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Judaism Bitter Herbs: An Italian Mahzor

Mahzor (Prayer Book, Italian Rite). Kingdom of Naples, 1458-1495. NYPL, Dorot Jewish Division.

Jews have lived in Italy since at least the second century BCE. Due to its geographic centrality, Italy often served as a point of intellectual contact between Jewish communities as far east as Babylonia and as far west as the Iberian Peninsula. The customs and religious traditions of Italian Jewry are commonly referred to as the Roman rite after Italy's oldest and most important Jewish community. In many ways, it has served as a bridge between several distinct modes of prayer, including the Ashkenazic rite, the Sephardic rite, and the Romaniote liturgy of the Greek-speaking Jews.

The tree depicted here is meant to exemplify the maror (bitter herbs) used in the liturgy of the Passover Seder. Though illustrations of maror are not infrequent, no other known source employs the tree motif seen here.