A unique, unusual, and rare item, one of the first documented works by the artist Aaron Wolf Herlingen (there is a Birkat HaMazon made by him a year earlier), a Birkat HaMazon seder on parchment, with pretty calligraphy using sofer script, decorations of crowns and artistic, hand-drawn illustrations by Herlingen, who always made note of the year of his work (“Vaya’as ken Aharon”). In his handwriting is written 1721 on this document. 19 pages, numbered in pencil. Size: 6.5x7cm. Sofer script using Amsterdam lettering, with note in Yiddish in half-block lettering. In total, 5 illustrations. The manuscript has its original leather binding with a unique method of closing, given inside a special, engraved cardboard box that was added within the last few years. Light signs of use, handwriting is faded in parts. Generally excellent condition. Design of the manuscript: cover page, the title letters are within a colorful cylindrical fence, with columns and crowns. Second page- “Baruch Hu u’Baruch Shmo,” and around the word “Baruch” are wonderful decorations of plants and flowers. Page 4: miniature drawing of “Al HaNissim,” illustration of the Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks. Page 10: in the blessing “HaMapil Khevlei Sheina” there is an illustration of angels around flowers. Page 13: The title “HaMalach” with illustration of a decorated, old angel with wings. The manuscript content of Birkat HaMazon (it is unknown whether a page is missing from the manuscript or whether it was like that in the original)—between page 4 and 5, at the end of Al HaNissim of Hanukkah, the writing ends with “v’achar Kakh Ba’u Banekha,” and continues on the next page “v’al HaKol Hashem Elokeinu Anachnu Modim Lach” until the end of Birkat HaMazon. First and last bracha over wine. Laws of the Bracha Achrona in Yiddish (including defining the fruits and their blessings). First brachot of HaEtz and Adama. Bracha Achrona for HaEtz. Gives a ta’am for the fruit. Boreh Etzei B’samim and Boreh Shemen Arev. Brachot HaNehenin and the Re’iya: Brachat Zocher HaBrit. SheKokho u’Gvurato. Oseh Ma’aseh Breishit. She’Khalek MiKvodo L’Basar vaDam. Meshaneh HaBriyut. SheAsah et HaYam HaGadol. Kriyat Shema at the bedside. Additional verses. Vidui in Yiddish, ends with the song “Shalom Aleichem.”
The style of the work is the Middle Ages before the age of printing, when the work was done by an artist with calligraphic writing and illustrations, which was very developed and was common among the upper class and even seemingly in many other homes that held manuscripts of this or other books. With the invention of printing and the infusion of many printed copies of each book, manuscripts began to lose their luster a little bit because of their high cost for scribes and illustrators relative to the printed book, and only people of means and royalty could allow themselves to continue dealing with scribes that would make for them miniature texts and illustrated manuscripts. A group of Jewish scribes from small and poor towns across Europe made use of their calligraphic and artistic skills together with their Torah knowledge and expertise on prayer—they would go to capital cities and residences of kings and ministers, who would pay lots of money for their works, one of which is here before us. This group was called “Askolat Moravia” (the Moravian school), and was influenced by contemporary artists in their illustrations and also by printing houses, who had already begun to flower during that period, from whom they would take the typography for their scripts. In the manuscript before us, one can see that Herlingen used “Amsterdam letters,” designed by the printing shop owners. Similarly, one can notice the style of decorations and illustrations printed at the same time in printed books.
The artist Aaron Wolf Herlingen (ben Binyamin Zeev) lived 1700-1760 approximately, was from Gewitsch (Jevicko in Moravia), a city in the Czech Republic around 200km southeast of Prague. His family originated in a small town in Austria, his forefathers moved to Vienna, from which they (along with all the Jews) were exiled in 1670 during the reign of Leopold I. They partially settled in Pressburg (Bratislava, Slovakia). Some settled in Gewitsch. He discovered his skill in calligraphy, moved from his birthplace to his relative Yisrael Herlingen in Pressburg, where he made clear his special skills, but he did not rest on his laurels and thus continued to seek out his fortune in Vienna, where he carried out orders, the earliest of which was recorded in 1720—a seder Birkat HaMazon similar to his one. He was officially recognized by the authorities for his skill as a result, and he was appointed to be a scribe and calligrapher at the Royal Imperial Library of Vienna (Bibliothek Kaiser Lichen). There he was registered as the head of the Pressburg community in 1736 (Aaron Moravius Gebitsensis Officialis in Bibliotheca Caesarea Viennensi). He was one of only a few hundred Jews allowed to settle in Vienna during this time. His works showed his special skill in both drawing and calligraphic writing, and in one of his manuscripts he signed his name in no less than 4 languages (Hebrew, Latin, German, French). In the world, there are around 50 manuscripts attributed to him (around 40 bear his signature), among them: miniature prayers (Birkat HaMazon, Brit Milah, Shema for the Bedside, and more), Haggadot, Megillot Esther, and various calligraphic works, such as a wonderful micrograph of the Five Megillot in four languages, in the Israel Museum collections. Sources: Shalom Tzabar, “Seder Birkat HaMazon—Vienna, 1719/20: the Earliest Illustrated Manuscript By the Scribe-Artist Aaron Wolf Schreiber Herlingen of Gewitsch” in the book “Zechor Davar L’Avdecha: Book in Honor of Professor Dov Rafel,” edited by Shmuel Glick and Avraham Grossman, Jerusalem: Lifshitz College, pages 455-472. Chava Turniesky, “HaBentcherl” and zmirot in Yiddish, Volume 10 (1982), pages 51-92. Iris Fishof, “Study of the Facsimile Edition of the Original Manuscript Preserved in the Jewish Museum,” Budapest No. 64.626. From a private collection.