Variations in usage between various sections of Palestine are already recorded in the period of the tannaim and amoraim. Thus, customs of Jerusalem (Ket. 4b, 12b; bb 93b; tj, Suk. 4:14; Sem. 3:6), variations between Judah and Galilee (tj, Pes. 4:5; Ket. 12b), and differences between Sura and Pumbedita (Ḥul. 110a) are mentioned. Also mentioned are usages established by individual sages in certain localities (Shab. 130a; Yev. 14a; Ḥul. 116a). A tolerant attitude was obtained toward these variations but it was insisted that once established, the observance of the usage is obligatory (Pes. 4:1; Ket. 6:4; bm 86b), sometimes even when it was contrary to a normative rule (tj, Yev. 12:1; bm 7:1). De facto, the minhag assumed the force of law consisting of popular halakhic works, whose chief purpose was to record differences in religious custom as reflected in the daily life of their authors, in contrast to other likkutim ("anthologies"), which recorded similar – or at times the very same – differences culled from books or from the statements of rabbis but without personal acquaintance with them. By definition, a minhag is a prevalent religious practice or usage not enjoined by normative regulations, in contradistinction to din, which is a normative prescription. Often, however, such usages assumed the status of normative regulations (see *Minhag).
The first book of this nature to survive is the Sefer ha-Ḥillukim bein Mizraḥ ve-Ereẓ Yisrael ("Variations in Customs Between the People of the East and of Israel"; Jerusalem, 1938), which was apparently compiled in Ereẓ Israel in the eighth century. This early work summarizes some scores of major differences between the customs of Ereẓ Israel and Babylon actually in force, and seems to refer to the customs of Babylonian Jews living in Ereẓ Israel who preserved the customs of their country of origin. Many and varied suggestions have been made to explain the nature and purpose of this early work, but it is still not clear. Another work, Ḥilluf Minhagim, from the same period, of which not even a fragment has survived, gave the differences in custom between the academies of Sura and Pumbedita. It is certain, however, that such lists were in the possession of early scholars even though they may have been merely a collection from a variety of sources.
Minhagim books differ from one another in content, structure, purpose, and literary standard. Some describe the totality of customs peculiar to a certain area either on one topic only or covering a broader range – with the purpose of presenting "local custom" in its purity in order to preserve its existence and secure its uninterrupted continuation against penetration by external influences.
Sefer ha-Minhagot of *Asher b. Saul of Lunel, which describes the customs of southern France over a very wide range of subjects and is apparently the earliest minhagim book to come down to us from Europe, belongs to this category. To this period also belongs Ha-Manhig of *Abraham b. Nathan ha-Yarḥi which is, however, of a different character. It limits itself mainly to the laws of prayer, Sabbath, and festival, but in it are described Spanish, Provençal, French, and German customs which the author himself saw while traveling in these countries. Consequently the aim of the two books also differs. While Asher of Lunel explicitly states that his purpose is to indicate the sources in rabbinical literature of the customs in order to prove their authenticity and prevent the disrespect for them which stems from lack of knowledge, the aim of Ha-Manhig was to show that all customs, even when contradicting one another, have a halakhic source, and that none of them should be rejected, but each locality should maintain its minhag. These two books were of great importance and played a prominent role in molding the halakhah in succeeding generations. A book, unique of its kind, though of the same type as the Ha-Manhig, discusses a collection of 25 variant customs between Catalonia and Provence. It was written by Menahem b. Solomon with the aim of proving that despite the great halakhic authority of *Naḥmanides, the ancient customs of Provence were not to be undermined because of him, and Menahem exerted himself to show their sources in the halakhah (see Magen Avot, London, 1909). In 12th-century Germany, halakhic compilations were known of the type of "Minhagei Spira," "Kunteres Magenẓa," and the like, which are mentioned for example in Ha-Roke'aḥ of *Eleazar b. Judah of Worms and the works of the school of Rashi. There are already allusions to it in Sefer Rabban of *Eliezer b. Nathan which was the first Hebrew book written in Germany. From the quotations it is recognizable that although these were not actually complete "books," like the Provençal and Spanish minhag books of the 13th century, they were nevertheless the first minhag books in this region, and some 300 years later they were to serve as the main source for the growth of a ramified and developed minhagim literature. These early Ashkenazi compilations committed to writing for the first time the great fragmentation in the sphere of custom that prevailed in Germany, each city, including even adjacent cities, having different customs.
