Object Alone

Obj. ID: 1499
Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts
  Vienna Semag, Strasbourg, 1344

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

This Vienna Semag consists of Sefer Mitzvot Gadol (SeMaG), The Great Book of Precepts by Moses ben Jacob of Coucy, a French tosafist and codifier, who lived in the first half of the 13th century. This work, which includes the Positive and Negative Precepts of the Law (finished 1250) served as a standard guide of halakhic practice for scholars in all generations, and many tens of manuscripts of this work survived up to now (Ta-Shma, "Moses … of Coucy", cols. 418-9).


This copy of the ViennaSemag has no colophon stating the name of the scribe, the date or place of production. However, it includes a divorce formula (vol, II, fol. 146v), which includes details probably inserted by the scribe to the original text of the Semag. In this divorce document the year 1344 and the city ofStrasbourg are mentioned and may indicate the time and place of our manuscript (Sed Rajna, "Filigree Ornaments", p. 50).


The style of the illumination also supports the assumption that the manuscript was produced in the Upper Rhinearea. According to Sed Rajna (pp. 46-47), this Semag and other two Hebrew manuscripts similarly decorated attributed to a same workshop of the Upper Rhine School: The Double Mahzor of Vienna and Jerusalem (Vienna, ÖNB, Cod. Hebr. 163; Jerusalem, JNUL, Heb. 80 5214), and theCambridge Hagiographa (Cambridge, UL, Ms Ee 5.9).

The Cambridge Hagiographa has a colophon indicating on fol. 55v the date January 4, 1347 (21 Tevet 5107) and the name of a scribe Hayyim (Sed-Rajna, "Filigree Ornaments",pp. 50 ff.). The Double Mahzor is written by two scribes: scribe A, the original scribe, and scribe B. The original scribe (A) emphasized the name Moshe in both parts of the mahzor and it may well be the scribe's name (see: documentations of theJerusalem part in Index of Jewish Art, Ms.1995.43).

It is interesting to note that the name Moshe is also emphasized in our Semag, although in a different way: the opening page of the Semag (vol. I, fol. I) contains biblical verses in which Moshe is repeated twice in bold script. Since the name of the Semag's author is also Moshe (of Coucy) it is hard to conclude whether it was intended to emphasize the author's or the scribe's name.

However, from the palaeographic examination of these three manuscripts, it seems that each of them is written by a different copyist.


The date 1347 inthe Cambridge Hagiographa and the date 1344 included in our divorce formula are assumed as indication date also for that of the Double Mahzor ofVienna andJerusalem (c. 1344-47; Sed Rajna, p. 50).


The similar decoration of these three manuscripts consists of filigree pen-work panels using mainly red and blue. The panels are adorned with medallions of the same motifs of hybrids, various animals as well as floral and foliate motifs. Some of the medallions are illustrative as in our ViennaSemag (see Decoration Program) or in the Double Mahzor of Vienna and Jerusalem, where the four beasts of Ezekiel’s vision are depicted (JNUL, Heb. 80 5214, fols. 88, 397v). Tendrils extend from all the panels into the margins some of which are embellished with birds in our Vienna Semag (see Decoration Program) or in the Double Mahzor ofVienna andJerusalem (ÖNB, Cod. Hebr. 163, fols. 41, 43).

This kind of decoration is also known from more than forty Latin manuscripts of this same style. According to Ellen J. Beer (oberrheinischen Buchmalerei), this style probably began in the North of France in the thirteenth century in a Cistercian scriptorium and spread through the establishment of daughter monasteries in to the Upper Rhine in the South West of Germany, especially in Freiburg, Basel and Constance at the end of the 13th and the first half of the 14th century.


In Strasbourgwhere, according to the divorce document ViennaSemag was probably copied, and in the neighboring Upper Rhine towns of Basel, Constance and Freiburg, Jewish communities flourished in the first decades of the fourteenth century. Strasbourg received the title of a free imperial city in 1262 from the German king Philip of Swabia, which made it blossom even further from what it was before, and the number of the Jews constantly increased. Most of them were rich moneylenders, and in 1242 they paid the highest tax of all Jewish communities of the empire. Although they suffered from the Rindfleisch Massacre of 1298, the community of Strasbourg became a haven to the Jews expelled from France in 1306. The number of the Jews increased, numbering about 300 families in the first half of the 14th century. The scribe of the Vienna Semag may have been of the emigrants from France to Strasbourg, since he marked the word “and in France” (ובצרפת) on vol. II, fol. 38.

