Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Cod. 253
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Dr. Justine Isserles, chercheure associée, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes-Saprat (Paris), 2020.

Titre du manuscrit: Tur Oraḥ Ḥayim, first book of the Arba’ah Turim by Jacob ben Asher (c.1269-1343)
Origine: Ashkenaz
Période: ‎2nd half of the 15th century‎
Support: Watermarked paper ‎ ‎(ox head, comp. Briquet, n°15064 and the letter ‘p’ on f. 100)‎
Volume: II + 107 + II
Format: 290-292 x 207-210 mm‎
Numérotation des pages: The foliotation is in Arabic numerals written in grey pencil in the top left corner of each recto side of the page.‎
Composition des cahiers:
  • ‎14 quaternion quires.‎ The first quire ends on folio 4v and is missing the first four folios, of which tiny remnants are visible before folio 1r: I (1r -4-4v); II-XIII (5r-100v); XIV (101r-107v -1), last folio missing of the last quire.‎
  • Catchwords are present in the left corner of the bottom margins, at the end of every quire, except f. 52v, whose page was ripped almost completely ripped off and f. 84v, which was also disappeared.
    ‎ Catchwords are found at the bottom of folios 47v and 49v.‎
Etat: Manuscript with missing beginning and end. Well preserved manuscript in general except for some missing portions of text on folios 1-2, 4-5 and 52, where the folios are heavily damaged. There are humidity stains throughout the manuscript, especially in the corners and lateral margins (e.g. ff. 54-55, 66-67), tares (ff. 59, 85, 100, 106), holes (ff. 44-45), earlier restoration (ff. 84-85). The spine was restored in 2000.‎
Mise en page: Hardpoint ruling for the main text and brown writing ink ruling for the calendar tables (f. 84r/v) and for an initial word (f. 85r) and an initial letter (f. 101r). Double pricking is visible in the outer margin of folio 84 and simple pricking is visible on the outer margins of folios 84-89.‎
2 + 1 columns of text. 40 ruled lines for 40 written lines. The end of lines is respected by letter elongation and compression. Some letters do however overlap into the lateral margins.
Inner and outer indentations‎.
Type d'écritures et copistes: Ashkenazi 15th century bookhand unvocalized script. Small module for the main text and medium module for the titles and initial words or letters (e.g. ff. 80r, 82r) within the text. There is a square Ashkenazi script for an initial word (f. 85r) and an initial letter (f. 101r), both of which are in a monumental module. One scribe copied this manuscript. He identified himself on folio 54r as Moshe (‎משה‎), signalled by a stylized scroll attached to his name.‎
Décoration: The decoration is all in writing ink.‎
  • ff. 25v-33v: Stylized trees on top of the numbering of sections of the text in the margins.
  • f. 54r: stylized scroll attached to the name of the scribe of the manuscript.‎
  • ff. 69v, 70r, 73r: small rectangular drawings in margins or in the main text, some of them with words.‎
  • f. 84v: a fleur de lys was drawn at the top and bottom of the calendar table.‎
  • f. 85r: Initial word filled with drawings in writing ink of ornamental scrolls and a hybrid-human head.
  • f. 101r: Initial word filled with drawings in writing ink of ornamental scrolls and a dragon.
  • There are several small marginal glosses throughout the manuscript in a brown ink bookhand script (e.g. ff. 28v-29r, 35v-36r, 53r).‎
  • Several titles in the text were copied out in a very small dark brown square vocalized script on folios 36v-37r, 65r, 79v, 83v and 101r, most probably by someone, who may have been practicing his Hebrew (the Prijs catalogue mentions the name of Gottfried Studer, but the latter was unidentifiable).‎
  • f. 100v: corrections in the margins where errors in the copying of the text occurred.‎
Reliure: White cardboard binding of the 17th century (300 x 212 mm). A small restoration note is glued to the inner-board at the beginning of the volume, revealing that the spine, made of parchment was restored in 2000 by M. Weber. Very faint and undecipherable title of the volume in brown ink at the top of the spine. Paper tag at the bottom of the spine, containing the shelfmark of the manuscript: “Mscpt. 253.”‎
The first book of the legal code A’arbah Turim ‘the four Pillars’ was composed by Jacob ben Asher (Ba’al ha-Turim, Cologne 1269-Toledo c. 1343), one of the most influential bible and legal scholars of the medieval period. He was one of the sons of Asher ben Jehiel (c. 1250-1327), an important Ashkenazi Rabbi from Cologne, who moved to Castile, due to increasing persecution of Jews in his native Germany. Composed in Toledo, the work Arba’ah Turim is divided into four books or sections (Oraḥ Ḥayim, Yoreh De’ah, Even ha-Ezer, Ḥoshen Mishpat), each called a "tur," alluding to the columns of jewels on the High Priest's breastplate. The work deals with practical laws which are applicable during the Jewish exile. Indeed, the introduction of the work explains the need for a more concise and practical halakhic compilation than that of the Maimonides’ (1135-1204) Mishneh Torah. The Arba’ah Turim was thus considered an authoritative work not only in Sepharad, but also in Ashkenaz, exemplified by Cod. 253.‎
