted as authoritative in Christian Europe by the ninth century, and rabbinic academies accepting its primacy emerge in the Rhineland in the tenth century with the migration of Italian Jews there. Unlike in Italy, though, these Ashkenazi32 rabbis preserved their local customs and gave them great authority within their system of halakhah, in negotiation with the Babylonian teachings.33 One of the major sources of Ashkenazi liturgical custom, as in the rest of Europe, became the Seder Rav ‘Amram Ga’on.34 Consequently, one of the areas in which Ashkenazi custom demonstrated great regional uniformity was in matters of prayer, especially in the fixed texts of the statutory blessings (as opposed to a sanctifying of very local custom in many other matters, like the choice of liturgical poetry).35 This fixing of statutory prayer texts was a significant concern of the Ḥasidei Ashkenaz, the Rhineland circle of pietists (p.212) and mystics who produced a literature beginning in the first half of the thirteenth century. Although there is reason to question whether their influence in their own day extended beyond their immediate communities or not,36 their impact on subsequent generations’ halakhic and commentarial traditions about prayer is significant. Their concern with the mystical meanings embedded in the numbers of words and letters in a prayer had the effect of limiting textual variants. The earliest preserved witness to the birkat haminim in this rite, the 1236 Esslingen maḥzor, presents more or less the same text that persists until it is destabilized by self-censorship and then externally imposed censorship. It reads:37

למשומדים אל תהי תקוה

May there be no hope for apostates;

וכל המינים כרגע יאבדו

and may all the minim immediately perish;

וכל אויבי עמך מהרה יכרתון

and may all the enemies of Your people speedily be cut off;

ומלכות זדון מהרה תעקר ותשבר ותמגר ותכניע כל אויבינו במהרה בימינו

and may You speedily uproot, smash, and defeat the empire of insolence; and humble all our enemies speedily in our day.

ברוך אתה ה' שובר אויבים ומכניע זדים.‏

Blessed are You, Eternal, who breaks enemies and humbles the insolent.


למשומדים] א12, א13, א14, א17, א20, א23, א24, א26, א27, א30, א31, א36, א42, א45 ולמשומדים. א34 למלשינים. א39, א40, א43 ולמלשינים.‏

איובי עמך] א2, א14, א16, א20, א33, א45 נ' ישראל. א6, א11, א12, א21, א26, א41 נ' בית ישראל. א32 נ' מהרה בית ישר' (כנראה בטעות). א43 אויבך. א44 איובינו. מהרה] א2 במהרה יכרתון] א1, א11, א23, א34, א36, א37, א40, א43 יכרתו.‏

ומלכות זדון מהרה] א5 ומלכות זדון במהרה. ותכניע כל אויבינו] א2 ותשפיל ותכניע ותכלה כל אויבינו. א11 ותכניע ותשפיל כל אויבינו. א16 ותשמיד ותכניע ותשפיל ותכלה כל אויבינו. א6 ותכניע את כל אויבינ'. א8, א37 ותכניע אויבינו. א9 ותכניע במהרה בימינו. א14, א18, א23, א40, א42 ותכניעם. א24, א36, א39 ותכניע . א43 ותכניע כל אויביך.‏


א1 Amsterdam, Universiteitsbibliotheek Ms. Rosenthal 609, Esslingen 1290, in the weekday evening service following Yom Kippur (base text).

א2 Oxford, Bodleian Library Ms. Michael 200 (Neubauer 1121), 13th c., with French influence.38

א3 Toronto, University of Toronto Ms. Friedberg 3-015, 13th c.? Worms?, not all of the text is legible.

א4 Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Cod. hebr. 410, 13th–14th c.

א5 Vatican, ebr. 323, 13th–14th c.

(p.213) א6 Oxford, Bodleian Ms. Michael 548, 1308.

א7 Cincinnati, Hebrew Union College 389, 1314.

א8 Oxford, Bodleian Ms. Opp. 758 (1105), early 14th c.

א9 Oxford, Bodleian Ms. Michael 327–328 (1107–1108), mid-14th c.

א10 London, Bet Din and Bet Hamidrash 36, 1392.39

א11 Cambridge, University Library Add. 379/1, 14th c.

א12 Hamburg, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hebr. 129, 14th c.

א13 Leipzig, Universitätsbibliothek 1108, 14th c.

א14 London, British Library Add. 26954, 14th c.

א15 Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod. hebr. 69, 14th c., eastern Ashkenazi rite.

א16 Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod. hebr. 381, 14th c.

א17 Oxford, Bodleian Ms. Michael 161–162 (1110–1111), 14th c.

א18 Oxford, Bodleian Ms. Opp. 643 (1109), 14th c.

א19 Oxford Bodleian Ms. Opp. 647 (2274/1), 14th c.

א20 Oxford, Bodleian Ms. Opp. 649 (1102), 14th c. Frankfurt am Main rite.

א21 Cambrai, Bibliotheque municipale A. 946, 14th–15th c.

א22 Hamburg, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Cod. hebr. 105, 14th–15th c.

א23 Hamburg, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Cod. hebr. 219, 14th–15th c.

א24 Oxford, Bodleian Ms. Opp. 642 (1106), 14th–15th c.

א25 Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica ebr. 325, 14th–15th c.

א26 Vienna, Oesterreicher Nationalbibliothek Cod. Hebr. 12A, 14th–15th c.

א27 Vienna, Oesterreicher Nationalbibliothek Cod. Hebr. 77, 14th–15th c.

א28 Warsaw, Uniwersytet, Inst. Orientalistyczny 258, 14th–15th c.

א29 Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica ebr. 318, c. 1402.

