Archive for the 'Babylonian Talmud' Category

21
Sep
11

Judaica at Sotheby’s – Valmadonna Trust Library


This past Sunday, I went to Sotheby’s to see the current exhibits. On the first flight up, they were showing Mid 20th Century Furnishings, and a collection spanning the over 4 decades’ career of 20th century American painter Sam Francis. In the Furnishings area, there was a small glass enclosed alcove where a tiny sampling of the more than 11,000 sfarim of the Valmadonna Trust Library was on show.

The entire collection had already been exhibited in 2009, occupying the whole of Sotheby’s 10th floor gallery. Sotheby’s press release, at the time, described it thus:

New York, NY; February 9, 2009 – Sotheby’s announced today that it would display in its entirety, for the first time ever, the Valmadonna Trust Library, the finest private library of Hebrew books and manuscripts in the world. Assembled over the past century, this extensive group of over 11,000 works is monumental in its significance as a primary source on both world history and Jewish life and culture. The collection boasts rarities dating from the 10th century to the early 20th century from Italy, Holland, England, Greece, Eastern Europe, the Ottoman Empire, North Africa, India, and China, documenting the spread of the Hebrew press and the dissemination of Jewish culture around the globe. Among the treasures in the collection are: the only surviving manuscript written in England before the expulsion of the Jews in 1290; arguably the finest copy of the Babylonian Talmud produced between 1519 and 1523 by famed printer Daniel Bomberg, which was previously in the collection of Westminster Abbey; as well as the preeminent group of Hebrew books in existence from the dawn of printing (15th century). The entire collection will be exhibited in Sotheby’s 10th floor galleries from February 9-19, 2009, with the exception of February 14th.

A small sampling of this rare sfarim collection

This superb collection is comprised of books and manuscripts including Bibles and Talmuds, kabbalistic texts, siddurim, and Passover haggadot. Among the Library’s other holdings are Hebrew grammatical and legal texts; medical, philosophical and literary treatises; as well as periodicals, broadsheets, and wall calendars—particularly rare items on account of their ephemeral nature.

Printed by Daniel Bomberg, Maseches Me'ilah, around 1519-1523

Many medieval texts are here, dating from as early as the 10th century and including the first printed sfarim from the late 15th century. Among the collection’s jewels is a ktav yad of the earliest known Ashkenazic script, a Franco-German Chumash, dating from the 10th or 11th century. The crown jewel, however, is the Codex Valmadonna I. This is the only dated Hebrew text in existence from medieval England, before King Edward I’s 1290 edict expelling the Jews. The year following this manuscript’s creation, in 1190, mobs in York attacked the Jewish community living there, massacring the population, and looting their property.

Other opulent manuscripts in the collection include a Yemenite Chumash from the early 15th century, replete with characteristic Oriental illuminations. Of the original 29,000  titles – incunables [books printed on Gutenberg's original presses] – only 140 were done in lashon kodesh. This collections has almost half of them!

A superb collection, Sotheby’s is hoping to sell as one, perfect for an institution of Jewish learning!

CS

18
May
11

Hillula d’Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness


Last evening, SYR and I had the privilege to be at Sidney and Tammy Cohen‘s (partners at 18 Restaurant) apartment in Manhattan. We were there to commemorate the Hilula (yohrtzeit, as we ashkenazim call it) of Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness. I had never heard of this custom until I got Tammy’s email last week… How I wish I had known of it earlier in my life!

Among walls covered with portraits of a very young Baba Sali (whose haunting eyes seemed to pierce right through me) and Chagall like paintings, the crowd, the tfilot, the candles, the food, made it all very special…

Dips galore, mashed potatoes, fish, couscous, chicken, beef and more...

Who was Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness? The Babylonian Talmud, in Tractate Gittin 56a relates:

As he [Nero] came close, he shot an arrow towards the east and it fell in Jerusalem. He then shot an arrow to the west and it fell in Jerusalem. [He shot] towards the four points of the compass and it fell in Jerusalem. He then asked a [passing] boy, “Tell me the verse [from Scripture] you learned [today].” He [the boy] said, “I will place my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel [Ezekiel 25:14].” He [Nero] said, “The Holy One, blessed be He, wishes to destroy His House and lay the blame on me.” He [Nero] ran away and became a proselyte. From him came Rabbi Meir.”

Rabbi Meir, the descendant of a former Roman emperor, eventually became a staunch supporter of Bar Kochba‘s rebellion against the Romans. Why was he called Meir, when tradition says that his name was either Nahori or Misha? “Meir” means “Illuminator,” as someone who illuminated the mind’s eye of students and scholars alike to give them an understanding of both the Written and the Oral Laws, he came to be known as Meir.

“Ba’al Haness” means “Master of Miracles,” why was that name added to him? It is related that on a certain occasion when a pack of wild dogs ran over to tear him apart, Rabbi Meir cried out: “Eloka d’Meir aneini – God of Meir answer me,” the dogs retreated. The Roman guard of a brothel was about to be hanged for having taken a bribe. He was bribed so as to allow Rabbi Meir‘s wife (Bruriah‘s) sister to escape (while still untouched) from the brothel where the Romans had condemned her to live her life in shame (after they killed her parents, the saintly R. Chananya ben Teradyon – one of the 10 martyrs we mention in the kinot of Tisha B’Av – and his wife). As the noose was tightened around the guard’s neck he cried out, “God of Meir answer me,” the rope tore – to everyone’s amazement – and the guard was saved!

Harav Raphael Benchimol, rabbi of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation, very eloquently told the evening’s participants that the specific date 14th of Nissan (Pessach Sheini). was a very propitious time for asking Rabbi Meir Baal Haness to intercede in one’s behalf. As I walked around the room, I heard touching, gripping stories of people’s prayers being answered. Even over this last weekend in Providence, RI, I heard one such story…

Rabbi Benchimol: "If you need anything, or if you have lost your way, Rabbi Meir Ba'al Haness will help you find it..."

After Ma’ariv, people lit candles – on a specially set up table – while saying twice, “Eloka d’Meir aneini,” as each silently concentrated on his/her requests…

The emotions, the fervor, were contagious...

Meeting friends and friendly strangers, praying with them mincha and later ma’ariv, listening to the Rabbi’s divrey Torah, pouring out my heart as I concentrated on my personal requests – while lighting my candle – the delicious food, the drinks, made this a very inspiring and enchanted evening. Thank you Sidney, thank you Tammy.

Eloka d’Meir aneinU! God of Meir, answer US all!

CS




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