The first division is the Tur Oraḥ Ḥayim or ‘Path of Life’ (Ed. Princ. Piove, 1475) and encloses laws on daily Jewish practices of blessings (i.e. washing hands in the morning, tefilin, tsitsit), prayer and laws on the Sabbath, festivals and Torah readings. This section also includes aspects of the Hebrew calendar relative to the annual liturgy. The Tur Oraḥ Ḥayim is preserved in circa 60 manuscripts and was printed over 20 times during the 15th and 16th centuries (Vidro, “Manuscript”, p. 74). Judah Galinsky identified two recensions of the work attested in all geo-cultural areas; one original short recension, which is closer stylistically and halakhically to Jacob ben Asher’s earlier works but less well formulated and a second longer recension, which varies from the earlier works but introduces clarifications in wording and halakha (Vidro, “Manuscript”, p. 74). However, neither recension is well represented in the surviving manuscripts of this work, which have been observed to incorporate sections of both recensions (Galinsky, pp. 310-311). As a fundamental work of halakha, the Arba’ah Turim went on to be highly esteemed and several commentaries were made from it, such as the Beit Yosef by the celebrated Sephardic scholar and rabbi named Joseph ben Ephraim Caro (1488-1575) (Caro’s work was adapted to the Ashkenazi version of Jewish law by Rabbi Moses Isserles (1530-1572) in his Mappah) and the Darkhei Moshe by Rabbi Moses Isserles.
‎Regarding the location of production for Ms Cod. 253, folio 83r encloses a marginal note mentioning a Rhenish custom (‎מנהג רינוס‎), perhaps suggesting that it may have been copied somewhere in the Rhineland. As for the dating of the manuscript, Ms Cod. 253 can be dated to the 2nd half of the 15th century, owing to the stylized gothic Ashkenazi square script for initial words. It is noteworthy to add that Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Cod. 253, along with Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Ross. 555 (Italy, 1435) and Vienna, Österreichisches Nationalbibliothek, Cod. Hebr. 127 (Ashkenaz, 1436), all contain an identical calendar for the years 5093-5263 A.M (1333-1503 C.E.), 19-year cycles, from the 269th to the 277th cycle. The dates of this calendar are specific to these three manuscripts and differ from the calendar described by Jacob ben Asher in his accompanying text, which is said to cover the years 5055-6000 A.M. (1295-2240 C.E.) (Vidro, “Manuscript”, p. 79). Consequently, this calendar table with the dates 1333-1503 C.E. found in each of these manuscripts respectively, reveals that the work was diffused in 14th century Ashkenaz and Italy shortly after its composition in Sepharad. As supporting evidence, a north French rite siddur, copied in northern Italy in 1395, cites the Arba’ah Turim in its glosses. (Galinsky, “Scholar”, pp. 38-39)‎.
For another Ashkenazi manuscript containing this same work, although slightly older, see Zurich, Braginsky Collection, Ms B 124 (dated circa end of the 14th c. to 1st half 15th c.) (accessed 21.01.2020).‎

  • The manuscripts of this work are structured by the numbering of chapters or sections (simanim) which are not consistent from one manuscript to another. In Ms Cod. 253, the simanim begin on f. 1r with n°100 (‎ק‎) and end on f. 107v with n°527 (‎תקכז‎).‎
    • (ff. 1r-36v) : Laws on daily practices and rituals (beginning missing)‎
    • (ff. 37r-79v) : Laws relative to the Sabbath (‎הילכות שבת‎)‎
    • (ff. 82r-83v) : Rules on the order of the months (‎סדר החודשים‎), followed by explanations on two calendar tables. Pre-calculated calendar covering the years 5055-6000 A.M. (1295-2240 C.E) in the text, which will not be implemented in the first table on folio 84r.
    • (ff. 84r-84v) : Two calendar tables from chapter 428 of the Tur Oraḥ Ḥayim.‎
      • The first table on folio 84r contains a pre-calculated calendar presented as a cycle of 247 years which was erroneously considered to repeat itself indefinitely (Vidro, “Calendar tables”, p. 59). One can find the year types (Qeviyot) (explanation in Vidro, “Calendar tables”, pp. 62-63) for knowing the days when Rosh ha-Shana and Pessah fall either during a simple or intercalated year (see 1st column to the right) during a period of 19 years (see 2nd column to the right). The table spans 9 cycles, going from the 269th cycle (years 5093-5111AM/1333-1351 CE) to the 277th cycle (years 5245-5263AM/1485-1503CE). ‎
      • The second table on folio 84v presents the possible courses of the Jewish liturgical year, such as year types (Qeviyot) for 14 years (7 simple and 7 intercalated years), revealing the 1st day of the month or the days when various festivals and fasts fall, as well as when the 4 special sabbaths fall during the year (e.g. Rosh ha-Shana, can only fall on days 2, 3, 5, 7 of the week and Pessah can only fall on days 1, 3, 5, 7 of the week). The two ‘fleur de lys’ drawings separate the simple years and intercalated years.