א30 Jerusalem, National Library 80 4199, 1410.

א31 Oxford, Bodleian Ms. Canon Or. 110 (1124), 1492.

א32 Bern, Burgerbibliothek A423, 15th c.

א33 Hamburg, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Cod. hebr. 42, 15th c.

א34 Hamburg, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Cod. hebr. 212, 15th c.

א35 Hannover, Kestner-Museum Ms. 3953, 15th c.

א36 Jerusalem, Israel Museum 180/53, 15th c.

א37 Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibiothek Cod. Reuchlin 11, 15th c.

א38 London, British Library Or. 12281, 15th c.

א39 Oxford, Bodleian Ms. Opp. 156 (1114), 15th c.

א40 Oxford, Bodleian Ms. Opp. 646 (1123), 15th c.

א41 Oxford, Bodleian Ms. Opp. 650 (1128/1), 15th c.

א42 Oxford, Bodleian Ms. Opp. 777 (1131), 15th c.

א43 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Codice de Rossi 1927 (1429), 15th c.

א44 Basel, Universitätsbibliothek R. IV. 4, 1542.

א45 New York, Jewish Theological Seminary 4524, 1551.

The difference between this text and that of Babylonian Version 5 lies entirely in the elaboration of verbs in the curse of the empire, an elaboration that, (p.214) as we shall see, only broadens as we head west. One might justifiably wonder when this elaboration began and whether it responded more or less directly to the deteriorating situation of Jews in Ashkenaz in the wake of the First Crusade. However, this list itself is stable in Ashkenaz. Differences arise only over how or whether to create an independent object for the final verb, that which anticipates the concluding benediction, vetakhnia‘ (and humble). These differences arise mostly from discussions about how to achieve the proper number of words in the blessing. Otherwise, it is worth noting that the overwhelming majority of the preserved medieval manuscripts do not begin the prayer with the conjunctive vav that later becomes characteristic of Ashkenaz, and the manuscripts including it are generally later ones. This does not change the sense of the prayer in any way except to emphasize its role within the context of the petitionary blessings. A number of manuscripts also reflect a desire to be more specific about whose enemies are being described. These additions also obviously affect the number of words in the prayer.

French Rites

Jewish communities in southern France date to late antiquity, and as in the Rhineland, more extensive settlement dates to the Carolingian period. The earliest known synagogues date from the sixth century. Agobard, archbishop of Lyon in the early ninth century, waged a fierce campaign against Louis the Pious’s overly tolerant attitude to Jews and his failure to uphold the Church canons restricting their privileges.40 Among his complaints in 826/7, he referenced the birkat haminim, writing, “That the Jews daily curse Jesus Christ and the Christians in all their prayers under the name ‘Nazarenes’ not only the blessed Jerome attests, who writes that he knew them intimately and was inside their skin, but many of the Jews also bear witness to this.”41 If Agobard is reporting on the active custom of Jews of his time, as he claims, this is an extremely important source. It testifies that, before the composition of the Seder Rav ‘Amram Ga’on, Jews either in southern France or in Agobard’s childhood home in the Spanish March were reciting a rabbinic liturgy that included the birkat haminim, and that they were reciting it with a text that named the noẓerim, a term for which we otherwise have no surviving witnesses from anywhere in Europe. However, his direct citation of Jerome and his reference only to this single word in the prayer make his discussion somewhat suspect as a witness to the text of the birkat haminim in his day. As a Church leader actively concerned about matters of conversion, it is unlikely that he would have ignored the reference to meshummadim, which all evidence suggests would have been the prayer’s opening word in his time.42

We have no Jewish evidence for the text of the birkat haminim from the first Christian millennium from any area of Europe by which to evaluate Agobard’s witness. If it is accurate, though, a radical transformation in the recited text may have accompanied a shift to accepting Babylonian geonic authority.43 The (p.215) influence of the Seder Rav ‘Amram Ga’on is readily evident in France in the production of liturgical texts closely modeled on it, most importantly the Maḥzor Vitry of R. Simḥah ben Shmuel of Vitry, a student and contemporary of the most influential sage of this world, Rashi (d. 1105). Because the Jews of Ashkenaz and of northern France constituted a single realm of rabbinic learning, their liturgical traditions were long considered unified as well. In recent years, Jonah Fraenkel has demonstrated that the Jews of northern France (extending to their satellite communities in England) developed a distinct rite, one that was influenced by traditions brought from Provence.44 The French texts of the birkat haminim support this understanding; the French version of the blessing also appears in texts from southern France, an area that developed, at least eventually and in many other aspects, a distinct rite. This may suggest either that the Jews of northern France brought this text with them from the south and preserved it or that the various French kingdoms, especially while Spain remained under Muslim control, represented for Jews a more unified cultural realm.45 The Jews of the kingdom of France were expelled in 1306. Various groups were invited back over the course of the fourteenth century for limited periods, only to be expelled again, for the last time in 1395. Jews in Provence were not affected until after Provence was incorporated into France in 1481; the process was completed in 1501, with the exception of Jews living in the papal states. Of the emigrants from these communities, only those dwelling in Asti, Fossano, and Moncalvo in Italy preserved a northern French rite; those dwelling in the papal states continued to use their local southern rites. The French birkat haminim reads:46

ולמשומדים אל תהי תקוה

And may there be no hope for apostates;

וכל המינים כרגע יאבדו

And may all the minim immediately perish;

וכל אויבי עמך בית ישראל מהרה יכרתון

And may all the enemies of Your people, the house of Israel, speedily be cut off;

ומלכות זדון מהרה תעקר ותשבר ותמגר ותשפיל ותשמיד ותכניע כל אויבינו במהרה בימינו

And may You speedily uproot, smash, and defeat the empire of insolence; and cast down, persecute,47 and humble all our enemies speedily in our day.

