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Obj. ID: 1498
Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts
  Vienna Sefer Mordecai, Austria, 1392

© Center for Jewish Art, Photographer: Unknown,
Summary and Remarks

The Vienna Sefer Mordecai was copied in Germany or Austria in 1392 by three different scribes; one who copied the first two quires and  two other scribes who shared the rest of the text between themselves: Barukh who copied the 3rd to the 22nd quires and Shalom who copied the last nine quires of the manuscript. In fact, Barukh started to copy the text on the first page of the 23rd quire but for reasons unknown, Shalom replaced him in his work and moved this quire to the end of the manuscript (Barukh's text appears on fol. 242) and started to copy the same text on a new quire, now the 23rd quire (see: Contents, above) and continued from that point on until the end of the manuscript. Shalom also signed the manuscript with a colophon which states that he copied the manuscript for Shemarya ben Moshe on March 9th, 1392. 

This Sefer Mordecai is a later copy of an halakhic compendium by Mordecai ben Hillel Ha-Kohen (1240(?) - 1298), author and rabbinic authority in Germany, who died in Nuremberg a martyr’s death in the Rindfleisch massacres, together with his wife and five children. Mordecai’s fame rests on this Sefer Mordecai, always referred to as “The Mordecai.”  This gigantic compendium consists of elaborations on Talmudic problems in the style of the tosafot.

“The Mordecai” spread quickly and many manuscripts were produced with this text. The history of the spread of "the Mordecai" and the transmigrations of its many versions in manuscript and in print is one of the most complicated in all rabbinic literature. Because of the book’s tremendous scope, two main compilations of extracts, the “Austrian” and the “Rheinish”, were made from it within a few decades, mainly reflecting regional laws and customs, and differing greatly from one another. The Rheinish version includes the views of many French and English scholars, and the customs of the German communities. These customs had spread eastward as far as Poland, but were not accepted west of Germany. The Austrian version reflects the minhag of southeastern Europe including the customs of Austria, Hungry, Bohemia, Saxony, and Moravia, and mentions many Austrian scholars. According to research on some of the tractates of Sefer Mordecai (Bava Kamma, Rosh ha-Shana, Yom Kippur, Sukkah, Bezah, Ta’anit and Megillah) in various manuscripts, and amongst them, our manuscript, scholars came to the conclusion that our manuscript belongs to the Austrian version (Sefer Mordecai Ha-Shalem, Mif'al Torat Hokhmei Ashkenaz, Mahon Yerushalayim,(Teachings of the Torah Sages of Ashkenaz), a Project of the Jerusalem Institute. 1989, 1992, 1995, 1997).

The Vienna Sefer Mordecai is lavishly illuminated with many decorated initial words and with some rich panels (see: Decoration Program, above). This is a typical to many other manuscripts of Sefer Mordecai of this period and region that we know of, which are mostly not illuminated or include simple decoration around the initial words only e.g. Sefer Mordecai, E. France, Besancon, 1397 (Cambridge - University Library Add. 490, 1), Sefer Mordecai, Ashkenaz, 1403 (Paris, Ecole Rabbinique 39), Sefer Mordecai, Ashkenaz, 1418 (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale, heb. 407), Sefer Mordecai, Ashkenaz, 1459 (Toronto, University of Toronto, Ms Friedberg 5-011) and two Sefer Mordecai, Ashkenaz, after 1500 (Oxford, Bodleian Library Ms Mich. 582, 583). However, we know of another Sefer Mordecai  that is also highly illuminated probably produced in Vienna, in  1373/4 (Budapest, Budapest, Szèchènyi Nationalbiblioteck, Cod. Hebr. 1; see: Fingernagel, Niederösterreichischen Randleistenstils). Like the Vienna Sefer Mordecai, the Budapest manuscript has a similar decoration program with decorated initial word panels for every opening of a tractate and with smaller panels for opening of subtitles. The panels of the tractates in the Budapest manuscript however, are more elaborate and include burnished gold letters within very large panels and also include a frame for the entire column. Thus we can conclude that most important illuminated examples of Sefer Mordecai are the Vienna Sefer Mordecai and the Budapest Sefer Mordecai, both produced in the last decades of the 14th century. 

