A Mahzor (often written in English Machzor - the h / ch is guttural) is a Jewish prayer book for use on the festivals. Compare with a Siddur which is for general round the year use. The word comes from the root meaning "cycle", referring to the cyclical nature of the year and the festivals.

Many Siddurim (plural of "Siddur") have some of the festival prayers, but not all of them - especially for the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur).

There is not a single Mahzor for the entire year, as it would be too long and heavy. Therefore, separate ones are often released for each festival.

Some publishers combine Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur into one book, and Succot, Pesach and Shavuot into another book. This is because (especially in the latter case) there is a lot of overlap in the prayers.

The standard layout of prayers within the Mahzor is as follows.

  • Minchah (afternoon service) for the eve of the festival (essentially a normal weekday Minchah).
  • Ma'ariv (evening service) for the eve of the festival - this is actually the first prayer for the festival, as the Jewish day starts at nightfall the previous day.
  • Kiddush for the eve of the festival as one would say at home with the festive meal.
  • Shacharit (morning service).
  • Kriat HaTorah (reading the Torah) for the morning of the festival. Also included here are the portions of the Torah themself - these aren't usually included in a Siddur, with a separate book called a Chumash being used on a regular Shabbat).
  • Musaph (additional service) recited straight after the Torah.
  • Kiddush to say at lunch at home for the festive meal.
  • Minchah (afternoon service) for the festival itself.
  • Ma'ariv (evening service) for the night after the festival (essentially a normal weekday Ma'ariv).

As most festivals (outside of Israel) are more than 1 day long (see Second day Yom Tov), these prayers are said more than once. After the Minchah service on the first proper day, you then return to the Ma'ariv service from the previous night again, as it's still the festival.

As with the Siddur, there are a number of publishers of Mahzorim. These aren't all identical - some may involve more turning back and forth, some will print everything every time it's needed, some will have translation and some won't, some will have commentary and some won't etc. But as long as the Mahzor you have is for the correct overal tradition of prayers (eg Ashkenazi vs Sephardi), you should be able to use it in the Synagogue. The most common Mahzorim in use within the Orthodox community in the UK are as follows.

  • The Routledge - These have been around for many years and were always the traditional Mahzor in the UK. Indeed, they are still the "official" Mahzor, and if another Mahzor says "some congregations say this, some don't", then the Routledge is checked to see what the official tradition is. This set was published as 6 volumes (a separate book for Kol Nidrei as indicated above). The Hebrew type is quite large and clear, but only 2 sizes are used throughout the book, making it unattractive and blocky after a while. The English translation is in many ways beautiful but archaic and can be hard to understand. There is no commentary.
  • The Birnbaum - These are also quite old, and produced in the USA but not unpopular in the UK. (Although they have a prayer for the President rather than for the Queen!) They are published in 2 volumes as described above. They are a bit clearer than the Routledge but still have little or no commentary.
  • The Artscroll - These are comparitively modern, first coming onto the scene in the mid 1980s, and are now the most popular. There is a translation in modern English, but still retaining the beauty and holiness of the Hebrew. The Hebrew is printed in a way which makes it much easier to read, and there is also a commentary throughout. In general, they are much slicker - but that comes from a rich American publishing house! I would recommend that this be what you purchase.

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