ברוך אתה ה' שובר אויבים ומכניע זדים.‏

Blessed are You, Eternal, who breaks enemies and humbles the insolent.


ולמשומדים] צ2, צ4, צ5, צ6, צ7, צ8 ,צ9, צ10, צ11, צ12, צ14, פ1, פ2, פ3 למשומדים.‏

המינים] צ10, צ15, צ16, צ17, פ2, פ3 המינים והמלשינים והמסורות כולם.‏

אויבי] פ3 אויבינו אויבי. בית] צ2, צ3, צ5, צ8, צ9, צ17, פ1, פ2, פ3 ח'. יכרתון] צ2, צ3, צ4, צ5, צ6, צ10, צ11, צ16, צ17, פ1, פ2 יכרתו.‏

(p.216) ותמגר] צ11, צ17 ח'. פ2 ומגר. ותשפיל ותשמיד] צ2, צ3, צ5, צ7, צ9, צ11, צ13, צ14, צ15, צ17, פ1, פ2, פ3 ח'. צ4, צ6, צ8, צ10, צ12, צ16 ותשפיל. ותכניע] צ9, צ11 ותכניע ותשפיל. צ13 ותכניע ותשפיל ותכלה ותשמיד את. צ7, צ14, צ15, ותכניע ותשפיל את. צ16 ותכניע ותכלה. צ17 ותכניע ותשפיל ותכלה. פ1 ותכניע ותפיל. פ2 ותכניע ותשפיל ותפיל. פ3 ותכניע ותכריע ותשמיד ותפיל. כל אויבינו] צ16, צ17 כל אויביך וכל שונאיך. פ3 כל אויבינו וכל שונאינו וכל הקמים עלינו ותבהלם כרגע. במהרה] פ1 מהרה.‏


Northern France

צ1 Oxford, Corpus Christi College 133, 12th c. = base text.

צ2 Sassoon Klagsbald 535, 12th c., Maḥzor Vitry.

צ3 Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale héb. 634, 12th–13th c.

צ4 New, York Jewish Theological Seminary 4460 SHF 1571:2, 1294.

צ5 Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale héb. 632, 13th c.

צ6 Toronto, University of Toronto Ms. Friedberg 3-014, 13th c.

צ7 Eẓ Ḥayim of R. Ya’aqov of London, ed. Yisrael Brody (Jerusalem: Mossad HaRav Kook, 1963), 1290s.

צ8 Oxford, Bodleian Ms. Opp. 759 (1118), 13th–14th c.

צ9 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 2766 (961), 13th–14th c.

צ10 Oxford, Bodleian Ms. Opp. 336 (1129/1), c. 1394.

צ11 Moscow, Russian State Library Ms. Guenzburg 1665, 14th c. (in the piyyut for Purim).

צ12 New York, Columbia X 893 J 51 Q, 14th c.

צ13 Oxford, Bodleian Library Ms. Opp. 335 (1130/1), 14th c.

צ14 Oxford, Bodleian Or. 24 (1122), 14th–15th c.

צ15 Warsaw, Zydowski Instytut Historyszny 254, 14th–15th c.

צ16 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 1902 (403), 1470.

צ17 New York, Jewish Theological Seminary 4079/6, dated 1533, rite of Asti, Fossano and Moncalvo.


פ1 Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale héb. 637, 13th–14th c.

פ2 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 1923 (1117), 15th c.

פ3 Rome, Casanatense 2740, 15th–16th c., Carpentras.

The French rite text also has obvious dependence on the model found in the Seder Rav ‘Amram Ga’on. Even more than in Ashkenaz, the initial conjunctive vav (and) is absent. Unlike in Ashkenaz, but like in Sepharad, a small cluster of manuscripts elaborates on the second line, adding various sorts of informers to the list of miscreants there. As in these other rites, though, the elaboration on that geonic text appears primarily in the curse of the empire. The four verbs found (p.217) in Ashkenaz are consistently present and in the same order: te‘aqqer (uproot), uteshabber (and smash), utemagger (and defeat), and vetakhnia‘ (and humble). However, where the Ashkenazi texts regularly include four verbs,48 the French text characteristically elaborates on the fourth, drawing from a pool of possibilities that includes vetashpil (and cast down), vetashmid (and persecute), vetappil (and topple), and utekhalleh (and destroy). There is significant variety in which additional verbs appear and in which order. These verbs after the third one also have an independent object, “all our enemies.” In three exemplars, probably under Sephardi influence, this object is also “and those who hate us.” Thus, medieval French Jews elaborated on those elements of the geonic birkat haminim that applied most readily to their contemporary situation and to their relationships with their neighbors.

Iberian Rites

As we turn to the Iberian Peninsula, the texts of the birkat haminim continue to increase in vehemence. Jewish presence in Spain also dates to late antiquity, but Visigoth Christian laws restricting Jewish life testify to less-than-positive Jewish-Christian relations there (to the point of forced conversions and expulsions) in the centuries preceding the Arab conquest.49 At the time of the Arab conquest in 711, only crypto-Jews remain, but these quickly revert to Judaism. However, once again, we have no clues about the nature of Jewish liturgical life in Spain in this period. That situation changes only in the second half of the ninth century when two Spanish communities, Lucena50 and another represented only by its correspondent, a Rabbi Yiẓḥaq b”R. Shmuel, more or less simultaneously write to the Babylonian Ge’onim Natronai and Amram, asking them for liturgical instruction.51 That these communities require an authoritative list of “the order of the prayers and blessings of the entire year”52 suggests that they lack even the fundamentals of rabbinic prayer. This was not simply a matter of adopting Babylonian geonic authority over that of the Land of Israel; such fundamentals were not the primary difference between the liturgical halakhah of these two communities. The need to turn to Babylonian sages rather than Iberian authorities suggests that even larger cosmopolitan communities, like Lucena itself, lacked appropriate local guidance in rabbinic practice in this period.

