The Estense bindings have a few unique features.
• The structure of the bindings is almost uniform. Three manuscript bifolia construct the binding- two covering the external sides of the plates, and one- pasted on top of them, covering the internal side of both plates and the spine, which is covered by a red cloth re-enforcement. In the few cases where large manuscripts were used, two folios are sufficient.
• Most of the bindings are not the original manuscript, rather the inverted imprint of the manuscript on the page. As a result only one side is available of each folio. Nevertheless, the image of the Hebrew manuscripts were imprinted on the folios before they were used for binding, so in most cases, if the interior folio were to be removed, it is likely that three complete bifolia would be visible. In many cases there are both a positive and inverted images of different pages on the same folio.
• In most cases the entire written area of the page is extant, undamaged by the cutting that we are used to seeing, from the stage of reuse as bindings. Unfortunately, as is the nature of imprints, much of the inscription faded and difficult to read. Images of higher resolution would likely to be helpful in enabling more readable text at greater enlargement.
• All but three (or possibly four) of the original Hebrew manuscripts are unique (that is- the sole remnant of this particular copy). This is highly unusual, as we are used to finding circulation of folios from particular manuscripts among many locations in Northern Italy and beyond.
We have been able to record 67 distinct Hebrew manuscripts that contribute to construction of these bindings. This figure is not final, as much of the material is too blurred to read enough to reach a qualified identification. In some these cases, we can only suggest that the imprint is a remnant of one of these manuscripts, basing the suggestion on the general paleographic features visible in remnant. The signature numbers presented here are allotted one per each volume bound, so there are usually between two and six folios per signature.
1-3- Bible, (Esther).
4a- Nathan b. Yehiel of Rome, Arukh (כד-כה).
4b, 53-54, 92, 98, 111, 214, 230, 309, 334, 364, 376- Yeshayah b. Eliyahu of Trani, Pisqey Ria"z, large folios, mostly illegible. The beginning of chap. VII of Shabbat is on no. 99.
8, 51, 63, 86, 88-89, 94, 213, 231- Pentateuch (Gen., Ex.).
9- A Halakhic passage about Passover, that is found both in Rashi's Sefer HaOreh vol. II pars. 21-26, and Simha of Vitry"s Mahzor Vitry 8-12.
11, 16, 17, 26, 27, 34, 41, 49, 55, 61, 65, 66, 78, 82, 102, 109, 113, 114, 116, 138, 163, 203, 211, 213, 215, 217,218, 222, 232, 237, 248, 251, 252, 254, 267, 270, 275, 282, 294, 295, 298, 312, 316, 342, 351, 356, 357, 359, 362- Pentateuch with Onqelos alternating after each verse, Masora Magna.
14, 65, 226, 330, 336, 346, 358, 361- Rashi on Pentateuch.
23, 271, 331, 337- Bible (Psalms, Proverbs).
24- An unidentified treatise on Deeds, mostly illegible. A passage here is identical to a parallel to Moshe of Coucy's SeMaG and Barukh of Worms' HaTerumah.
29, 40, 84, 180, 243, 262, 267, 292- Bible (Ruth Psalms, Job) with Aramaic Translation in the margins. No. 202 may also be from this manuscript. It also includes the first page of Pentateuch, and the last page of prophets from a printed Hebrew Bible.
30- Maimonides, Mishne Torah (Introduction, List of Positive Commandments), a small fragment found inside the spine of the binding.
31-371- Commentary on Piyyut. .
22, 32, 52, 60, 106, 227, 289, 293, 302, 326, 352, 366- Nahmanides, Commentary on Pentateuch (Nu., Deut).
37, 50, 228- Nathan b. Yehiel of Rome, Arukh (ז, כ).
38, 56, 74, 75, 204, 220, 237a, 256, 260, 276-278, 282, 304, 338- David b. Joseph Kimhi, Commentary on Prophets, including fragments from Jer., Ez., Mi., Am., Zech.
44- Moshe of Coucy, SeMaG (Positive Commandments, 123).