    • (ff. 85r-101r) : Laws on Pessah.‎
    • (ff. 101r-107v) : Laws on the festivals and High Holidays ( ‎הילכות ימים טובים‎) (incomplete)‎
Provenance du manuscrit: Owners notes in the manuscript:
  • f. 107v: Note written in light brown ink by manuscript owner Samuel Hortin (1589-1652) in the right corner of the top margin: Hortini sum B.‎
  • Flyleaf II (beginning of the manuscript): Two owners notes. The first note in brown ink was written in Latin and briefly describes the manuscript. The second note below in black ink, explains the note on top in German, revealing the name of its author Dr. Braun, librarian of the Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau and the date it was written on September 2nd 1909.‎
Acquisition du manuscrit: This manuscript has been preserved in the Burgerbibliothek in Bern since 1634, date at which the owner at the time, Samuel Hortin (1589-1652), donated it to the library along with 8 other Hebrew manuscripts from his possession. This manuscript was listed in Hortin’s Clavis bibliothecae Bongarsianae (1634) catalogue of the Jacques Bongars (1554-1612) collection which also entered the library in 1634. This highly important collection includes 650 medieval and Early Modern manuscripts, as well as about 150 fragments from monasteries in and around Orleans and Strasbourg.
  • Flyleaf II (beginning of volume): shelfmark MS 253, written in light brown ink next to another shelfmark ‘Cod. 253’ written and underlined in lead pencil.‎
  • Flyleaf III (back of volume): shelfmark ‘Cod. 253’ written in lead pencil.‎
  • Folio 107v: Round black Stamp of the Bibliotheca Bernensis in the bottom margin (see Agnes Wegmann, Schweizer Exlibris (Zürich: 1933-1937), #573 "after 1600").
  • Many thanks to Dr. Florian Mittenhuber of the Burgerbibliothek, Bern, for sharing several of the following bibliographical references with me: S. Engel, H. Hagen, S. Hortin, A. Wegmann, M. Wild.
Catalogues in manuscript form:
  • S. Engel, Katalog "Manuscripta", hs., 1740, [BBB Mss.h.h. III 110], f. 78r: '253. Rabbinica varia Talmudica. Secul. 14°, c[hart.]'
  • S. Hortin, Clavis bibliothecae Bongarsianae MDCXXXIIII, Bern 1634 [= BBB Cod. A 5], p. 80d: [Sign] '[Nr.] 18. Liber Rabbinicus, adelos. Mss. chart. 4°.'‎
  • J. Prijs, Katalog der hebräischen Handschriften (Manuscript, 1945), pp. 5-9, 57.‎
  • M. Wild, Catalogus Librorum Bibliothecae Civicae Bernensis MDCIIIC, Bern 1697 [= BBB Cod. A 4], f. 29v: '253. Rabinicus liber mutilus, continens Talmudica quaedam. f.'‎
Printed catalogues and secondary literature:
  • J. D. Galinsky, The Four ‘Turim’ and the Halakhic Literature of 14th Century Spain: Historical, Literary and Halakhic Aspects (Hebrew) (PhD diss., Bar Ilan University, 1999).‎
  • J. D. Galinsky, “ ‘And this Scholar Achieved More than Everyone for All Studied from His Works’: On the Circulation of Jacob b. Asher’s Four Turim from the Time of Its Composition until the End of The Fifteenth Century” (Hebrew), Sidra 19 (2004), pp. 25-45.‎
  • O. Franz-Klauser, «Burgerbibliothek Bern. Die hebraïschen Handschriften, Verzeichnis mit Einleitung», Judaica: Beiträge zum Verstehen des Judentums, 55, (1999), p. 19 (Nr.17).‎
  • J. Prijs, Die hebräischen Handschriften in der Schweiz: Katalog der hebräischen Handschriften in den Schweizer öffentlichen Bibliotheken … redigiert auf Grund der Beschreibungen von Joseph Prijs (Basel, Benei Beraq: Sefer Verlag, 2018), pp. 306–307 (Nr. 300).‎
  • N. Vidro, “Manuscript to Print and Print to Print: ON the Transmission History of Jacob Ben Asher’s Tur Orah Hayyim”, Zutot: Perspectives on Jewish Culture 15:1 (2018), pp. 73-93.‎
  • N. Vidro, “Calendar Tables in Manuscript and Printed Arba’ah Turim: Tur Oraḥ Ḥayim, chapter 428”, Journal of Jewish Studies, LXIX/1 (2018), pp. 58-85.‎
  • A. Wegmann, Schweizer Exlibris (Zürich: 1933-1937), #573.‎