Jewish term (Heb. maḥăzôr, cycle) designating originally the calendar encircling the lunar year and enumerating the appropriate prayers for all the days of the year. Gradually more and more synagogal poems, called piyyuṭim, were added. Eventually these became all important, and the original calendar motif faded into obscurity; thus the maḥzor became the prayerbook for feasts only, while a separate prayerbook, called a siddur, came into use for Sabbaths and weekdays.
The evolution of the maḥzor prayer structure may be regarded as a wheel whose hub was the recitation of the Shema (derived from Dt 6.4–9; 11.13–21; Nm
15.37–41)—the essence of Jewish worship—fortified, on the one hand, by the benedictions and prayers preceding and following the Shema and the prayers and 18 benedictions forming the Amidah (literally, the "standing") formulated by the so-called men of the Great Assembly (from the 6th century b.c. to the 1st Christian century) and enhanced, on the other hand, by lyrical Psalms that had been taken over from the ritual of the Jerusalem Temple. The spokes emanating from the wheel were the specific services designated for the various parts of the day: Shaḥarit (morning), Musaph (addition), Minḥah (afternoon), Arvit (evening), and (for the Day of Atonement only) Neilah (closing). The outer rim of the wheel, the variable factor, consisted of layer after layer of hymns, litanies, poems, selections from oral law, meditations, and piyyutim that were gradually added to the "cycle of prayers" as it rolled through century after century, country after country, through eras of glory and tragedy. This material varied greatly in accordance with the custom and rite of the particular locale in which it developed (at least 60 different texts have been counted), each certainly influenced by its chronological niche in history. Two general roads were traveled. One originated in the Jewish community of Babylonia in the period of the important academies of the Geonim (see gaon) and wound down through the Arabic-Spanish civilizations. This became known as the Sephardic version of the maḥzor. The second stemmed from the Holy Land and came down through the Roman-German areas, branching off into Germany, France, and England on the West and Poland, Russia, Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, and Moravia on the East (with the Elbe River being the dividing boundary). This became known as the Ashkenazic maḥzor.
At the apex of the golden age of Spain, much of the Hebrew liturgy was enhanced by such poets as Solomon ibn Gabirol (avicebron), Judah Ben Samuel Ha-Levi, and Moses ben Jacob Ibn Ezra; their elegant verse, in the style of the Arabic poets, is still part of the maḥzor. Less polished but more poignant is much of the East European piyyuṭim—penitential prayers and epics of tragic community experiences calling for divine forgiveness and blessing. Among the composers were the famed Gershom Ben Judah, Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg (c. 1220–93), and rashi. Many of the earlier prayers for Rosh ha-Shana (New Year's Day) had been composed by Rabbi akiba ben joseph; in the 3d century in Babylonia, Rav (early 3d century) and Samuel (c. 177–257) contributed voluminously to the High Holiday prayers.
The earliest-known maḥzor is the Maḥzor Yannai. Yannai (c. a.d. 550), one of the early paytanim (composers of piyyuṭim;), was the first to use the name acrostic and rhyme. Eleazar Kallir (7th century) found a warmer reception to his piyyuṭim;, for, in contrast with the legalistic material used by Yannai, he used legends and homilies suited for prayers. One of the oldest preserved maḥzorim is the Seder Ray Amram, prepared by Rav Amram bar Sheshna, Gaon of the Sura academy, at the request of Spanish Jewry about a.d. 870. The maḥzor of Gaon sa’adia ben joseph was compiled in the 10th century. The famous Maḥzor Vitry (11th century) combined elements of both Ashkenazic and Sephardic. In Venice and Constantinople the Maḥzor Romaniya (known also as Grigos ) was edited (1573–76) by Elijah ben Benjamin ha-Levi. After the invention of the printing press, the texts began to be more stabilized. Gradually, translations into the spoken language of the various countries were made, starting from the Judeo-German translation in 1571 by Abigdor ben Moses. In 1852 Elhanan Durlocher made a French translation, and the earliest English translation was by A. Alexander in 1787. A Russian translation was made by Rabbi S. Hurwitz in 1880.
During the Middle Ages new influences, such as the cabala movement, were reflected in the maḥzor. The modern era added readings and petitions, as in the Yizkor memorial service; prayers for heads of state; and prayers connected with the rebirth of the State of Israel. New prayerbooks have been produced by the newer movements of Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist belief of judaism. Across the span of the centuries, the prayers of the mahzor have formed a network of "bridges leading from the heart to God."
Bibliography: i. broydÉ, Jewish Encyclopedia 8:262–264. i. elbogen, Universal Jewish Encyclopedia 8:619–621. t. h. gaster, Festivals of the Jewish Year (New York 1953). s. greenberg, The Jewish Prayerbook: Its Ideals and Values (United Synagogue of America; New York 1957). a. z. idelsohn, Jewish Liturgy and Its Development (New York 1932) ch. 7. e. munk, The World of Prayer, tr. h. biberfeld and l. oschry (New York 1954). i. abramson, A Companion to the Authorized Daily Prayerbook (London 1922). h. kieval, The High Holy Days (New York 1959–). j. rosenthal, "Toldot ha-mahzor," in Sefer ha-shanah l'yehude Amerikah (New York 1947). Isaac ben Jacob, Otsar hasefarim: Maḥzor (Vilna 1880).