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A Historical Map of Jewish Liturgical Diversity

The Siddur is an aggregate of thousands of years of creatively inspired work. The organization of the material within any one particular siddur–the textual ingredients and arrangements –represents a specific lineage, or nusaḥ, with its own history of development. There are a good number of different lineages some of which are still alive and changing, others which due to the circumstances of history are now quite obscure. Nevertheless, their voice might still whisper within the pages and tunes of more familiar traditions, if you know where to look.

Lawrence A. Hoffman‘s Beyond the Text: A Holistic Approach to Liturgy (Indiana University Press, 1987) provides a flowchart illustrating the developmental history of some familiar liturgical lineages. According to Dr. Richard Sarason (HUC-JIR), the chart is based on one prepared by Dr. Joseph Heinemann for his course on the history of the Siddur at Hebrew University in the mid-1960’s (see right). It appears in Heinemann’s Akadamon choveret, T’filot Yisra’el v’toldotehen: Leqet m’korot (Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1966) and was copied pretty much verbatim by Jakob J. Petuchowski, Guide to the Prayerbook (Cincinnati: HUC-JIR, 1968) — which is probably where Hoffman discovered it. I was grateful to be introduced to the chart  at Yeshivat Hadar where R’ Elie Kaunfer shared it in his class in T’fillah last week. In the chart one can see how the liturgy of Nusaḥ Ashkenaz largely depends on the “Babylonian Rite” with minor influences directly from the “Palestinian Rite.” Here, Babylonian refers to the nusaḥ seen in development in the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) and Palestinian refers to the nusaḥ described in Tannaitic sources and the Talmud Yerushalmi.

Maps showing the relationship between the nusḥaot are quite helpful to us. The Open Siddur Project is seeking to digitize all the extant nusḥaot witnessed in siddurim and other manuscripts, in order to show the evolution of individual prayers and blessings. This will helpfully represent at least the textual diversity of Jewish spiritual expression in the many geographically dispersed Jewish communities over the past three thousand years. I also hope that representing this diversity in t’fillah will be an inspiration to individuals engaging in davvening as an intellectually engaged and creative discourse speaking across generations. The extent to which we’ll be able to realize this vision will be limited to how many source texts we’ll be able to identify, transcribe, and share with open standards and free culture licenses.

Seeing that the design of the map appearing in Hoffman’s book left much to be desired, I redesigned it for clarity while adding some additional nusḥaot. I hope that the following map based on Joseph Heinemann’s work will help inspire fellow researchers to contribute to this project.

The map charts the development of Jewish liturgies over time and is color coded by period, the top of the map showing the earliest nusḥaot and the bottom of the page with the most recent variations. Yellow represents the period of the two temples (roughly 1000 BCE to 72 CE). Orange, the Tannaitic and Amoraic period (72 CE to 500 CE). Green, the Geonic period (600 CE to 1000 CE) and light green the period of the Rishonim (1000 CE to 1400 CE). Light blue represents the kabbalists (16th century), and the dark blue represents the period of Ḥassidut and the Haskala (18th and 19th century). The most recent variations are shown in violet. The nusḥaot found in Heinemann’s chart are shown in in outlined boxes. Added material is indicated as boxes without outlines. Nusḥaot of which I have scant information I have left without an outline or color.

The following should be considered a work in progress. Please help improve it. I will update it as new information becomes available.

Nusḥaot Tree by Aharon Varady (version 2.4.5)

Nusḥaot Tree by Aharon Varady (version 2.4.5)

DOWNLOAD: PNG | PDF | ODG (version 2.4[1] ).

Previous versions: 0.2.3, 0.2.3, 0.2.2, 0.2.1, 0.2.0, 0.1.3, 0.1.2, 0.1.1

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  1. Changes incorporate the comments of Dr. Richard Sarason (HUC-JIR). Thank you, Dr. Sarason.
 . Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike . 4.0 . International .
“A Historical Map of Jewish Liturgical Diversity” is shared by Aharon Varady with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.
Aharon Varady

About Aharon Varady

Founding director of the Open Siddur Project, Aharon Varady is a Jewish educator (M.A. J.Ed.) and community planner (M.C.P.) working to improve stewardship of the Public Domain, be it the physical and natural commons of urban park systems or the creative and cultural commons of Torah study. His work and writing have been featured in the Atlantic Magazine, Tablet, and Haaretz, as an outspoken representative of the free-culture and open-source movement in the Jewish community.

Aharon Varady serves as hierophant, welcoming new users, and administering opensiddur.org as its webmaster and editor-in-chief.

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15 comments to A Historical Map of Jewish Liturgical Diversity

  • For some clarity on Nusach HaAri, Dr. Sarason recommends reading Stefan Reif, Judaism and Hebrew Prayer: New Perspectives on Jewish Liturgical History (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 251-255. Unfortunately, the pages are not all available on Google books. I also need some help determining what exactly happened to the Iraqi nusaḥ with the Ben Ish Chai… what exactly is the history of the Edot Hamizrach?