Another type, much more rare, confines itself to the customs appertaining to one single theme, in most cases an actual professional sphere, like the book of Jacob *Hagozer which describes the comprehensive customs applying to the laws of circumcision, and was intended to serve as a handbook for those performing the ceremony. Despite the rarity of this type, it is of great importance, since through it the close connection which exists between minhagim literature and "professional" literature is well recognized, an affinity which became blurred in the course of time, but which is still apparent in one sphere of halakhah, *Issur ve-Hetter. The various types of works of Issur ve-Hetter are in fact merely minhagim books intended to ease the burden of giving decisions from rabbis, and to a large extent they transmit different local customs in accordance with the different evidence they adduced, including visual evidence.
During the period of the rishonim, minhagim literature dealt mainly with the description of the customs of distinguished rabbis, with the avowed aim of establishing as the accepted norm their personal customs down to their last detail. The beginnings of this category are connected with the personality of *Meir b. Baruch of Rothenburg, who was the central figure in Germany in the 13th century and whose disciples created a complete minhagim literature, known as that "of the school of Maharam of Rothenburg," basing themselves on hiscustoms and rulings. The first apparently was Ḥayyim *Paltiel, whose minhagim served as the foundation for the Sefer ha-Minhagim of Abraham *Klausner, regarded as "the father of the minhag Ashkenaz." In contrast to Ḥayyim Paltiel, who does not mention Meir of Rothenburg by name in his work, the Ha-Parnes, also compiled in conformity with the views and practices of Meir by his pupil Moses Parnes, in most cases refers to him by name. The personality of Meir is especially recognizable in the Tashbez of his pupil Samson b. Zadok, and in the anonymous minhagim book published by I. Eifenbein (New York, 1938). A century later this type of literature received powerful stimulus, chiefly in the Rhine region, and the description of the customs of outstanding rabbis became a widespread activity, in great demand by the public. It was engaged in by disciple-attendants who were in close personal contact with a certain scholar – at times living with him for decades – and these included in their descriptions the actual minute-by-minute practice of their master, including the very smallest details even of the most intimate and private kind. They saw in each such detail a model worthy of emulation by every pious Jew. The best-known writers in this field are *Joseph b. Moses of Hochstadt who in his Leket Yosher described the customs of his distinguished teacher Israel *Isserlein, and Zalman of St. Goar who recorded the customs of his teacher Jacob *Moellin ha-Levi. In this connection it is worth mentioning the minhagim book of Isaac *Tyrnau – incidentally the first rabbinic work to be written in Hungary – who in point of fact recorded the customs of his teachers, Abraham Klausner and R. Sar Shalom of Vienna; but in contrast to the other two, who were not distinguished scholars, he was himself a renowned scholar who also devoted his energy to compiling a book of his teacher's customs. Together, these books constitute the well-known "minhag of Austria," and from them all important Ashkenazi customs developed – in particular the order of prayer and the festivals – down to the latest periods. Also deserving mention is the importance of the Mordekhai of *Mordecai b. Hillel which served as a primary work to which various Ashkenazi scholars, particularly in the 15th century, added their local customs, thus creating many different texts of the Mordekhai.
From the 15th century minhagim literature in Germany held an important place, without precedent in the world of halakhah and rabbinical literature. Moreover during this period the status of the minhag was raised to such a high level that great scholars and leading personalities of the period speak with great respect even about the customs of women and children and ascribe to custom a degree of authority exceeding that of the normative halakhah which is independent of custom. In opposition to the view of 19th-century Jewish historians, that the inordinate devotion to the writing of minhagim books in Germany in the 15th century testifies to the deterioration of intellectual creativity occasioned by the many persecutions with which this period was marked, it should be stressed that this tendency is evidence of a completely different process; namely, to a drawing near of the contemporary rabbis and leaders to the masses and their effort to transmit the practices of Judaism to the masses as a whole instead of to a mere handful of students. From the scholarly point of view, research into minhagim literature is very difficult, because these works have frequently been copied from one manuscript to another, and in the process sections of the halakhic discussions have been omitted, and glosses, supplements, *hassagot, and corrections have been added by the various copyists, who tried to adjust the work to the local prevailing custom as it was known to them, or at least to interweave this custom into the earlier work. This feature is especially noticeable in the minhag book of Abraham Klausner, as it has been preserved in the printed edition (Riva di Trento, 1558) and in the manuscripts which are so completely surrounded by glosses and comments that it is no longer possible to distinguish the actual text from the additions.
