“I will insist the Hebrews have [contributed] more to civilize men than any other nation. If I was an atheist and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations … They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their empire were but a bubble in comparison to the Jews. They have given religion to three-quarters of the globe and have influenced the affairs of mankind more and more happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.”
– John Adams, Second President of the United States
(From a letter to F. A. Van der Kemp [Feb. 16, 1808] Pennsylvania Historical Society)
This past Monday, I had the pleasure of visiting the offices of Kestenbaum and Company, Auctioneers of Rare Books, Manuscripts, Fine Art and Vintage Wines. Whether you spent any portion of your life learning, or if you merely just wondered about the chain of history of our sacred literature, this auction will forever change your outlook! To know that the chain is unbroken, like a spine, intact through generations, is affirming and so powerful as if I felt tradition coursing thorough my veins with each turn of carefully preserved page…
I started my journey into seforim history with Daniel Bomberg‘s 4 volume TaNa”CH or Biblia Rabbinica (Lot 71)…
The Catalog appraises it between $50,000 to $70,000 and describes it thus, on page 23:
[..]THE SECOND MIKRA’OT GEDOLOTH (BIBLIA RABBINICA) PRINTED. A FINE, WIDE MARGINED COPY BOUND IN 17TH CENTURY FULL VELLUM
The first Rabbinic Bible to present the Massorah. The Text of this edition became the standard Massoretic text for all subsequent editions. See D. S. Berkowitz, In Rememberance of Creation (1968) no 166.
The first Biblia Rabbinica printed by Bomberg in 1516-17 was edited by the apostate Jew Felix Pratensis and contained the Imprimatur of the Pope. Bomberg quickly realized that these two facts marginalized the Great Bible from the Jewish market. Bomber therefore employed Jacob b. Chaim ibn Adonijah, newly arrived in Venice (after being driven out from Spain and then Tunis), as editor of the Second Biblia Rabbinica. A meticulous and most knowledgeable Jewish editor, Jacob ben Chaim went to great pains to secure as many codices with a Massorah as possible. For the first time, there was issued a printed Hebrew Bible with a marginal Massorah, which, as hoped by Bomberg, was received with acclaim by the Jewish market. THUS THIS BIBLE MAY BE SAID TO THE THE FIRST JEWISH RABBINIC BIBLE…
It comes with Targum Onkeles, commentaries by RaSH”I, ibn Ezra, Kimchi and more.
I stood in awe as I held the second printed edition of the Shulchan Aruch (Lot 185)…
Printed in Venice in 1567 by Giovanni Griffo, with all four parts in one volume and four title pages The final leaf has the signatures of the censors. Dampstained and with yellowing pages, it was rebound in elaborately blind-tooled morocco. Priced at $10,000.00 to $12,000.00
Next I saw the first editions of R. Yisroel Meir Kagan of Radin‘s Chofetz Chaim and Shmiras Haloshon…
The Chofetz Chaim was printed in 1873 and priced between $2000 to $3000, while Shmiras Haloshon was printed in 1876 and goes for $1000 to $1500. Both texts are First Editions.
With Pessach just around the corner how could I not look at the Haggadot?
Starting with the magnificent Haggada illustrated by Arthur Szyk (Lot 146)…
Published in London in 1939-40, it has a dedication to King George VI of England, it’s priced between $30,000 to $40,000. The Times Literary Supplement described it as “…one of the most beautiful works ever produced by human hands… Szyk’s Haggadah stands among Hebrew illuminated manuscripts, in a moment of time, for all time, in a class by itself.”
First edition of Isaac Chayut‘s Siyach Yitzchok, published in 1587 (Lot 102), it goes for $800 to $1200
A series of kabbalistic poems with commentary, all of whose themes relate to the First Night of Passover, including instructions and laws pertaining to the Seder.
On the right, we have an Haggadah with the Abarbanel‘s commentary (Zevach Pessach), printed in 1561 in Rivo di Trento (Italy) by Jacob Marcaria. Marcaria, the catalog tells us, was a physician and scholar who published books in all branches of Judaica, often adding his own scholarly prefaces. It is listed as being in the $4000 to $6000 range
With the hundreds of sfarim and secular books and kisvey yad I saw on display, it was very hard to decide which ones I would include in this first installment. Needless to say, this will be a multi-part series.
Before closing this post and considering the auction is to take place today at 3:00 pm at Kestenbaum and Company (242 West 30th Street; New York, NY 10001 – Tel: 212.366..1197) I can only say that having spent parts of my life learning from some of this very same sforim (albeit in modern editions!), it would be hard for me to understand if at least most of the items are not bought by those who know that their value is far beyond the price they command. It was with deep emotion (which still overwhelms me as I write) that I (and every yid, who spent/spends time learning) beheld this collection… Why? Because the worth of these items lies far deeper than in being early editions, they represent our very faith as Jews, they represent our universal truth, they summarize the values that define us!