Stylistically the initial word panels in our manuscript on fols. 208v and 221v should be compared with a similar panel of another halakhic text, the SeMaK, produced in Nuremburg in 1392 (London, British Library, Add. 18684, fol. 12). In both manuscripts the initial words are filled with animals and foliate motives, commonly appearing in Ashkenazi manuscripts (see for example: ÖNB, Cod. Hebr. 163, fol. 2v, cat. XXX), however in both manuscripts the letters set within a panel are filled with a unified background of repeated pattern (in the Vienna manuscript with scrolls while in the Nuremburg SeMaK with flowers). Similar panels, in motives but not is style,  with a unified background of large scrolls and repeated patterns can also be found in the Erna Michael Haggadah, Germany (Middle Rhine), ca. 1400 (Israel Museum, 180/58, fol. 35v). The decoration of the Erna Michael Haggadah (fols. 52v, 65v) could also be compared to the monochrome panels of theVienna manuscript on fols.  56, 58v and59. In both manuscripts dragons, hybrids and humans, depicted on a monochrome background, almost merge with the background. 

Some initial words in our manuscript are decorated with dragons (fols. 56, 59, 97) or with a man fighting a dragon (fols. 58v, 65v, 208v), similar to the binding decoration. 



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Vienna Sefer Mordecai | Unknown
Object Detail
Monument Setting
9 March 1392
Synagogue active dates
Reconstruction dates
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Unknown |
Period Detail
Documentation / Research project
Iconographical Subject
Unknown |
Textual Content
Unknown |
Languages of inscription
Shape / Form
Material / Technique
Material Stucture
Material Decoration
Material Bonding
Material Inscription
Material Additions
Material Cloth
Material Lining
Tesserae Arrangement
Construction material
Panel Measurements
On some pages the empty lower margins were cut off such as on fol. 88, 134-136 and 152. On fols. 158-159 the outer and lower margins are cut out causing a little damage to the outer column text.
Documented by CJA
Surveyed by CJA
Present Usage
Present Usage Details
Condition of Building Fabric
Architectural Significance type
Historical significance: Event/Period
Historical significance: Collective Memory/Folklore
Historical significance: Person
Architectural Significance: Style
Architectural Significance: Artistic Decoration
Urban significance
Significance Rating
Talmudic compendium by Mordecai ben Hillel Ha-Kohen (1240(?) - 1298). Order of tractates and specific sections: (fols. 1v-13v). Text is missing between fol. 13v to 14 . Shabbat: (fols. 14-28) Pesahim: (fols. 28v-40), including: Seder shel Pesah (fols. 38v-40) Eruvin: (fols. 40v-48) Bezah: (fols. 48v-53) Rosh Ha-Shanah: (fols. 53-56) Yom Kippur: (fols. 56-59) Sukkah: (fols. 59-61) Ta’anit: (fols. 61-65v), including: laws of the 9th of Av (fols. 63-63v) and Mo’ed Katan: (fols. 63v-65v) Berakhot: (fols. 65v-74) Laws of Erez Israel and Hallah: (fols. 74v-76v) Megillah: (fols. 76v-84). On fols. 77-77v some text of tractate Sukkah is written. The Sukkah text is marked by the scribe in a note in the outer margins (fol. 77) and in the lower margin (fol. 77v).This text is missing in tractate Sukkah and there is reference to it in the upper outer margin on fol. 61. Bava Kamma: (fols. 84-97) Bava Mezia: (fols. 97-123) Bava Batra: (fols. 123-155) Sanhedrin: (fols. 155-161v), including: Makot (fols. 160v-161v) Likutei ha-Maimoni (fols. 161v-171v) Shvuot: (fols. 172-180v) Avodah Zarah (fols. 180v-191) Hullin (fols. 191-208v) Yevamot (fols. 208v-221v) Ketubbot (fols. 221v-228v) a folio with text is missing- between fol. 227v to 228 and text is missing between fol. 228v to fol. 229 and the catchword at the end of quire XXIX does not correspond with the first word of quire XXX. Gittin (fols. 229-235v); beginning is missing); including Get laws (fols 234v-235v). Niddah (fols. 235v-241v) Shavuot (fol. 242): This page was written by Scribe B and is almost identical in content to fol. 174, written by Scribe C (however there are some differences which might point to a different model). It seems that originally Scribe B copied that text on fol. 174, which opened a new quire. For reasons unknown, Scribe C replaced Scribe B and moved the quire, already started by Scribe B, to the end of the manuscript and started to copy the same text on fol. 174 on another new quire. The sheet of the quire with the hand of Scribe B was folded to the other side. This refolding brought the first leaf (including the text of Scribe B) to be the last in the quire, thus fol. 242. Schwartz reaches different conclusions about the structure of this last quire. (see: Schwartz, pp. 68-69).