In the 1340s, when the Semag was copied the Jewish community of Strasbourg must have been at the height of its affluence, it were supported by the patricians in the council against the master craftsmen, who owed money to the Jews. Five years later, on February 14th 1349, 2,000 Jews were burned at the stake, in spite of the conviction of the council of Strasbourg, that the Jews were innocent of the accusation of poisoning the wells and causing the Black Death to spread in the city (Ta-Shma, "Moses … of Coucy").

It can concluded that if the date and place of the divorce document was not the actual date of the manuscript, but the scribe copied these details from his model, the manuscript was most likely copied in the Upper Rhine area before 1349 when many communities in this area were destroyed.


In 1545 the ViennaSemag, was sent from the Land of Israel. A century later it reached the Land of Israel again and sent back to Europe in 1637. During the 17th century the owners of the book were the members of the Shalky Wort (שלקי ווערט' או ווערד) family of Polishburg andJerusalem for at least three generations.


In the 19th century the manuscript was in Bratislava (Pressburg), in the possession of a scribe Moses Müller, who had in his possession also two ketubbot (Vienna, ÖNB, Cod. Hebr. 135, 136) and a Vienna Seder Tikkunei Shabbat, (Vienna, ÖNB, Cod. Hebr. 130).



31 image(s)

sub-set tree:

Vienna Semag | Unknown
Object Detail
Monument Setting
5 September 1344
Active dates
Reconstruction dates
Artist/ Maker
Historical Origin
Community type
Unknown |
Period Detail
Austria | Vienna | Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (ÖNB)
| Cod. Hebr. 34 I & II (Schwartz No. 63)
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
Vol. II, fol. 396 the lower margin is cut-off.
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
Sefer Mitzvot Gadol (ספר מצות גדול, The Great Book of Precepts), abbreviated SeMaG (סמ"ג) by Rabbi Moses ben Jacob of Coucy, copied in two volumes, the first deals with the 365 Negative Precepts, the second with the 248 Positive Precepts. Each volume is preceded by the author's preface and followed by a list of the precepts: Vol. I: Preface (fols. 1-6), List of the Negative Precepts (fols. 6-19v), 365 Negative Precepts (fols. 20v-343v). Vol. II: Preface (fol. 2), List of Positive Precepts (fols. 2v-12, the List is not complete, and Nos. 15-48 are missing), 248 Positive Precepts (fols. 13-561v). The 2nd volume also contains five additional sections of Positive Precepts derived from the Prophets and Sofrim Tractate, including Eruvin Precepts (fols. 562-576), Mourning Precepts (fols. 576-588), 9th of Av Precepts (fols. 588-591v) Megillah Precepts (fols. 591v-594v) and Hanukkah Precepts (fols. 594v-596v).

Vellum, vol. I: I + 343 + I leaves; vol. II: I + 596 + I leaves. The parchment is very thin and the difference between hair and flesh sides can hardly be noticeable.



Vol. I: Full page: ca. 267 x ca.196 mm

           Text space: 156 x104 mm

           Width of text column: mostly45 mm

Vol. II: Full page: ca. 270 x ca.192 mm

           Text space: 155 x110 mm

            Width of text column: 46-48 mm


The same scribe copied the two volumes Semag.




Vols. I, II: Main text is written in square Ashkenazi script in dark brown ink.           


Number of lines

Vol. I:

Main text:                      30 lines per page, written in 2 columns, except for fols. 6-19v, 38v-39v, 343-343v in one column

Vol. II:

Main text:                      30 lines per page, written in 2 columns, except for fols. 1-12v in one column.



Ruling by plummet in brown on both sides of the page, vol. I: 4 + 31 + 5 horizontal, and 2+2+3+2 vertical lines; vol. II: 3 + 31 + 4 horizontal lines (fols. 1-215v) and 4+31+5 horizontal lines (fols. 216-end), and 2+2+3+2 vertical lines.

The two top, middle and bottom horizontal lines are ruled across the full width of the page. Additional short horizontal lines of various numbers (applied for proof notes), are ruled by plummet in the outer margins (e.g. vol. I, fol. 280v, vol. II, fols. 532, 541, 555v).



Vols. I and II: Pricking is discernible in the inner margins.



Vol. I: 29 quires of 12 leaves each, except for: II4+3 (no text missing).

Vol. II: 50 quires of 12 leaves each, except for: II5+6 andL6+3 (end of the manuscript).

