Last Wednesday, I found my way to the Rare Judaica Auction at Kestenbaum and Company. The place quickly filled up with eager buyers and observers, I found it fascinating! Among the many items auctioned off there were printed sforim, letters, manuscripts, ceremonial art and more.
The first set of printed machzorim in the US (1837-1838)- Isaac Leeser‘s six volume edition of Siddur Siphtei Tzaddikim sold for$30,000.00.
The catalog describes it:
Siddur Sipfthei Tzaddikim, Isaac Leeser’s comprehensive prayer book, was the first American edition containing the liturgy for the entire year. It contains the original Hebrew text and an original English translation. Leeser marketed his prayer book to audiences both in America and the British colonies in the Caribbean and thus included “A prayer for a Royal Government” and “A prayer for a Republican Government”
Another interesting item that attracted attention was a broadside commemorating the 4th of July:
It commanded $20,000.00; it was printed in 1876 and is the only known copy.
“Dedicated to the People of America on the Centennial of their Liberty, July 4th 1876. On behalf of the People of Israel by Moses A. Schreiber of the 44th Street Synagogue, City of New York.”
A highly original production by Moses Aron Schreiber, Rabbi of Cong. Sha’arei Tephillah, New York. This lengthy ode celebrating the Centennial of American Independence is evenly divided in Hebrew and English and ingeniously rhymes in both languages, while being an exact translation of each other. Following an Introduction, it is set into seven sections entitled: “Taxation; Declaration; Constitution; Immigration; Arts & Sciences; Exhibition and Judah’s Offering”
Written with immense patriotic fervor informed by a passionate religious belief, clearly Rabbi Moses Schreiber’s sense of being a patriotic American is certainly not less than his pride in being an Orthodox Jew.
Another interesting item, that sold for $11,000.00 was:
The first printed edition of the Bible, published in 1515 in Hebrew and Latin by Daniel Bomberg, translated by the apostate Felix Pratensis, sold for $11,000.00. While Bomberg’s intention was to publish the whole of the Old Testament only this book appeared. By 1516-17 Daniel Bomberg realized that he could never sell this to the Jewish market, he therefore printed the first Mikroth Gedoloth TaNa”CH (Biblia Rabbinica), which was auctioned off at $47,500.00.
A fragment of a lost manuscript of Maimonides Commentary on the Mishna
The Szyk Haggadah commanded $25,000.00, the last Lubavitcher Rebbe‘s letter (written when he was only 23, long before he took over his father-in-law’s position as the revered head of the movement) to the Rogatchover Gaon sold for $30,000.00.
Many items representing our religious/literary endeavors through out the ages, and from many countries were featured in this auction. Many of these revolutionized Jewish thought, many became intrinsic texts elucidating various aspects of Jewish Law, tradition, kabbalah and more… The great, the controversial, the unknown and the unknown were well represented here.
In Part 3, the final installment of this series, we will cover Ceremonial and Fine Art items.