  • On the opensiddur-talk listserve, Ze’ev is asking for an interactive version with clickable boxes. Stay tuned…

  • Version 2.2 incorporates important information on the history of Ethiopian Jewish liturgy from Dr. Kay Shelemay, G. Gordon Watts Professor of Music and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Based on her research of the Beta Israel, (research supported by other scholars and most recently by Dr. Steven Kaplan at Hebrew University) the oldest sources of liturgy used by the community were derived “from Ethiopian Christian sources at relatively late dates (mainly post 15th century).” It’s impossible now not to wonder about Yemenite influence on a Judaizing community of Ethiopians who converted to Judaism at some point in the last millenium. My sincerest hope is that this finding reinforces the beautiful and strong connection that the Beta Israel have as fully part of the Jewish people and our common heritage. We are all born strangers, but are all united in our passion for Torah and our traditions.

  • Version 2.3 takes another look at Qumran and the Saducees. I’ve organized them both under Cohanite/Priestly traditions closely associated with the Temple and suspicious of folk/democratic/prophetic models being preserved by the Pharisaic tradition through drash.

  • Aurora Mendelsohn

    This is a fantastic chart. Kol ha kavod!!!

    What about going past the early 1960s- ie: where is the Renewal siddur? the newer Conservative and Reform siddurim? The non-official ones like Likrat Shabbat and the New Machzor?

    If you wanted to include it – the Kohenet siddur ? The newly published Hebrew atheist siddur? The older secular humanist siddurim in English?

    Dates of the various modern issues of New Union, Gates of Prayer, Harlow, Silverman etc. would be useful as well.
    I realize this may be beyond the scope of what you set out to do, but it would be great to have. (And if you decide to do it, I’d help).

    And I know that your source was from HUC, but I really don’t see a lot of evidence for Reconstrutionist liturgy coming from Reform, it was really developed from the Conservative movement by (at that time) Conservative rabbis.

    • Expanding the chart to include individual siddurim rather than the nuchaot that they witness is outside the scope but I think it should be done. I’d love to map out the major influences and associations between nuschaot witnessed in 20th and 21st century siddurim. Eric Friedland is a great resource who can probably help us with this and I think a lot of people would like to see it too. Thanks for the feedback on Reconstructionist liturgies. There’s lines between both Reform and Conservative, and the line from Reconstructionist to Conservative has a double arrow indicating that the influence is going both ways now. The source for this chart and that information wasn’t HUC. So in the next version of the chart I’ll be careful to make the feedback I’ve received from several liturgy scholars more clear. It’s a techical hurdle, but if I could only create this chart with HTML 5 web elements then I could probably create inline footnotes. That would make the flowchart much more dynamic than a static image rendered offline using MS Visio (closed source, proprietary software).

      I definitely appreciate the offer to

  • B.BarNavi

    Where do you think Egyptian Karaites fall on the map?

    Also, I think early Reform was influenced by the German rite more than anything. Only in Mishkan Tefillah were there more overtures to the Polish rite.

  • Actually, Dr. Sarason and Dr. Friedland emphasized that early Liberal (Reform) nuschaot were influenced locally by the nusach of their respective community. So for example in Hamburg, the Liberal nusach was derived from the Spanish-Portuguese tradition.

    Re: Egyptian Karaites, I would like to know more. We would certainly be interested in any digital edition of their liturgy.

  • Aharon Fernandez

    Old must3arabi Aram Ssoba as per Machzor Aram Ssoba is in many ways closer to Rambam/Tiklal than it is to say Bet Ya3aqob (the current Aram ssoba siddur which is based on the Sephardim of Syria)

  • Aharon Fernandez

    Also Nusach ANglia is based on ‘the Polish rite as practiced in Hamburg Germany’ (the old western Polish right which was different than the German right of frankfort)

  • I would like to see this map applied towards tracking shofar practices and teachings. Towards that end, I have reposted the map with a call for a scholar interested in undertaking the project. See http://hearingshofar.blogspot.com/2013/09/map-of-shofar-diversity.html/.

  • According to your Historical Map the Minchag Italia and Aschkenas descended from the Babylonian Rite. However, as far as I know, some claim that the Ashkenazi rite descended from the ancient rite of Eretz Yisrael?

    • The chart above is an expansion of a chart initially made by the scholar of Jewish liturgy, Joseph Heinemann. Dr. Heinemann did indicate that the Palestinian Rite (Nusaḥ Erets Yisroel) did have a minor influence on the Nusaḥ Ashkenaz and this is represented in the chart above. (See the dotted line connecting the Palestinian Rite to the Nusaḥ Ashkenaz.)

  • Peter Nahon

    Nusach Provence (from the 4 communities of Carpentras, Cavaillon, Avignon and l’Isle sur Sorgue) is missing in this map. It should be among Babylonian siddurim descendants. It is not used anymore, but is known from printed versions (several from Amsterdam, and the famous Seder Ha-Tamid, Avignon, 1760)

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