If this reconstruction is correct, then there is no reason to presuppose that the Iberian texts of the birkat haminim respond to any earlier situation of the Jews there. Amram’s text, even if initially sent to Barcelona, took root quickly in Muslim Spain, i.e., in a place where Christians were present but not dominant. However, in the mid-twelfth century the Almoravids prohibited the practice of Judaism, and many Jews emigrated to Christian Spain (or fled altogether). This may also be a point where Amram’s liturgy became more broadly the liturgy of Iberian Jewry, meaning that even the Muslim context may be irrelevant to the emergence of the preserved distinctive features of this rite. Between censorship (p.218) and a general lack of preserved Iberian manuscripts, though, we cannot document any actual Iberian texts of the birkat haminim until the thirteenth century. Only a single manuscript predates the period of severe Christian conversionary pressures on the various Jewish communities in the final centuries before their expulsions in 1492 (Spain) and 1497 (Portugal). We also have insufficient evidence to distinguish between regional subrites in Spain as the many variants evident in the manuscripts do not cluster along geographical lines when places of origin are known. By the time for which we have textual evidence, Sephardi (i.e., Iberian) Jews, living under Christianity, have elaborated upon their Amramic core text.

The Sephardi birkat haminim reads as follows:53

למשומדים אל תהי תקוה

May there be no hope for apostates;

וכל המינין והמלשינים והמסורות כלם כרגע יאבדו

and may all the minim and the informers (malshinim) and the informers (mesorot) all of them immediately perish;

וכל אויבנו וכל אויבי עמך ישראל מהרה יכרתו

and may all our enemies and all the enemies of Your people Israel speedily be cut off;

ומלכות זדון מהרה תעקר ותשבר ותמגר ותכריע ותכניע ותשמיד ותשפיל ותפיל כל אויבינו וכל שונאינו וכל הקמי' עלינו כלם כרגע במהרה בימינו

and may You speedily uproot, smash, and defeat the empire of insolence; and subdue, humble, persecute, bring low and cause to fall all our enemies, all those who hate us, and all who rise up against us, all of them, speedily in our day.

ברוך אתה ה' שובר אויבים ומכניע זדים.‏

Blessed are You, Eternal, who breaks enemies and humbles the insolent.


למשומדים … תקוה] ס15 ולמשומדים אל תהי להם תקוה.‏

המינין] ס2, ס3, ס4, ס5, ס6, ס7, ס8, ס9, ס11, ס12, ס14, ס15 המינים. והמלשינים והמסורות] ס3 וכל המלשינים וכל המסורות. ס13 והמלשינין והמסורות. ס7, ס8 וכל המלשינים וכל המסרים. ס15 וכל המלשינים וכל המוסרים. ס5 וכל המלשינים וכל האפיקורסים. ס6 והמלשינים. ס11, ס12, ס14, וכל המלשינים. ס9 ח'.‏

וכל אויבנו] ס2,ס3 , ס4, ס9, ס13 ח'. ס5, ס7, ס8, ס11, ס15 וכל אויבנו וכל שונאינו וכל מבקשי רעתינו. ס12, ס14 וכל אויבינו וכל שונאינו. ס6 וכל אויביך. וכל אויבי עמך ישראל] ס2 וכל אויבי עמך בית ישראל. ס5, ס6, ס7, ס8, ס10, ס12, ס14, ס15 ח'.‏

תעקר ותשבר] ס2, ס6, ס8, ס9, ס11 תעקר תשבר. ס5 תשבר ותעקר. ותמגר] ס7, ס12, ס14, ס15 ח'. ס11 תמגר. ותכריע ותכניע ותשמיד ותשפיל ותפיל] ס4 ותכניע ותכריע ותפיל ותשפיל. ס2, ס13 ותכניע ותשפיל ותשמיד. ס3 ותכניע ותשפיל ותפיל. ס9, ס10 ותכניע ותשפיל. ס8 [      ] ותכניעם ותשפילם. ס11 תכניעם תשמידם(?). ס12 ותכלה ותכניע. ס14 ותכלה ותכניעם. ס15 ותאבדם ותכניעם. ס5, ס6, ס7 ותכניע. כל אויבינו וכל שונאינו וכל הקמי' עלינו] ס2, ס5, ס6, ס7, ס8, ס10, ס11, ס12, ס (p.219) 14, ס15 ח'. ס3, ס4 כל אויבינו וכל שונאינו. ס9 את [      ] ואת כל שונאינו. ס13 בכל אויבנו וכל שונאינו. כלם כרגע במהרה] ס2, ס5, ס6, ס7, ס8, ס10, ס11, ס12, ס13, ס14, ס15 במהרה ס3, ס9 ותכלם במהרה. ס4 ותכלם כרגע במהרה.‏

Manuscripts and Earliest Editions

ס1 Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale héb. 590, Tefillot Sheleimot, 13th c., Catalonia (base text).

ס2 Nimes, Bibliotheque Seguier Municipale 13, 14th c.

ס3 New York, Jewish Theological Seminary 4601–4602, ENA 861–2, 14th–15th c.; the first four words of the fourth line have been erased and rewritten.

ס4 Cambridge, University Library Add. 438(5), 15th c.