69-72, 74, 145-146, 257- Sifri (Bamidbar- D'varim.) Probably the most important finding in this collection, manuscripts of this Midrashic canon are extremely rare, only four complete ones are known . Until now, only one manuscript has been found among the Italian bindings (Perani & Sagradini, Talmudic and Midrashic Fragments, 2004, pp. 150-154, no. M.VI). The Estense manuscript is in square Sephardic hand, probably 12-13nth cent. Approx. 30-34 lines per page. The readable remnants of this mss. include Bamidbar Pisqaot 3-4,16, 26-28, 32-35, 37-38, 42-43, 49-50, 75, 77-78, 111-113, 120, 122, 131, 132, 134. D'varim Pisqaot 48-49, 50-51, 249, 333, 335-336. Bindings of nos. 173-174 may also be from the same manuscript.
75- Commentary on Prayers(?).
76a, 81, 83, 96-97, 108, 117, 141, 148, 155, 177, 186-187, 195, 197b, 199, 213a, 221-222, 311, 315, 332, 365- Abraham Ibn Ezra's Commentary on Pentateuch (Ex. 7,8; Lev. 11, 12, 14, Nu. 4). Bindings 96, 186, and 199 bear headings from the beginning of Parashot.
87, 249, 270, 275, 318 – Selihot.
90, 317, 319, 348- Nathan b. Yehiel of Rome, Arukh (ס-ע). No. 162, a fragment from ר, may also be from this manuscript. Bindings with similar features are also found in Vatican Apostolica 614 item 7; Jerusalem, Krupp collection 4115 items 2,8.
90- Maimonides, Mishne Torah (Book of Mada'- Yesodei HaTorah 4-5; Talmud Torah 1) 101- (Piyyut?).
102, 140, 149, 151, 156, 159, 166, 176, 178, 179, 185, 188, 192, 196, 197a, 223, 225- Perez b. Elyahu of Corbeil, Comments on SeMaQ (Sefer Mitzvot Qatan by Isaac of Corbeil). One of the few legible passages in this manuscript, in bindings 102 and 140, includes the comment on Positive Commandment 193 par. no. 13 on the Blessing of the Lulav; binding 179 on the Halizah ceremony (Pos. 185).
103-105, 107- An Unknown Commentary on Psalms .
112, 299a, 310a- Rashi on Pentateuch (Gen. 26-26; Ex. 31). Includes an extensive addenda at the beginning of Gen. 26.
116- Haftarot (Ki Tisa, from I Kings 19).
122- Yaakov b. Asher, Tur (Orah Hayim 229-230).
123- Onqelos on Lev. 13-14.
124- Index- An enumerated list of items, some are subjects, some are books. The numbers are not in sequence. The Titles include : "הלכות ראש השנה תשב"ץ" by Shimshon b. Zemah; ""הלכות שמחות ממרדכי", Mordecai b. Hillel on Laws of Mourning.
124 external- Pentateuch with Onqelos in parallel columns (Deut. 27).
125, 126, 200, 247, 301- Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Fragments from Books Haflaah, Qedushah, 'Avodah, Mishpatim. Bindings no. 175, 183, and possibly 313 (external) include folios that also appear to be from this manuscript, but are completely illegible.
130- Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Book of Ahavah, (Hilkhot Tefilah 10).
132- Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Book of Ahavah, (Hilkhot Tzitzit 1-2).
147, 168- Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Book of Zmanim, (Hilkhot Hannuka 3-4; Hilkhot Matzah). The latter folio is from the Hagadda for Passover text, an appendix to Hilkhot Matzah, yet the text clearly reflects the European tradition more than Maimonides'.
153- Mahzor. Small fragments from the spine of the binding.
157- An Unknown Halakhic Treatise- Laws of mixtures.
158- Talmud Bavli. Shabbat. Parallel to, in the common printed edition- 138b ll. 4-37.
184- Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Book of Zmanim, (Hilkhot Qiddush HaHodesh 3).
190- Pentateuch (Nu. 4).
205- David b. Joseph Kimhi, Commentary on Prophets (I Samuel 23).
206-209- Fragments from a Torah Scroll.
212- Commentary on Piyyut.
218, 238, 241a, 242, 256b- Commentary on Psalms. Binding 218 appears to be a fragment from an Introduction to Psalms. It's possible that this is a commentary on Piyyut.
219- Commentary on Talmud Bavli 'Eruvin (26-27). Includes articles on the end of chapter 2 and beginning of chapter 3.