In the first quire (I12): fol. 1 is a section of a single leaf of a Latin Antiphonary of the 14th or 15th century and fol. 3 is single blank leaf. Text after fol. 2 is missing (see contents).




Traces of catchwords to the quires written vertically in brown ink are in the lower left-hand corner of the last verso of some quires: vol. I: fols. 91v, 103v and 271v; vol. II: fols.23v, 55v, 395v, 443v, 455v, 467v, 491v, 503v, 515v, 551v and 563v.


Hebrew numeration



Blank leaves

Vol. I: fol. 20, vol. II: fols.3, 12v.


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
Scribal Notes
Vol. II, fol. 146v: A divorce formula (Precept No. 50) contains some fictitious details, which probably inserted by the scribe to the original text of the Semag. reads: "וזה טופס הגט באחד בשבת בששה ועשרים יום לירח אלול שנת חמשת אלפים ומאה וארבע לבריאת עולם למנין שאנו מנין כאן במדינת שטרספורק דיתבא על נהר רינוס ועל נהר אילא ועל נהר ברושא ועל נהר קלטהא ועל מי בארת אנא הינצא בר רבי צבים המכונה קורוט בר רבי שוטה דיתבא על נהר פלוני… אנתתי בילא המכונה בילקין בת רבי קולניר המכונה מיור ואת דרה עכשיו במקום כוש דיתיבא על נהר פרת… " Paraphrase: The divorce contract gives the date Sunday 26th of the month of Elul in the year 5104 (5.9.1344), and the place, the city of Strasbourg on the rivers Rhine, L'ill, la Bruche and Kleta (?). The man is “Hinza bar R. Zavim was known as Kurot bar R. Shoteh (foolish?)” who leaves [...]". The woman is “Bila known as Bilkin the daughter of R. Kolnir known as Mayur now leaving in Ethiopia on the Euphrates". The date and place mentioned in this document may indicate the actual production date and place of the manuscript (See Remarks). Vol. II, fol. 38: At the center of the left text column, the scribe indicated the word “and in France” (ובצרפת) by a foliate motif. Marginal corrections of the text in light brown ink probably by the original scribe written in the outer margins (e.g. Vol. I, fols. 48v, 53v, 71v, 280v, 294; Vol. II, fols. 532, 541, 555v). A small graphic sign in the main text indicates the place of the correction. (Most corrections were partially cut-off by the binder.)
Trade Mark
Decoration Program

The decoration consists of display initial words within pen-work filigree panels of various sizes executed mainly in red ink. The type of filigree consists of spiral and foliate motifs arranged at times in shaped forms of lozenges or triangles.

The panels are framed by painted borders of double fillet and at times, by bow-shaped bands. The smaller panels are surrounded on all sides by pen-work.

Small medallions are integrated in the filigree field and in the borders of the panels, filled with two-legged animals and hybrids, dragons, animals' heads, human busts, quadrupeds and foliate motifs, all in spared-ground technique on blue and magenta ground.

Flourishes with tendrils extend from the panels into the margins of that text column which contains the filigree panels, and terminate sometimes in floral motifs (e.g. vol. II, fol. 396v). Colourful birds are perched or fly over the tendrils in the margin (e.g. vol. II, fol. 540).

Only few initial words are not decorated (e.g. vol. II, fols. 370v, 371v). Spaces reserved within the text column intended for the traditional drawn diagrams next to the laws concerning them (e.g. vol. I, fol. 299, vol. II, fol. 439, vol. II, fol. 522v). They are inscribed ”Like this” (כזה), however the diagrams were never copied.

  1. Elaborate initial word panels, some extending to half the text space height, are placed at the opening of the Semag (vol. I, fol. 1), at the beginning of Negative and Positive Precepts sections (vol. I, fol. 20v, vol. II, fol. 13, respectively) and at the beginning of the List of the Positive Precepts (vol. II, fol. 2v). The inhabited medallions are of two-legged hybrids, dragons and foliate motives.
  2. Many smaller horizontal initial word panels occupying the height of 2 or 3 lines are placed in the right side of either one or both text columns, at the opening of almost each precept, sometimes fused to form a vertical panel (e.g. vol. I. fols. 49, 87,126, vol. II, fols. 368v, 540).                                                                                    The Inhabited medallions are filled with floral and foliate motifs (e.g. vol. I, fols. 38, 297, vol. II, fols.18, 24, 60v, 275, 367), including fleur-de-lys (e.g. vol. I, fols. 21, 35v, 128, 300v); dragons and two-legged hybrids and fowls (e.g. vol. I, fols. 38, 49, 63, 87, 169, 224v, 258v, 259, vol. II, fols. 14v, 18, 278, 284, 362, 368v, 468); a cock (vol. II, fol. 396v), quadrupeds: dogs (e.g. vol. I, fol. 22v, vol. II, fols. 318, 397v), monkeys (e.g. vol. I, fol. 254v, vol. II, fol. 350), a bear (vol. I, fol. 295), and a squirrel (vol. I, fol. 29v).