ס5 Cambridge, University Library Add. 1204(6), 15th c.

ס6 Jerusalem, Makhon Ben Zvi S19 2048, 15th c., Lisbon.

ס7 London, British Library Or. 5866, 15th c.

ס8 London, School of Jewish Studies 32, 15th c.

ס9 New York, Jewish Theological Seminary Ms. 4112 SHF 1563:13, 15th c., probably North Africa, text is extensively damaged.

ס10 Parma, Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 1752 (975), 15th c. (perhaps better dated to the early 14th c. in Sicily, based on the prayer for Don Federigo of Aragon).

ס11 Sassoon 1017, 15th c. (sold in 1984, current owner unknown).

ס12 (Lisbon: Eliezer Toledano, c. 1490).

ס13 Florence Biblioteca Medicea Laurentiana Plut. II. 52, 15th–16th c.

ס14 Temunot Teḥinnot Tefillot Sefarad (Venice: Bomberg Press, 1524). Digitized on the website of the National Library in Jerusalem, http://jnul.huji.ac.il/dl/books/djvu/1167351/index.djvu?djvuopts&thumbnails=yes&zoom=page, p. 27 (accessed June 14, 2011).

ס15 Ms. Leiden, Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit Cod. Or. 4814, 16th c., Fez.

Texts in Translation

ל1 Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale héb. 668, 15th c., published as Siddur Tefillot: A Woman’s Ladino Prayer Book, ed. Moshe Lazar and Robert Dilligan, (Culver City, CA: Labyrinthos, 1995), pp. 44–47.

אלוס דיריניגאדורי[ש] נון אלייא אישפראנשה

אי טודוש לוש איריג'יש אי טודוש לוש מלשינים קומו פונטו שי דיפירדיראן

אי טודוש טוש אינימיגוש אי טודוש טוש אבורישיינטיש אליינא שיראן טאג'אדוש

אי ריינו די סובריווייו אליינה אראנקאראש, אי קיבראנטארא[ש], אי אטימאראש, אי אבאטירלושאש איליינה אין נואישטרוש דילייאש

בינדיג'ו טו ה', קיבראנטאן אינימיגוש אי אבאטיין סובירווייווש.‏

ל2 Libro de oracyones: Ferrara Ladino Siddur (1552), ed. Moshe Lazar and Robert J. Dilligan (Lancaster, CA: Labyrinthos, 1995), p. 61 (from the copy owned by (p.220) Hebrew Union College—Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati, published by Yom Tob Atias).

ל3 Libro de oracyones: Ferrara Ladino Siddur (1552), p. 90.

La (3 Le)kophrim

A los reñegados no sea esperança (3 esperança),

y todos los herejes (3 hereges) y todos los malsines como punto (3: momento) seran (3: sean) perdidos.

Y (3 , y) todos tus enemigos y todos tus aborricientes ayna seran (3 sean) tajados (3 ,)

y reyno dela soberuia (3: de la malicia) ayna arrancaras, y quebrantaras (3 quebrantaras), y atemaras, y quebrantarlos as ayna (2: presto) en nuestros dias.

Bendicho tu, Adonay, quebrantán enemigos y sojuzgán (2: quebrantán) soberuios.

Like many others in Europe, the Sephardi rite elaborates consistently on the second and fourth lines, but a significant number of exemplars add to the third line as well. The specific content of the elaborations is by this point familiar, either from neighboring French texts or from versions known from elsewhere in the Mediterranean world. Indeed, it is likely that were we to have evidence for the medieval rites of North Africa, we could trace continuities there as well. The reliance of the second line on the talmudic tradition about those who spend eternity in Gehenna is even more evident in the handful of manuscripts, some too censored to be useful here, that add the ’apiqoros to this list.54 Two later exemplars, one from North Africa, also include moserim instead of moserot.55 Many exemplars of the Sephardi rite expand the object of the third line to include not only “all our enemies”56 but also kol son’einu (all those who hate us) and kol mevaqshei ra‘ateinu (all those who seek ill for us). Finally, only a few manuscripts preserve as full a list of verbs in the fourth line as our exemplar here, and only those with this longer list also repeat the reference to “our enemies and those who hate us,” subdividing the line and giving it a second (and in the case only of our base text, a third) object. We have seen this move to provide an additional object for these verbs above with vetakhnia‘ ’otam (and humble them), but the move from “them” to “enemies” and “haters” is stark and explicit.


Thus, there is great unity among the late medieval European texts of the birkat haminim because they share a source in the Seder Rav ‘Amram Ga’on and in Babylonian liturgical and halakhic traditions. The individual rites vary mostly in their small details and consequently in the vehemence of their curse. In all but Italy, this text begins with a curse of meshummadim. In all rites, it includes a curse of minim, of Israel’s enemies, and of the empire. None of them, even in a single manuscript, name noẓerim. The existence of variation reflects the fundamentally oral and local nature of liturgical rites in this period. While the texts are increasingly fixed, there seems to have been little problem in elaboration on their themes, except in Ashkenaz where the numbers of words in a prayer comes to have esoteric significance.


(1) . Israel M. Ta-Shma, The Early Ashkenazic Prayer: Literary and Historical Aspects [Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2003), 22.

(2) . The liturgical poetry first adopted from the east in Spain emphasized works and styles of a later period—coherent perhaps with their later adoption of rabbinic liturgy.

(3) . This is an updated version of the material published in Uri Ehrlich and Ruth Langer, “The Earliest Texts of the Birkat Haminim,” HUCA 76 (2006): 82–95, 106–12.

(4) . From the Byzantine Empire’s self-identification as the “Roman” empire.