240, 256, 268b, 322- Nathan b. Yehiel of Rome, Arukh. Binding 240 includes a fragment of ט; 322 from פז.
241- Yaakov b. Asher, Tur (Orah Hayim 423-425).
246, 266, 268, 291, 293, 360b- Nathan b. Yehiel of Rome, Arukh. Binding 266 includes fragments from מפ and חט; 268 from חב; 291 from א.
255, 261, 263-265, 272, 275b- Commentary on Yom Kippur Liturgy . Bindings 258 and 287 may also be from this manuscript.
268, 374- Isaac b. Aba Mari: Ittur Soferim. Apparently from the same manuscript remnant in Nonantola - Archivio Comunale 63.
270b, 271b- Psalms (137).
273, 335b, 365- Maimonides, Mishne Torah (Introduction, List of Positive Commandments).
274- Pentateuch with Onqelos in parallel columns (Ex. 39). Other remnants of this manuscript, two bifolia from Genesis, have survived in Modena - Archivio di Stato 155, and Nonantola (7 kms. from NE of Modena) Archivio Comunale 91, listed in Perani, Frammenti di manoscritti e libri ebraici a Noanantola, 1992 p. 94 no. B.XLVII
279-281- Moses of Coucy, SeMaG (Negative Commandments). The front binding of 280 includes commandments 215 , the rear binding is from 236-237. On binding 281 are commandments 208 and 199. Binding 384 may also be from this manuscript.
284-286- Talmud Bavli (Moed). The front binding of 284 contains Besa 11b-12a, the rear is from 14b. 285 is illegible, but likely to be from this same manuscript. 286 is from Pesahim 78a-b and the rear binding there, ibid. 93b-94a. Similar paleographic features are found in the Talmud fragments in Vatican Rossiani 1169/2 (Perani & Sagradini, Talmudic and Midrashic Fragments, 2004, p. 108 no. T. CXXXVI, facsimile ibid. p. 314), including the end of Tractate Megilla and the beginning of Ta'anit.
296, 297 (internal), 303- A Numerated List of Biblical Laws. The numbers are low so the numeration is likely to have been subdivided. Includes laws that are not in the common lists of Biblical Commandments, such as: שלמים מן הדקה. 305- Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Book of Ahavah, (Tefillin 2) or possibly Moses of Coucy, SeMaG (Positive Commandment 22), only a small area is legible. It contains a text that is common to both of these sources. 325, 329 335 340, 353- Commentary on Liturgy. Binding 325 has incipits from the Daily Prayers.
341- Pentateuch with Onqelos alternating after each verse (Ex. 29-30). Vocalization, including the Targum verses.
347- Onqelos (Deut. 10).
349-350- Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Book of Shofetim, ( Edut 7-8, 11 ; Milakhim 3-6).
367- Index. Only the red ink Incipits are extant, these are sequential numbers (128-140), as is common among manuscripts of collected Responsa. A small fragment in Sephardic semi-cursive hand is also imprinted here, possibly from a different manuscript. This is likely to be from a Rabbinic treatise, as פסח שני is mentioned. 375- Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Book of Q'dusshah, (Shehita 7; 13-14).
377- Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Books of Ahavah, Zmanim. The first folio contains Hilkhot Berakhot end of chap. 9- beginning of chap. 10. The second folio contains the standard liturgy text from the Evening prayer of Sabbath Eve, presumably from the Liturgy texts that are the appendix to the book of Ahava, as it is followed by the excipit of the Book of Ahava, although no known version of this appendix ends here. Immediately following is the Title of the Book of Zmanim, including the Title of the list of Commandments of Hilkhot Shabbat).
379- Medical Treatise.
380-383- Yaakov b. Asher, Tur. Of the few legible passages, Even HaEzer 141 can be identified on 383a.
Update: 4.10- Prof. Mauro Perani has published an extensive survey of the Estense bindings, with many important historic and bibliographic details on the process of reuse of the Hebrew manuscripts, including a table of the 385 printed books in which these Hebrew manuscripts served as binders. 'Genizat Germania' (ed. Andreas Lehnardt), Studies in Jewish History and Culture 28, Brill, 2010, pp. 217-275.