Parchment; 243 leaves (the first leaf is not foliated and served as a flyleaf; the last folio also served as a flyleaf and foliated 242). It is hard to distinguish between hair side and flesh side.


Full page: (490-510) x (350-366) mm

Main text in two columns:

Scribe A: (fols. 1v-13v):                                   (305-323) x (207-210) mm

Scribe B: Barukh (fols. 14-173v and fol. 242): (308-316) x (205-208) mm

Scribe C: Shalom (fols. 174-241v):                   (313-317) x (204-210) mm

Column’s width:

Scribe A:              90-96 mm

Scribe B: Barukh: 90-94 mm

Scribe C: Shalom: 90-92 mm




Scribe A:

Main text

Fols. 1v-13v

Scribe B: Barukh

Main text

Fols. 14-173v and fol. 242

Scribe C: Shalom

Main text

Fols. 174-241v


Main text written in semi-cursive Ashkenazi script in dark brown ink with red rubrics by the three hands.

Number of columns:

The text is written in two columns. 

Number of lines

Main text:

Scribe A:

Scribes B and C:


49-51 lines per column

51 lines per column


Ruling by plummet, 52 horizontal (usually 3 lines on top, 2 at the middle and 3 at the bottom are ruled the full width of the page) and 1+2+1+2+2+1 vertical lines.


Pricking is discernible in all margins.


31 quires of 8 leaves each except for II8-2 (fols. 8 & 9 are widows, with stub of fol. 8 is discernable between fols. 13-14; Text is missing between fol. 13v to 14); XXIX 8-1 (fol. 223 is a widow, with stub between fols. 227-228).

XXXI 8-2, (The first leaf of the quire (fol. 237) and the last leaf (fol. 242) are a bifolium; and so are fols. 240-241- bifolium; fols. 238 & 239 are widows. It seems that originally Scribe B copied that text on fol. 174, which opened a new quire. For unknown reasons, Scribe C replaced Scribe B and moved the quire already started by Scribe B, to the end of the manuscript and started to copy the same text on fol. 174 on another new quire. The sheet of the quire with the hand of Scribe B was folded to the other side. This refolding brought the first leaf (including the text of Scribe B) to be the last in the quire, thus fol. 242 which served as a pastedown.  The 2nd (fol. 238) and 3rd (fol. 239) leaves of this quire are single leaves and their counterpart were blank and therefore cut-off.


Vertical and some horizontal catchwords to the quires appear in the lower left-hand corner of the final versos of each quire. Catchwords for the first three leaves of each of Scribe C's quires (XXIII-XXXI) are written horizontally at the lower left-hand margin of the verso side of those leaves (e.g. quire XXIII, fols. 174v, 175v, 176v, quire XXVI, fols. 198v, 199v, 200v).

Hebrew numeration

Some remnants of Hebrew alphabetical numeration - aleph to dalet - appear in the lower left-hand corner – very close to the edge - of the rectos of the first four leaves of some quires of Scribe B (III-XXII): e.g. quire X, fols. 70-74, quire XI, fols. 79, 81, quire XII, fols. 87-88 and quire XVII, fols. 126 and 128. 

Blank leaves

Fol. 1R.

