II. Exhibition – Winter 2019 – Illustrated Manuscripts and other treasures on Israeli postage stamps


Once again, like last year, we see Christmas and the winter months as a good time to display the warm glowing colours of illuminated  manuscripts…. to bring us all a bit of a winter glow and  warmth. To remind you of last year’s display of Manuscripts and Other Treasures click on this link to have a look.

At Christmas 2019, the blog has gathered together some fine philatelic examples of Jewish illuminated works from the Jewish National and Hebrew University Library (JNUL) and from the Israel Museum. These have been illustrated and celebrated on Israeli stamp issue between 1986 and 1999. The works chosen represent Jewish civilisation and artistic culture from the 13th century to the 17th century.

Last year’s Christmas exhibition closed with a 0.90 NIS stamp celebrating the Worms Mahzor, or festival prayer book, one of the most treasured possessions of the ancient 12th century synagogue in the German city of Worms, on the Rhine.

The stamp was one of three designed by David Ben-Hador issued on 23 September 1986 to mark New Year (5747), and celebrating Jewish Festivals. The 0.40 NIS stamp in the set is shown above.

The tradition of illuminating ‘mahzorim’ started early in the 13th century, mainly in southern Germany, from where it spread to other Ashkenazi (German-Jewish) areas
Detail from the ‘Mahzor’
‘Mahzor’ means ‘cycle’. Detail from the Worms ‘Mahzor’


During the Middle Ages there had been no prohibition on depicting human or other figures in Mahzorim, Bibles or Haggadot (parables, or anecdotes used to illustrate a point of the Law in the Talmud) since there was no fear of idolatry amongst the Jews.

Shown below is Ben-Hador’s 0.20 NIS stamp with another illumination from the Worms Mahzor.

During World War II the Worms Mahzor was hidden by Dr. Illert, the City Archivist, in the Cathedral of Worms, where it escaped destruction. The Jewish community of Worms had been wiped out however, and the Mahzor was given to the JNUL in Jerusalem.

The JNUL contains collections and cultural treasures documenting the unique history of the Jewish people who have been so closely linked to the history of the nations of Asia, Europe, Africa and America. It contains not only documents in Hebrew, but in all the languages in which the Jews spoke and wrote, such as Yiddish, Judeo-Spanish, Judeo-Arabic and many more.

One of its treasures is an Italian Mahzor (a prayer book for the whole year according to the Italian rite) which includes prayers for weekdays and the Sabbath, festival prayers for Passover and Shavuot, and services for fast days. The Mahzor was written on parchment in the mid-15th century in northern Italy.

The Italian Mahzor features on a 1.00 NIS stamp (shown above) designed by D. Ben-Dov and issued on 17 September 1992 to mark New Year (5753) and again celebrating Jewish Festivals. It shows an illustration for Shavuot (Pentecost) – the Giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai.

Detail from the illustration on the 1.00 NIS stamp


Issued on 22 June 1999 and designed by Eli Carmeli, the 5.60 NIS stamp (shown below) celebrated Rabbi Or Sharga who was born in Yezd, in Persia, and died there in 1794. The tomb of the Rabbi who had been renowned as a righteous and holy man, and who was said to have worked marvelous miracles, is on the outskirts of Yezd and is considered a holy site for both Jews and Moslems.

Because no portrait or any other appropriate visual image exists of Rabbi Or Sharga, an illustration was selected for the stamp from the manuscript of the Book of Moses (Mūsā Nāma) by Mulana Shāhīn Shirazi and copied by Nehemiah ben Amshal of Tabriz circa 1686. The manuscript is housed in the Israel Museum.

The illustration on the stamp depicts the battle of Israel over Amalek and on the upper right side are the portraits of Moses, Aaron and Hur viewing the events.

Detail from the 1999 Rabbi Or Sharga stamp
Mulana Shāhīn Shirazi is the most important of all Jewish Persian poets and the first who left works of monumental proportion in Judeo-Persian verse (written in the Persian language with Hebrew characters).


Israel Stamps Blog wishes all its readers and visitors a Very Merry Christmas 2019, and Happy New Year 2020.