Other medallions include illustrations alluding to the content, filled with bust images of a queen (vol. I, fol. 63), the High Priest (vol. II, fol. 165v), a priest (vol. II, 166) and a Judge (vol. II, fol. 351); animals: dogs (vol. I, fol. 153, 294v), fowl, duck and fish (vol. II, fol. 166), cock and ox (vol. II, 468), a deer (vol. II, fol. 168v), a ram (vol. II, fol. 367) and a lamb (vol. II, fol. 486v).

  1. Decorated descenders of the letters kuf and final nun (e.g. vol. I, fol. 181v, vol. II, fol. 226, 265v, 363) and for a ligature (vol. II, fol. 223).
Suggested Reconsdivuction
Three owners' inscriptions: I. Shimeon Wolf ben Yedidya Vol. I, fol. 19v: An owner’s inscription written in dark brown ink in cursive script at the lower part of the page: בהיו' מכח רוב שנים נשטשטש (!) הכתב ובדוחק הי' לקרות כא' (=כי אם) אחר עיון גדול/ ע"כ (=על כן) נעתק מלה במלה ואות באות/ זה הסמ"ג שס"ה מצות ל"ת (=לא תעשה) עם עוד הכרך רמ"ח מ"ע (=מצות עשה) נשלח לי מארץ הקדושה/ ע"י שליח מאת הסופר מהיר ספרא דוקנא הכל בכתב ה' עליו השכיל כמוהר"ר/ משה מק"ק קיווא וקבלתי ער"ח סיון במנין שאנו מנין ה"א ק"ץ הימי"ן לפק/ שמעון וואלף בכמר ידידי' זלה"ה." Paraphrase: Shimeon Wolf ben Yedidya states that he received this two volume Semag, from the Holy Land by a emissary the scribe Moshe of Kijewo קיווא); now in Poland) in the Eve of the 1st of month Sivan, 5305 (1545). The first two lines of the inscription states that in the course of the years Shimeon Wolf's inscription became illegible and therefore it was copied word by word and letter by letter. II. Uri ben Avraham of the Shalky Wort family Vol. II, fol. 2v, at the lower part of the page: ראיתי אנשים רעות שקונים ספרים בלא מעות רק בחמשה אצבעות/ ויראתי יבוא אחד מן השוק ויעשה עליו צוק לכן אני בא בחתמתי שמי/ על זה הספר נא' אורי בן לאא' אברהם ז"ל איש שלקי ווערד. Paraphrase: Uri ben Avraham signed his name on the Semag second volume to state his ownership. According to the following inscription, he also owned the first volume of this manuscript. III. Yehudah Leib son of Yekutiel of the Shalky Wort family Vol. I, fol. 19v: A third owner’s inscription inscribed in the middle of the page and can hardly be read only under UV light: עמ"ו עש"ו/ זה הספר סמ"ג וגם סמ"ק שלח לנו אבינו מארץ ישראל שנה לפני מותו עם שליח מארץ הקדושה/ ירושלים תובב ועל הקדוש יאמר שמו כהר"ר יוסף כהן יץ בשנת שצ"ח לפ"ק/ ויהי בשנה אחרת שנת שצ"ט לפ"ק נתבקש אבי כהר"ר אורי בר אברהם זל בישיבה של מעלה וחי… ולכל ישראל שבק/ נאם יקותיאל בן ה … אורי זצ"ל איש ארץ ישראל ממשפחת שלקי ווערט' הדר לע"ע (=לעת עתה) בפולישברג (או פולשבורג) ולשנה הבא בירושלים איה אמן ואמן/ על אלה אני בוכיה ועיני יורדה מים על פטירת … אמן ואמן אמי מורתי מרת פריידיל בת החבר ר' יעקב בשנת תא עשרים ימים בחודש תשרי בארץ הקדושה/ בעיר ירושלים ת"וב"ב ותקבר עם אישה אבי זקיני כהרר אורי בר אברהם ז"ל וגם היא שלחה הספר הזה לכן כתבתי זאת לזיכרון שגם אבי נתן/ במתנה לאחיו חלקו מחצי הספר הזה קודם שנסע לארץ הקדושה. כה/ דיברי יהודה ליב בן הרר יקותיאל איש ארץ ישראל ממשפחת שלקי ווערט' שנסע לארץ הקדושה בשנת תד." Translation: Uri ben Avraham of the Shalky Wort (שלקי