Dr. Feuchtwanger-Sarig dedicated the past year to basic research of the Sefer Minhagim, focusing mainly on the decorative plan of the woodcuts embedded in the book and comparing them to similar Ashkenazi books in manuscript and print alike. Currently, the research concentrates on iconographic decipherment of the numerous woodcut illustrations, their origin, meaning and significance. Special notice is given to the relationship between the images and the text in Yiddish, after Prof. Jean Baumgarten has completed the preparation of the scholarly edition of the text. Prof. Baumgarten is presently translating the text into English. It is expected to significantly impact the understanding of the images in the Sefer Minhagim.

The analysis of the embellishments in the book points to four groups:

  1. A printer’s mark
  2. Ornate single-letter blocks that were used for the initial word לוח
  3. Small oblong panels of the zodiac signs and the labors of the months
  4. Scenes from the lifetime of a Jew and the Jewish year, which is the largest and most significant body of woodcuts in the book

Tracing the ultimate origin of these woodcuts is close to searching a needle in a haystack. Nonetheless, research carried out in the last months revealed some earlier books in which they have been employed prior to their incorporation in the decorative typographic material in the Venetian Hebrew office of Giovanni di Gara.

Printer’s Mark
The focal point of the title page is an illustration enclosed within a frame which occupies the place that normally bears the printer’s mark. Surprisingly, though, it is not di Gara’s printer’s device, which, in fact, appears nowhere in the book. Instead, it shows a winged figure holding a cartouche with a pitcher set against it. The inscription flanking it reads: Simon Levi Günzburg – the name of the author or compiler of the book.
In 1592, Günzburg published a Maḥzor in Tannhausen in collaboration with Isaak Mazia, introducing a printer’s device, which may have been devised for this imprint. It then served as the basis for the more elaborate printer’s mark that was composed specially for the Minhogim bukh of 1593.

Initial Letters
The initial letters that create the word לוח originated from, or at least were inspired by, those that were used by one of the first printers of Hebrew books. Perhaps their initial appearance is in the title page of the Maḥzor According to the Roman Rite, printed by Israel Nathan b. Samuel Soncino in Soncino and Casalmaggiore as early as in 1486. They – or very similar ones – appear time and again in Hebrew Imprints from Italy for many decades. What needs to be done is to verify that the fanciful letters of the Soncino presses are, indeed, the ones that were used by di Gara over 100 years later and, if this is not the case, what is the source of the ones that embellish the Minhogim bukh.

Zodiac Signs and Labors of the Months
The composite panels of the zodiac signs and labors of the months in the Minhogim bukh blend thematically into the content of the book, which is arranged according to the cycle of the Jewish year. The small rectangular images are integrated into the text space in the appropriate contexts and serve as markers to the customs of the respective months. Their state of preservation is highly suggestive of earlier use. It therefore seems plausible that Giovanni di Gara acquired the set of the zodiac-and-labors of the months woodblocks from an earlier printer and skillfully incorporated them into the decorative scheme of the book.

Earlier use of the woodblocks of the zodiac signs and labors of the months were found in a richly illustrated Haggadah that was printed in Mantua by the “sons of Filipponi” in 1568. Among its decorations are the twelve zodiac sign images, which were inserted vertically in the margins of the pages of the Mah Nishtanah. The odd positioning of the small woodcuts and the lack of any kind of relationship between the text and the images suggests that the panels served the typesetters merely as decorative space-fillers. Moreover, it is highly probable that they were originally created for an entirely different use and in a different context altogether, implying a date of production earlier than 1568. How they found their way to the printing press of di Gara is, to date, unknown.

Panels of Jewish Life
Even more enigmatic is the origin of the large panels that illustrate various phases of Jewish life. Above and beyond searching for their source, it is important to establish whether they are original and were made for the Minhogim bukh or are secondary-use woodblocks. Taken from a different point of view, it is important to try and ascertain whether the images reflect a local Minhag and artistic style, or a tradition that is embedded in German art and portrays the customs of the local Ashkenazi community. Once this question can be answered, it might also shed light on the target readership of the Minhogim bukh.

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