Number of Lines
Hebrew Numeration
Blank Leaves
Façade (main)
Location of Torah Ark
Location of Apse
Location of Niche
Location of Reader's Desk
Location of Platform
Temp: Architecture Axis
Arrangement of Seats
Location of Women's Section
Direction Prayer
Direction Toward Jerusalem
Coin Series
Coin Ruler
Coin Year
Fol. 241v: Scribal colophon of Scribe C: Written in semi-cursive Ashkenazi script in brown ink: Text: ביום שישי בשבת בי"ב ימים לחודש ואדר השיני שנת חמשת אלפים ומאה וחמשים ושנים/ לבריאת העולם השלמתי ספר מוה"ר מרדכי זצ"ל להנדיב ר' שמריה ב"ר משה. הקב"ה יזכיהו/להגות בו הוא וזרעו וזרע זרעו עד סוף כל הדורות דכתי' לא ימושו מפיך ומפי זרעך ומפי זרע/ זרעך אמר ה'. / שלום הסופר לא יוזק לא היום ולא לעולם עד שתעלה פרה בסולם, Translation: On Friday, 12th of Adar II, 5152 (March 9, 1392) I completed copying this Book of Mordecai for Shemarya b. Moshe. Shalom, the scribe, will not be harmed, not today nor forever, until a cow climbs a ladder.
Scribal Notes
Names of scribes: • Scribe B emphasized his name ”Barukh” (ברוך) many times in the text in three ways: by a foliate motif (e.g. fols. 14, 26, 30), rubricated in red (e.g. fols. 36v, 59, 128) and in acrostic (e.g. fols. 114 and 167v). • Scribe C emphasized his name on fol. 194, in the left column on top of the word: "shalom” (however he marked all other names and sources in the same manner as is evident on the same pages). On fol. 137- his name Shalom, appearing twice in full, is rubricated in red each time. Scribe A’s blessing: Fol. 1v: Scribe A’s blessing before starting to copy the manuscript inscribed in the upper margin in dark brown ink: "ע'מ'י' ע'ש'ו' ע'מ'י' ע'ש'ו'/ בטוב גדא אתחילדא ואסיים דא." Translation: With the help of God, with good luck I will start and finish this. . Instruction to the reader by Scribe B: Fols. 77 and 77v: Two notes by Scribe B instructing the reader to skip certain parts of the text which are not related to the text in this section (see also: CTN above): • The one on fol. 77: at the middle of the outer margin, in small round script, in triangular shaped text: בו." מכאן עד סוף פרק/ לולב וערבה תדלג/ כי הוא שייך/ לסוף מס'/ סוכה לכן/ אל יטע'/ כל/ הקורא Translation: Skip from here to the end of chapter Lulav and Aravah because it belongs to the end of tractate Sukkah and therefore the reader should not be mislead. • On fol. 77v: at the bottom of the outer margin, in small round script: עד כאן שייך לפרקא/ מסכת סוכה ואל/ תתמה עלי שכתב'/ אותו הנה ידוע/ ליהוי לכל הקורא/ בו כי טעות היה/ לפני וזאת הבנתי/ מעצמי ובראש/ העמוד תמצא/ כסדר Translation: [The text}until here belongs to chapter Sukkah and do not be surprised that I copied it here; it is known to all readers that it was a mistake which I realized myself . And at the beginning of the page one will find it in the correct order. Scribe B's inscriptions at the beginning or end of sections: such as on the outer margin of fol. 56: אחל/ הילכות/ יום/ הכיפורי'/ של אבי/ העזרי" Translation: I will start the laws of the Day of Atonement by Avi ha-Ezri (=R. Eliezer ben Joel Ha-Levi of Bonn; 1140-1224) called Ravayah. Fol. 58v inner margin, scribal inscription: "סליק/ הלכות/ יום/ הכיפו' / של/ אבי/ העזרי/ זצקל. Translation: I finished the laws of the Day of Atonement by Avi ha-Ezri, may the memory of a righteous one be a blessing. Scribe B marked his model books a few times in the outer margins: -Fol. 110v: written at the centre of the outer margin in small round script: בכאן התחלתי/ לכתוב מן הספר/ של ר' אברהם/ זלה"ה Translation: ”From here I started to copy from the book of the late R. Avraham.” -Fol. 72v, at the end of the left column: העתקתי מספר אבי"ה סימן תקיד Translation:”I copied from Avayah, Ch. 514.” Initial words in small round script are written in the outer margins next to the same large initial word of the main text by Scribes B & C: • Scribe B wrote the initial words in small round script next to large decorated initials (see fols. 56, 58v, 59, 97, 63, 65v, 84). • Scribe C wrote the initial words in small round script next to every initial word (e.g. fols. 174, 176, 178v, 179v, 181, 184v, 187v, 191, 192v, 193, 198v, 199, 201v, 208, 208v, 232).
Trade Mark

See binding document

Decoration Program

The decoration was rendered by one artist.

 A.     Nine large initial word panels:  4 monochrome initial word panels opening three tractates (fols. 56, 59, 97) and a chapter (fol. 58v). The panels are in shades of light blue (fol. 58v, 59), green (fol. 56) and red (fol. 97) with black and white contours and decorated with dragons, hybrids and a hunting scene. Each panel occupies one column’s width. 5 penwork initial word panels opening 5 tractates, two of which are elaborate and occupy the two text column’s width decorated with dragons and hunting scenes (fols. 208v, 221v) while 3 others are smaller and extends to one column’s width only (fols. 180v, 191, 235v). These panels are filled with large red or green scrolls except fol. 235v which has a chequered background.