[Israel Moses Ta-Shma]
In more recent times, the minhagim literature was enriched by works that sought to give reasons for each minhag. Among the more popular were Ta'amei ha-Minhagim (1896), by A.I. Sperling and Oẓar kol Minhagei Yeshurun (1917), by A.E. Hirshovitz. The reasons given are often far fetched and jarring to the modern ear. More recent works describe the minhagim lucidly and give reasons based on research and scholarship. Two examples are Ziv ha-Minhagim by J.D. Singer (1965), and Sefer ha-Toda'ah by Eliyahu Kitov, 2 vols. (1958–60; Book of our Heritage, 3 vols., 1968). Both follow the traditional pattern of the calendar.
The establishment of the State of Israel and the ingathering of the exiles has added impetus to the study of the minhagim of the various communities of the Diaspora, particularly of the Oriental communities. The latter is pursued particularly by the Ben Zvi Institute in Jerusalem, which has already published a number of studies. Of the minhagim of other communities the following have been republished: Sefer Ereẓ Ḥayyim, by Ḥayyim Sithon (1968), and Sefer Ereẓ Yisrael, by Y.M. Tukazinsky (1966). Of special note is the exhaustive study of Jacob Gellis on Minhagei Ereẓ Israel (1968).
Illustrations on Minhagim Books
A different kind of minhagim books were written for popular use, and, since they were designed also for women, many were written in Yiddish. They were usually arranged according to the order of the religious year and it was customary to add to their interest by the inclusion of illustrations. The antisemitic publications of the apostate J. *Pfefferkorn (Judenbeichte, 1508) contain illustrations of Jewish observances which may be based on an authentic prototype.
The Prague Birkat ha-Mazon ("Grace after Meals"), of which one copy has survived, is the first Hebrew work of the type known to contain such illustrations. The earliest published illustrated minhagim book is that of Venice of 1593. Its text was based on a similar work edited by one Simeon Ashkenazi in 1590. The 1593 edition, though printed in Italy, is in Yiddish. It was no doubt published partly for export and partly for the use of the Ashkenazi Jews then living in the north of Italy. It was accompanied by a series of woodcuts illustrating various observances and customs of Jewish religious life throughout the year, the participants dressed in the unmistakable German style. These illustrations became very popular. They were repeated but with growing indistinction in all manner of editions produced in Amsterdam and northern Europe from the second half of the 17th century onward. The same woodcut sometimes serves to illustrate two different subjects in different editions. Thus the Sabbath before Passover and the Day of Atonement is illustrated by a scene showing the delivery of the special sermon on that occasion. They are still reproduced to illustrate Dutch Jewish social life of the 17th–18th centuries, whereas they in fact belong to a much earlier period and in great part to another environment. In 1601 another minhagim book appeared in Venice with a series of remarkable woodcuts, far superior to the earlier edition and clearly illustrating the Italian Jewish environment.
A minhagim book produced in 1693 for the Sephardi community of Amsterdam but with illustrations in some cases showing typical Ashkenazi costume has some independent interest and attraction. Unfortunately this one was not imitated later. The imitative editions of Prague of 1665, of Frankfurt c. 1674, and of Hamburg 1729 deserve cursory mention. That of Dyhernfurth of 1692, edited by S. Bass, has certain independent elements but like the earlier ones is poorly executed. The Frankfurt edition of 1717 has half a dozen badly executed cuts (most of them repeated in the 1729 edition) reflecting tenth-century German Jewish customs and usages. The minhagim books as a whole, but particularly the hitherto neglected Venice edition of 1601, are of considerable importance for the study of Jewish social life. Of particular significance are the female costumes, the ritual details (e.g., the form of the Sabbath lamp and the *Havdalah appurtenances), the interior of the synagogue and the separation of the sexes, the wedding ceremony, the Purim mummers, and even the barber's shop included to illustrate Lag ba-Omer.
Guedemann, Gesch Erz, 3 (1888), 12ff.; Weiss, Dor, 5 (19044), index; Elbogen, Gottesdienst, 368ff., 565f.; S. Assaf, Sifran shel Rishonim (1935); I. Elfenbein (ed.), Sefer Minhagim de-Rabbi Maharam b. Barukh mi-Rothenburg (1938), 7–8; M.J. Sachs, Kunteres Minhagei Ereẓ Yisrael (1951); Baron, Social2, 6 (1958), 129–30, 391–2; Zinberg, Sifrut, 3 (1958), 194ff.; D. Cassel, in: Jubelschrift… Zunz (1884), 122–37. illustrations: Mayer, Art, nos. 60, 452; A.M. Habermann, in: Roth, Art, 478.