(5) . Steven Bowman, The Jews of Byzantium 1204–1453 (University of Alabama Press, 1985), 155, 166.

(6) . Bowman, Jews of Byzantium, 5–6, notes that the Byzantine sources themselves are “strangely silent” about Jews, challenging reconstruction of this history.

(7) . The primary exceptions are Sefer Yosippon, a history of the Second Temple period, produced in southern Italy in the tenth century and the Tosafist, Rabbi Isaiah of Trani, also of southern Italy, in the thirteenth century. For lists of what was produced, see the chapters on literature in Joshua Starr, The Jews in the Byzantine Empire 641–1204 (Athens: Verlag der “Byzantinisch-Neugriechischen Jahrbücher, 1939) and Bowman, Jews of Byzantium.

(8) . Bowman, Jews of Byzantium, 129–39.

(9) . N. R. M. de Lange, “Jews and Christians in the Byzantine Empire: Problems and Prospects,” in Christianity and Judaism, ed. Diana Wood (Oxford, Cambridge MA: Blackwell Publishers for the Ecclesiastical History Society, 1992), 23.

(10) . See, for example, Epistle VIII of Maximus (d. 662), as translated and discussed in Carl Laga, “Judaism and Jews in Maximus Confessor’s Works: Theoretical Controversy and Practical Attitude,” Byzantinoslavonica 51, no. 2 (1990): 184. The western Church, in contrast, applied this doctrine more in theory than in practice and generally considered even forced baptism valid and irrevocable, rarely and increasingly not allowing reversion (p.345) to Judaism. See, for example, Edward Fram, “Perception and Reception of Repentant Apostates in Medieval Ashkenaz and Premodern Poland,” AJS Review 21, no. 2 (1996): 302–4.

(11) . Starr, Jews in the Byzantine Empire, 1–9, 25; Bowman, Jews of Byzantium, 9–18, 29–40, 115–17. Starr describes the material listed in these pages as “the spasmodic withdrawal of the status of toleration” and notes that 90 percent of the period he covers was “free from general and serious persecution.”

(12) . De Lange, “Jews and Christians,” 27, who notes that these negative images of the Jew, to his knowledge, do not enter into prayers (except in the Easter season) or icons.

(13) . De Lange, “Jews and Christians,” 30; Andrew Sharf, Byzantine Jewry from Justinian to the Fourth Crusade (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971), 107ff. Note though that Sharf mentions specifically only Jews from Syria, the Land of Israel, and Egypt.

(14) . Bowman, Jews of Byzantium, 39–40.

(15) . De Lange, “Jews and Christians,” 27. Note that de Lange follows this comment with a translation of a geniza version of the blessing, among those representing our Babylonian Version 4B. There is no evidence for the use of this version in Byzantium, though it is not impossible.

(16) . Appendix 4, p. 222, presents the printed editions with their censored texts. In addition, manuscripts from Crimea preserve this rite into the eighteenth century (see Mss. St. Petersburg, Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences C018 and B375, both dated seventeenth–eighteenth century and St. Petersburg, Russian National Library Evr. I 180, dated 1735 from Chufat Kale).

(17) . See my “Early Medieval Celebrations of Torah in the Synagogue: A Study of the Rituals of the Seder Rav Amram Gaon and Massekhet Soferim [Hebrew],” Kenishta 2 (2003): 108–10.

(18) . A simpler addition in Hebrew than is evident in its effect on the necessary rearrangement of the line in the English translation. Ms. Parma 1791 (435), catalogued as being of the Romaniote rite from southern Italy, fifteenth century, contains this word but otherwise contains an Italian text of the birkat haminim. This is an excellent example of the blending of rites at the geographic boundaries.

(19) . The longer and more emphatic version appears in texts from the sixteenth century on. It too has no parallel in other documented rites.

(20) . B. Sanhedrin 32b; B. Me‘ilah 17a; B. Yoma’ 53b. See Stephen G. Wald, “Mattiah (Mattityahu) ben Ḥeresh,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, 2nd ed. (Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007), XIII:688.

(21) . Peter Sh. Lenhardt, “Studies in the Emergence of the Tradition of Hebrew Liturgical Poetry in Italy [Hebrew]” (Ph.D. diss., Ben Gurion University of the Negev, 2006), 32–34, discusses the work of Ḥedveta b”R. Avraham, apparently the earliest Italian liturgical poet, one of whose works indicates that it was written in 833.

(22) . See Lenhardt, “Studies in the Emergence,” 108, based on a description in the Megillat ’Aḥima‘aẓ (pp. 16–17 in the edition of Klar) that the eleventh-century Rabbi Aḥimaaẓ, when visiting the academy of the Ge’onim in the Land of Israel, led prayers for them on Yom Kippur, suggesting his deep familiarity with their rite. In his fourth chapter, on the relationship between the Italian liturgical poetry and the fixed prayers, Lehnardt presents some additional evidence that the Italian Jews’ traditions of liturgical poetry developed according to norms and presumptions characteristic of liturgy in the Land of Israel and that it was later adapted to Babylonian norms. On the shift in Italy from the hegemony of the Ge’onim of the Land of Israel to those of Babylonia, see Abraham Grossman, “When Did Palestinian Hegemony Cease in Italy? [Hebrew],” in Mas’et Moshe: Studies in the Culture of Israel and the East Presented to Moshe Gil, ed. Ezra Fleischer, Mordecai Akiva Friedman, and Joel Kramer (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv: Mossad Bialik, 1998), 143–57 and the sources he cites.

