The oldest siddur in the world (Photo: Ardon Bar Hama, Green Family Collection)

A 1,200-year-old Jewish prayer book – believed to be the oldest of its kind in the world – will be exhibited for the next month at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem.

The 1,200-year-old siddur (Photo: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The 1,200-year-old siddur (Photo: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

A small, delicate Hebrew-language siddur (Jewish prayer book), hand-written on parchment in the year 820 CE, has been loaned to the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem (BLMJ) by its American Christian owner.

“We are very excited about the arrival of the prayer text to the museum,” Amanda Weiss, executive director, BLMJ told Yedioth Ahronoth. “This is a real treasure for the Jewish people – proof of the communal and cultural life 1,200 years ago – and we are honored to have it displayed at the Book of Books exhibit.”

The medieval manuscript contains about 50 pages and its original binding is still intact. It has three sections: a morning prayer for Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath), liturgical poems and a Haggadah (traditional readings) for Passover.

In Jerusalem One Month

Experts have determined, through carbon dating techniques, that it was written somewhere in the Middle East during the era when Amram Gaon, a leader of the Jewish community in Babylon, wrote a prayer book that has influenced the way Jews around the world conduct religious services to this day.

The rare treasure was purchased last year by devout Christian and Oklahoma businessman Steve Green. Green is the president of the Hobby Lobby store chain in the US and he owns one of the world’s largest private collections of Biblical artifacts, consisting of about 44,000 items. Construction is set to begin next month on Green’s $800 million Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, which is expected to open in 2017 and will be the permanent home of the 9th-century siddur.

“I know that the Jewish people have a great appreciation for this prayer book,” Green told Tazpit News Agency. “It’s been through many travels and I’m glad that it has made its way here to Jerusalem.”

Green presented the prayer book to Yuli Edelstein, speaker of the Knesset, during a special ceremony held Sept. 18 at the BLMJ. It will be part of the museum’s Book of Books exhibit from Sept. 19 to Oct. 18. The exhibit explores 2,000 years of Bible history and includes original fragments from the Septuagint, illuminated manuscripts, rare items from the Cairo Genizah and original pages of the Gutenberg Bible.

People of the Book

“Not only are we the ‘People of the Book,’ we are the people of the same book, the same language and the same prayers,” Edelstein said. “These are the exact same words millions of Jews say every morning and this is the best example of Jewish continuity.”

The ceremony also honored Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest based in Nazareth, for the work he has done in building bridges between Israel’s Christian and Jewish communities.

“The Book of Books exhibition has provided the public with an excellent example of a shared history and value system amongst Jews and Christians,” said Weiss. “Father Nadaf is the living embodiment of tracing these roots and working towards repairing these historic ties for the good of the State of Israel and both peoples around the world, and it is significant that he is honored here, in a museum dedicated to our shared texts.”

Author: Joanne Hill
Staff Writer, United with Israel