Machzor Vitri

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Rav Simcha of Vitri, France, who died in 1105, authored this halachic work. It focuses mainly around the daily and Shabbat prayer services, and includes halachic decisions from his teacher Rashi or from other early scholars. It also includes halachic decisions on issues of kashrut, family purity, tefillin, mezuzah, and ethics.

The Vitri Cycle is an halakhic-liturgical composition by Simḥah b. Samuel of Vitry, a small town in the department of Marne, France. Simḥah was an outstanding pupil, or even a colleague, of Rashi and apparently died during his teacher's lifetime (i.e., before 1105 – see Gross, Gallia Judaica, 196). His son Samuel married Rashi's granddaughter and he was the grandfather of the famous tosafist, Isaac of *Dampierre (Urbach, Tosafot, 115). Like his colleague Shemaiah, Rashi's secretary, he occupied himself with the arrangement of his master's halakhic rulings, and later authorities sometimes confused their names. There is however no basis for the assumption of some scholars that there existed two works, one by Shemaiah and one by Simḥah, both entitled Maḥzor Vitry (Urbach, ibid., 33). Maḥzor Vitry belongs to the group of works from the school of Rashi (e.g., the Pardes, Sefer ha-Orah, Siddur Rashi) which are based upon Rashi's rulings and usages, but which are expanded with additions from other authorities, sometimes even discussing and criticising their views, in order to defend those of Rashi. Maḥzor Vitry is in the form of a halakhic-liturgical work, the purpose of which was to give the halakhic rulings of the liturgy for the whole circle (maḥzor) of the year, weekdays, Sabbaths, and festivals, and connect them with the accepted formula of the prayers. The fact that it also includes laws of Sabbath, *eruv, marriage, and ritual slaughter makes it wider in scope than the siddurim of *Amram and Saadiah *Gaon, which were also sent to various communities at their request. The Maḥzor Vitry, referred to by 13th-century authorities, such as the Sefer Mitzvot Gadol of Moses b. Jacob of *Coucy (Positive Commandments 27) and the Or Zaru'a (part 1, p. 55) of Isaac b. Moses of *Vienna exist in various versions which differ considerably from one another both in scope and arrangement. Apparently it gained instant acceptance and it was enlarged, as was the custom of that time, by successive additions. There does not yet exist a critical edition based on all available manuscripts. The published edition (by S. Hurwitz, 1889, 19232) is from the London manuscript (Margolioth, Cat, no. 655) containing many additions, some indicated by the letter ת, most of them apparently from Isaac b. Durbal, a contemporary of Jacob Tam, but also including later responsa and extracts from the Sefer ha-Terumah of Baruch b. Isaac. It reflects the state of the work in the 13th and 14th centuries. The Oxford manuscript (Bodleian Library, Ms. Opp. 59) omits most of these additions in those fragments preserved in two manuscripts. On the other hand, they contain compilations which have no connection with the maḥzor. A more original text occurs in the Reggio manuscript (now in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America) which has as yet not been examined because of its poor state of preservation, and the Parma manuscript (B. Pal. 2574).

Contents And Form

The halakhic portion of the Maḥzor Vitry precedes the liturgical formulae, and includes commentaries to the prayers taken from the aggadah. The Reggio manuscript includes the following topics: weekday prayers (with their relevant laws), the night prayer, the order of prayers for the Sabbath and its conclusion, the New Moon, the Sanctification of the Moon, Ḥanukkah, Purim, Passover Haggadah, and the Aramaic translation of the reading for the 7th day of Passover (Ex. 13:17–15:26) and the laws of Shavuot with a similar Aramaic translation. (Both these Aramaic translations are much enlarged and are to be found in many medieval maḥzorim.) There follow Avot with a commentary, Hilkhot Derek Ereẓ, Pirkei Ben Azzai, a commentary on the Kaddish and on the Ten Commandments, the order of service for the Ninth Av, the laws of fasts and mourning, Rosh Ha-Shanah, the Day of Atonement, Sukkot and the *Hoshanot with a commentary, the order of service for Simḥat Torah, the order of service for marriage and circumcision, and the laws of *sheḥitah and *terefot. In the enlarged text in the London manuscript there have been added the laws of Niddah, Ẓiẓit, Tefillin, Mezuzah, Sefer Torah, the complete text of tractate Soferim, tractate Kallah and the laws of divorce, and *ḥaliẓah. In addition there are many piyyutim and aggadot. The main sources of Maḥzor Vitry are the decisions and customs of Rashi. Simḥah apparently based himself on the Siddur Rashi with whose text the maḥzor is often identical (see Buber, Siddur Rashi, introd. p. 54) but it excludes all the texts of the prayers. In the halakhic portion the sources, in addition to the Talmud, are the geonic literature, especially the Halakhot *Gedolot and Halakhot *Pesukot, and the siddur of Amram Gaon, which is often quoted verbatim, without giving the source. The talmudic quotations often differ from those in the existing text. Maḥzor Vitry is an important source for the historical study of halakhah and liturgy, particularly according to the French tradition. The piyyutim in the maḥzor differ in the various manuscripts, making it difficult to determine which were current during the period when the Maḥzor Vitry was composed. The text of these piyyutim which were apparently collected ata later period and appended to the London manuscript have been published separately under the title "Kunteres ha-Piyyutim" by H. Brody (Berlin, 1894).


S. Hurwitz and A. Berliner, Mafte'aḥ u-Mavo le-Maḥzor Vitry, in: S. Hurwitz (ed.), Maḥzor Vitry le-rabbenu Simḥah, (19232); S. Buber (ed.), Siddur Rashi (1906), introd. liv-lv; Urbach, Tosafot, 33; Gross, Gal Jud, 196.

(Ernst Daniel Goldschmidt)