(p.346) (23) . Israel M. Ta-Shma, “The Book ‘Shibbolei HaLeqet’ and Its Look-Alikes [Hebrew],” Italia 11 (1995): 46–47 (this section has been substantially shortened in the reprint of this article in Ta-Shma’s collected articles, Studies in Medieval Rabbinic Literature [Hebrew], vol. 3. Italy and Byzantium [Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2005], 70 because other articles there vastly expand on it). Daniel Goldschmidt, Seder Rav ‘Amram Ga’on [Hebrew], ed. Daniel Goldschmidt (Jerusalem: Mosad HaRav Kook, 1971), 8, credits the Seder Rav ‘Amram Ga’on with the disappearance of the rites of the Land of Israel from Italy.

(24) . Lenhardt, “Studies in the Emergence,” 21, n. 9.

(25) . ‘Arugah 1, Hilkhot Tefillah 18. The Buber and Mirsky editions of this text accurately reflect the manuscript evidence. This midrash was printed by Ad. Jellinek in his Beit HaMidrash (Jerusalem: Wahrmann, 1967), V:55–56, but as his introduction indicates (xxiv), his source was the Shibbolei HaLeqet. He gives the Babylonian form of the concluding benediction. Mirsky notes that although this midrash is cited by various later texts, no earlier source is known. That this midrash originated as a commentary on the rite of the Land of Israel is also suggested by the Shibbolei HaLeqet’s inclusion of other concluding benedictions typical of that rite. However, the author has also adjusted it to fit the nineteen blessing ‘amidah of the Babylonian rite used in his day in Italy.

Similarly, there are some examples of early Italian liturgical poetry written for weekdays that give poetic versions of the intermediate blessings of the ‘amidah. However, such poetry replaces the statutory text with a text appropriate to the theme of the day, retaining only the concluding benediction of the blessing. It is therefore not particularly useful for our purposes.

(26) . Very few manuscripts identify the specific community for which they were intended or even where they were written, making distinguishing local rites extremely difficult. No one has yet analyzed the available evidence sufficiently.

(27) . It is possible that some of these manuscripts were rewritten after censorship. In cases where the new words fit the old space, this can be hard to discern, especially on the microfilms (my primary access to these texts). Where new words do not fit the space, I have indicated this in the critical notes. I include these texts here because of their relevance to the larger project of this book. Their inclusion (plus the longer time period) accounts for the differences between in my presentation of the Italian materials here and in the article Ehrlich and Langer, “Earliest,” 107–8.

(28) . ט3 Ms. Cluj Academia RSR Ms. O. 301, dated 1399.

(29) . The single witness to this term in Italy is Ms. Paris Bibliothèque Nationale héb. 609, dated 1348 from Spello. The manuscript was censored; the censor either missed this word, perhaps because there was in general no need to check it in the Italian rites, or perhaps the prayer was rewritten incorrectly.

(30) . Ms. Paris Bibliothèque Nationale héb. 599, not included in the critical notes because of its deep censorship. The first line here contains only a single object, which is no longer legible. However, the word crossed out does not have ligatures extending above the line, as would be the case were it malshinim. The length of the word is also more appropriate to minim than to any of the expected alternatives.

(31) . On Carolingian policy to Jews in general, see Bernard S. Bachrach, Early Medieval Jewish Policy in Western Europe (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977), chapters 45, especially 71–75, 85. Based on Archbishop Agobard of Lyon’s objections (De insolentia Judaeorum, published in his Epistolae 5:184), Bachrach, p. 86, discusses briefly the permission to build synagogues. This is not known from other sources. See the discussion in Heinz Schreckenberg, Die christlichen Adversus-Judaeos-Texte und ihr literarisches und historisches Umfeld (1.–11. Jh.), Europäische Hochschulschriften (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1990), 494.

(p.347) (32) . A name found in Genesis 10:3 and 1 Chronicles 1:6, Ashkenaz becomes the inner Jewish term for Jews of the Rhineland and its surroundings. As Jews from the Rhineland migrated east beginning in the thirteenth century into areas without Jewish settlement, they carried their identity as “Ashkenazi” with them, so that the term came to refer to Jews of all of central and eastern Europe. A subset of Ashkenazi Jews, those living in Bohemia and in Slavic lands, initially called themselves “K’na‘anim” (Canaanites), because of the biblical curse that Canaan would be a slav(e). Distinctions persisted between these two rites, but not in the birkat haminim.

(33) . Israel M. Ta-Shma, Early Franco-German Ritual and Custom [Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1992), 17–18; Ta-Shma, Early Ashkenazic Prayer, 6–7.

(34) . Sefer Hayashar LeRabbenu Tam, Responsa, p. 81, cited by Ta-Shma, Early Franco-German, 21.

(35) . Ta-Shma, Early Franco-German, 22; Ta-Shma, Early Ashkenazic Prayer, 7–8.

(36) . Ta-Shma, Early Ashkenazic Prayer, 46.

(37) . Ms. Amsterdam Universiteitsbibliotheek Ms. Rosenthal 609. This text appears with the ma‘ariv service following Yom Kippur. For the very few variants on this text in uncensored manuscripts in Ashkenaz through the fifteenth century, see Ehrlich and Langer, “Earliest,” 108–10 and the discussion of them, 89–90.

(38) . The dating and confirmation of the provenance of this manuscript are according to private correspondence with Prof. Jonah Fraenkel.

(39) . Current owner unknown. See its cataloging by the Institute for Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, National Library, Jerusalem, f 4704.

(40) . Bachrach, Early Medieval, 98–102. Louis became aware of Agobard’s opposition in 822 and forced Agobard to give up his campaign five years later, around the time that Agobard wrote about the birkat haminim. Agobard turned at that point to seeking to enforce anti-Jewish policies within the Church. Louis eventually deposed him in 833.