B.     Large initial words opening tractates are written in display script in black (e.g. fols. 74v, 123, 155, 161v, 172), red (e.g. fols. 14, 65v) or in alternating colours of red and green (e.g. fols. 76v, 84). Some are chequered in red on the black ground (e.g. fols. 28v, 40v, 48v, 53) others have additional decoration below with a man killing a dragon (fol. 65v) or with a dragon (fols. 76v, 84). Few initials are framed (fol. 1v) or surrounded by a wriggly line (e.g. fols. 14, 40v, 65v).

C.     Small initial word panels opening sections decorated with penwork scrolls of palmette motifs in green (e.g. fol. 13v, 198v), red (e.g. fol.199) , green and blue (fol. 201v), red and green (e.g. fol. 207v, 210v) and red, green and blue (fol.185). The panel on fol. 232v is decorated with large red or green scrolls and a frog on top. Some of the panels are not finished (e.g. fol. 207v, lower initial).

D.     Many small initial words in red (e.g. fols. 7, 38v, 41v, 74, 129, 164, 166, 216v), green (e.g. fol. 198), or in alternating black and red (e.g. fols. 2v, 32v), or green and red (e.g. fols. 101, 174, 214). Some are gothic letters (e.g. fol. 63v in alternated red and black (fol. 114).

E.     Decorated ascenders for the letter lamed with a fleur-de-lys or half fleur-de-lys (e.g.fols. 137, 138, 146v).

F.     Simple geometrical rosette in red and brown ink is at the upper margin on fol. 138.

G.    The end of each tractate and of some paragraphs is written in a shaped text in form of a goblet (e.g  fols. 28, 40, 48, 53, 59, 61, 63, 65v,  84, 123, 133, 160, 161v, 171v, 191, 216v, 221v), and a ball(e.g. fols. 74, 76v, 97). The text on the three last pages of the manuscript is written in the form of bottles (fols. 240v, 241, 241v). Scribal notes of the second scribe, in the margin are written in a form of a triangle (e.g. fols. 77) in some cases it is decorated in red and brown ink (e.g. 110v, 127).

H.     Some ends of tractates are decorated with wriggly lines (e.g. fol. 28).

I.       Simple geometrical rosette at the upper margin on fol. 138.



Suggested Reconsdivuction
• Fol. 61, written in the upper part of the outer margin in semi-cursive script: (the same hand?) Corrected on fol. 63v in the intercolumnar space. Text: מדולג משאין לברך כו'/ עד סוף הפרק וכל הפר' לולב/ וערבה ותמצא כתוב בהתחלת / מסכ' מגיל' Translation: "One skips until the end of this chapter and the whole chapter of Lulav (palm branch) and Aravah (willow) is copied at the beginning of tractate Megillah." • Fol. 1: in the upper right side of the page inscribed: No. 152. • Fol. 1: in the lower part of the page is a red round stamp bearing the inscription around: BIBLIOTHEQUE IMPERIALE and decorated at the centre with a spread winged eagle. • Fol. 1: in the bottom of the page is a black round stamp inscribed around with the inscription: OSTERR. NATIONALBIBLIOTHEK • On the verso of the first folio inscribed in the upper part of the page in dark brown ink: “No 59” • Fol. 1v, in the outer upper margin inscribed in Latin letters: Text: 'R. Mardorheus'? Translation: R. Mordecai ?
Main Surveys & Excavations
Schwartz, A. Z., Hebräischen Hss. Wien, 1925, no.72. A. Fingernagel and A. Haidinger, "Zeue Zuegen des Niederösterreichischen Randleistenstils in hebräischen, deutschen und lateinischen Handschriften", Codices Manuscripti. Zeitschrift für Handschriftenkunde, February 2002, pp. 15-44. Israel Moses Ta-Shma, “Mordecai ben Hillel Ha-Kohen”, Encyclopedia Judaica, (Jerusalem 1972), vol. 12, cols. 311-314. Sefer Mordecai Ha-Shalem, Mif'al Torat Hokhmei Ashkenaz, Mahon Yerushalayim,(Teachings of the Torah Sages of Ashkenaz), a Project of the Jerusalem Institute. 1989, 1992, 1995, 1997.
Michal Sternthal , Yaffa Levy, Aliza Cohen-Mushlin; | 2003, 2005
Author of description
Michal Sternthal. (Entering the data:Tova Szeintuch) | 2003, 2005; 2018
Architectural Drawings
Computer Reconstruction
Section Head
Michal Sternthal | 06-2017
Language Editor
Judith Cardozo | 08.12.2005
Negative/Photo. No.
The following information on this monument will be completed:
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