ווערד) family sent from Jerusalem this Sefer Mitzvot Gadol together with Sefer Mitzvot Katan to his sons (in Polishburg), a year before his death in 5397 (=1637/8), by the emissary, R. Yosef Cohen (see: יערי, שלוחי ארץ ישראל, עמ' 270). This inscription continues by Yekutiel ben Uri, now lives in Polishburg ((פולישברג, on the death of his father Uri ben Avraham on 5398 (=1638/9) and his mother, Freidel bat Yaacov (מרת פריידיל בת החבר ר' יעקב), who also died in Jerusalem in the 20th of the month of Tishrei, 5401 (6.10.1640). He also notes that his father, gave half of the manuscript to his brother as a gift before leaving to Jerusalem. The inscription is written by Yehudah Leib son of Yekutiel, of the Land of Israel of the Shalky Wort family (שלקי ווערט') who traveled to Israel in the year 5404 (1644). Vol. I, fols. 106 and 109: Later notes in the margins.
Main Surveys & Excavations
יערי, שלוחי ארץ ישראל א. יערי, שלוחי ארץ ישראל. תולדות השליחות מהארץ לגולה מחורבן בית שני עד המאה התשע עשרה, ירושלים תשי"א. Beer, Oberrheinischen Buchmalerei Beer, E. J., Beiträge zur Oberrheinischen Buchmalerei in der esten Haelfte des 14 Jahrhunderts unter besonderer Beruecksichtigung der Initialornamentik, Basel und Stuttgart 1959 Blumenkranz, " Strasbourg" Blumenkranz, B., "Strasbourg", Encyclopedia Judaica, Jerusalem 1972, vol. 15, cols. 422-6 Deutsch, 1846 Deutsch, S., "Die hebräischen Manuskripte der k. k. Hofbibliothek zu Wien", Österreichische Blätter für Literatur und Kunst, Wien 1846, p. 493 Kraft, Deutsch, 1854 Kraft A., Deutsch S. Die handscriftlischen hebräischen Werke der k. k. Hofbibliothek zu Wien. Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum Bibliothecae Palatinae Vindobonensis, Pars II. Codices Hebraici, Windobonae 1854, pp. 58-60, no L Schwartz, 1923 Schwarz, A. Z., " Vernachlässigte Quellen der jüdischen Wissenschaft", Menorah. Illustrierte Monatszeitschrift für die jüdische Familie 1, Vienna1923, Abb. 3 Schwartz, 1925 Schwartz, A. Z., Die hebräischen Handschriften der Nationalbibliothek in Wien, Liepzig 1925 (Nr. 63) Sed-Rajna. Ancient Jewish Art Sed-Rajna. G., Ancient Jewish Art, Secaucus 1985 Sed-Rajna. "Filigree Ornaments" Sed-Rajna. G "Filigree Ornaments in Fourteenth-Century Hebrew Manuscripts of the Upper Rhine", Jewish Art, vol. 12/13, Jerusalem 1986/87, pp. 45-54 Ta-Shma, "Moses … of Coucy" Ta-Shma, I. S., “Moses Ben Jacob of Coucy”, Encyclopedia Judaica, Jerusalem 1972, vol. 12, cols. 418-420 Zunz, Synagogale Poesie Zunz ,L., Die Synagogale Poesie des Mittelalters, Berlin 1855 Judische Lebenswelten Katalog, Berlin, 1991, vol. I, 6/49, pp. 130-131
Alissa Fried Yaffa Levy Michal Sternthal | 2.1998 8.1999 8.1999
Author of description
Michal Sternthal Michal Sternthal Yaffa Levy | 10.2000 23.11.2000 19.12.01 2008
Architectural Drawings
Computer Reconstruction
Section Head
Michal Sternthal | 10.2000
Language Editor
Judith Cardozo Bezalel Narkiss | 21.11.2000; 20.3.02 24.3.02
Negative/Photo. No.
The following information on this monument will be completed:
Unknown |