CAJS Rare Ms 484 – The Tiḳun Ḥatsot of Casale Monferrato

CAJS Rare Ms 484 is part of the Moldovan Family Judaica Collection at Penn Libraries and was gifted to the library in 2018.

There is a custom for Jews to pray at midnight remembering the Temple in Jerusalem; the specific ritual prayer is called Tiḳun Ḥatsot. Tiḳun means “a fixing” literally, while in this context meaning “a composition for”, Ḥatsot, midnight.

The texts of Tiḳun Ḥatsot vary in certain ways, and this manuscript is a specific ritual meant for the Jewish community of 18th century Casale Monferrato in Italy; also (as I will say below) it is one of the unique Italian customs for the Tiḳun Ḥatsot (as there were others for different Jewish communities in Italy).

The beautiful baroque synagogue of Casale Monferrato.

Casale Monferrato is a town in the Piedmont area of Northwestern Italy, near the city of Turin on the bank of the Po river. During the 18th century, when this manuscript was created, Monferrato’s Jewish community was flourishing, experiencing strength and creativity, as evidenced by a large number of local dated manuscripts and decorated items surviving from that time place and period.

The manuscript lacks a title page and unfortunately only a stub remains of it; it opens with a title statement continuing from the original title and begins the text of the Tiḳun Ḥatsot.

One thing which I noticed was that there was a note in Yiddish written into the manuscript, perhaps as a cataloging note for a bookdealer. It stood out to the anonymous writer that the manuscript began with the instructions to fill the synagogue after midnight, and begin the prayers with fervor. At the time of his writing, it was missing the title and the first folio of text was the first leaf (below).

A note, perhaps from a bookdealer selling the item, written in Yiddish, cataloging the manuscript.
The first folio in the manuscript. The caption reads: … (continued from the missing title) of the custom here in Casale, may God protect it and watch it, to recite after midnight, as the [spiritual] light and beam of grace descend, [the congregation] gathers together in the synagogue and mourns [by reciting] the Tikun hatsot in the following order.

The manuscript is dedicated to the rite composed by R. Moses Zacuto (Amsterdam, circa 1620 – Mantua 1697), who was an author of many works on Kabalah and liturgical compilations rooted in Kabalah as well.

A lengthy note introducing R. Moses Zacuto’s composition for the Tikun hatsot.
The notes on the side of the manuscript are in a later hand, and add elements such as kavanot, meditations, or explanations and instructions to the prayers. Above, the notes mention the angels of assistance, and the parenthesis contains the name of the archangel destroyer.
R. Sha’ul ha-levi Mortera, R. Moses Zacuto’s teacher; notice the contemporary Italian rabbinic dress.

Finally, the Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies has a related volume of assorted prayers of R. Moses Zacuto, called Tiḳun shovavim; it was printed in Mantua by Refa’el Ḥayyim d’Italia in 1728-9 (see Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl., no. 293). Among the prayers is the general rite of R. Moses Zacuto for Tiḳun Ḥatsot(although not the one composed for Casale). By contrasting the differences between the manuscript and the printed item, it was then confirmed that the rite in the manuscript was the specific Casale rite (and was created uniquely for this community).

The printed volume has manuscript notes as well of penitential prayers, which may have (but not certainly) been used in the Tiḳun Ḥatsot prayers. Written and signed by Shabtai Achille (spelled אוקיליי) in Firenze (i.e. Florence) in 1800-1, they show the Florentien rite of selihot, penitential prayers.

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