(41) . “De Insolentia Iudaeorum,” in Agobardi Lugdunensis, Opera Omnia, vol. 52 of Corpus Christianorum Coninuatio Mediaeualis, ed. L. Van Acker (Turnholti: Brepols, 1981), 193, 86–90. Agobard’s cites Jerome, In Amos I.1.12; Epistula 129.4. Translation is that of W. L. North, “Medieval Sourcebook: Agobard of Lyon: On the Insolence of the Jews To Louis the Pious (826/827),” http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/agobard-insolence.html (1998, accessed November 17, 2009).

(42) . For discussions of Agobard, see William Horbury, “The Benediction of The Minim and Early Jewish-Christian Controversy,” Journal of Theological Studies 33 (1982): 29; Jeremy Cohen, Living Letters of the Law: Ideas of the Jew in Medieval Christianity, The S. Mark Taper Foundation Imprint in Jewish Studies (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1999), chapter 4, especially 129–31; Robert Bonfil, “Cultural and Religious Traditions in Ninth-Century French Jewry,” Binah: Jewish Intellectual History in the Middle Ages 3 (1994): 1–17; Heinz Schreckenberg, Die christlichen Adversus-Judaeos-Texte und ihr literarisches und historisches Umfeld (1.– 11. Jh.) (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1982), 497–98; Ch. Merchavia, The Church Versus Talmudic and Midrashic Literature [Hebrew] (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1970), 82–83.

(43) . Bonfil, “Cultural and Religious,” and especially pp. 13–14, argues that Agobard’s descriptions are of Jews deeply influenced by the halakhic and intellectual traditions of the Land of Israel.

(44) . Jonah Fraenkel, “On the Study of the History of the Ashkenazi Prayer Book [Hebrew],” Mada‘ei HaRuaḥ 14 (2002): 34.

(45) . Ta-Shma, Early Franco-German, 20, indicates that in the eleventh century, Provence was under Ashkenazi influence.

(46) . According to the earliest witness, Ms. Oxford Corpus Christi College 133, dated to the twelfth century.

(p.348) (47) . Where to divide this list of verbs between the two objects is not obvious from the Hebrew grammar. My translation decision here derives from the fact that in a significant number of manuscripts, these verbs appear after “and humble.”

(48) . Fraenkel, “Study of the History [Hebrew],” 34, points to the earliest manuscript of the Maḥzor Vitry, which is contemporaneous with the text presented here, as evidence for the shift in northern France to accept liturgical influences from the south. Ms. Sassoon Klagsbald 535, dated to the mid-twelfth century, presents a text identical to that of Ashkenaz in this fourth line, with only four verbs, but that includes the language “enemies of Your people Israel” which is less usual there and normal in France. See the critical edition of this text, R. Simḥah of Vitry, Maḥzor Vitry [Hebrew], ed. Aryeh Goldschmidt (Jerusalem: Makhon Oẓar HaPoseqim, 2004–2009), I:113.

(49) . The Council of Elvira in 305 already restricted social intercourse between the two communities. Under the Visigoths, Church councils convened by the king regularly imposed anti-Jewish rulings. These laws are collected in Amnon Linder, trans. and ed., The Jews in the Legal Sources of the Early Middle Ages (Detroit, Jerusalem: Wayne State University Press; The Israel Academy of Science and Humanities, 1997).

(50) . This location is given with the abbreviated version of Rav Natronai’s responsum in ‘Amram, #1, p. 2, but is not present in the manuscripts of Natronai’s own responsa. See Teshuvot Rav Natron’ai Ga’on, ed. Yeraḥmiel (Robert) Brody (Jerusalem: Makhon Ofeq, Sifriyat Friedberg, 1994), 106.

(51) . Spanish Jewry, in general, came into closer contact with the Ge’onim in this period and preserved a tradition that Rav Natronai Ga’on magically traveled there, taught them Torah, and returned to Babylonia. Rav Amram had significant communication with the Jews of Barcelona (i.e., Christian Spain) and none that was definitely with Muslim Spain; it is possible that his Seder was sent to Barcelona. It is rare for geonic texts to refer to Christian lands as anything more specific than “Edom.” See Simha Assaf, The Geonic Period and Its Literature: Lectures and Lessons [Hebrew], ed. Mordecai Margoliot (Jerusalem: Mossad HaRav Kook, 1967), 140; and Gerson D. Cohen, A Critical Edition with a Translation and Notes of The Book of Tradition (Sefer Ha-Qabbalah) by Abraham Ibn Daud (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1967), 53, note to lines 114–15. See also the sources listed in Eliahu Ashtor, The Jews of Moslem Spain, trans. Aaron Klein and Jenny Machlowitz Klein (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1973), 131, 415 n. 17.

(52) . ‘Amram, #1, p. 2.

(53) . According to Ms. Paris Bibliothèque Nationale héb. 590, Tefillot Sheleimot, thirteenth century, Catalonia.

(54) . A term likely derived from the Greek for Epicurean, also referring to a type of heretic or person who is not subservient to rabbinic authority. Ms. Cambridge University Library Add. 1204 (6), fifteenth century; Ms. Parma Biblioteca Palatina Cod. Parm. 1917, fifteenth century (too censored to be included in the variants). It may also have been present in Ms. Hamburg Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Cod. heb. 205, fifteenth century.

(55) . See Ms. London School of Jewish Studies 32, mid-fifteenth century; Ms. Leiden Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit Cod. Or. 4814, sixteenth century Fez.

(56) . All texts that expand this line eliminate ‘amekha yisra’el (Your people Israel) in favor of “our”—a literary move.