Rhodes Siddur Manuscript of 1426 Acquired for the Museum Archives
In October 2008 the Rhodes Jewish Historical Foundation acquired a copy of an ancient prayer book written in Rhodes in 1426. This is the oldest known Hebrew document from Rhodes and becomes a significant link to the island’s religious customs and heritage. The Foundation purchased over 200 pages of this manuscript from Oxford University in England after learning of its availability from their Archives Department of Ancient Hebrew Manuscripts.
The first page of the book (shown below) contains the morning blessings which are still chanted at the beginning of the Shaharit service. During the coming months an investigative study, conducted under the aegis of the Rhodes Jewish Historical Foundation, will analyze and review its content and we will report its findings in our next publication.
The “Rhodes Siddur” is a prayer book which contains the daily prayers. It was written in the Rashi (Aramaic) script and is believed to be based on the 9th century siddur written by Rav Amram Gaon of Babylon.
Having been written in 1426 verifies a significant Jewish presence in Rhodes during the Crusader’s occupation, a time prior to the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. It is believed that the Jewish community of Rhodes at that time consisted primarily of Romaniote Jews who were Greek speaking and conducted their liturgical services in Hebrew and Greek.
Historically we know that in the 12th century a detailed account of the Jewish community of Rhodes was recorded. Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, Spain, on his way to Jerusalem wanting to record the many Jewish communities throughout the Mediterranean, reported that there were 400 Jews on Rhodes under the authority of Rabbi Hannanel and Rabbi Eliah.
Two later references to the Jewish community during a period before and around the same time the “Rhodes Siddur” was written is described by Rabbi Marc D. Angel in his book called The Jews of Rhodes:
“There is evidence of a high level of Jewish scholarship in Rhodes. Rabbi Michael Balbo (born in 1411) of Candia, Crete was a scholar and poet. He wrote a poem in honor of Rabbi Ezra of Rhodes when the latter went to Venice. Balbo also engaged in philosophic debates with learned individuals and corresponded with Rabbi Yedidiah, son of Yosef Rak of Rhodes on the subject of the voices of the universe. Although we have no information about the lives and activities of these scholars of Rhodes, it is fair to assume that they exerted considerable influence on their small community.”
Rhodes Jews of a later period believed that Sephardim as well as Romaniots may have been living on the island when the Knights took possession of it. The French colonel, Bernard Rottiers came to Rhodes in the early 19th century to study the island’s historical monuments. He employed a Jew named Boghore (Bohor) as an assistant and even attended the circumcision ceremony of his son. At the ceremony, he heard a rabbi of the city lecture on the instability of human life and the vicissitudes of the Jews of Rhodes. The rabbi claimed that a number of Jews had fled Spanish persecutions in Tarragona and came to Rhodes in 1280.”
Script from the “Rhodes Siddur” which describes the source:
Translation of the above text: With the help of G-d, here in the city of Rhodes by my hands, “a worm and not a man”, Moshe, son of the honored Rabbi Yitzhak Gracian, Tuesday, the 24th day of Tevet, the year 5186 (=1426) and may it come to pass the words of the Book of the Torah will not leave your mouth, and you shall speak of them day and night and a request of all who read this book to judge it favorably. [signed] The author and transcriber.