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On the Block: A 1790 reprint of Moses Seixas’s letter to George Washington will be auctioned on December 10.
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On the Block: A 1790 reprint of Moses Seixas’s letter to George Washington will be auctioned on December 10.

By Paul Berger

Published November 29, 2013, issue of December 06, 2013.
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A printing of Seixas’s letter to Washington and of Washington’ famous response, published in the Gazette of the United States, a Federalist party newspaper, will go on sale at Bonhams auction house, in New York, on December 10.

That September 15, 1790, issue of the Gazette, as well as a September 11 issue, which reported on Washington’s correspondence with Seixas in Seixas’s role as master of the King David’s Masonic Lodge, is valued by Bonhams at between $80,000 and $100,000.

Rachael Goldman, a Judaica consultant for Bonhams, said that according to other collectors, there are only four such examples of the September 15 issue of the Gazette in existence today.

The newspapers will be displayed in a preview at Bonhams, from December 5, alongside paintings, books and ceremonial objects that make up the auction house’s first-ever Judaica sale.

The original of Washington’s letter made headlines in July 2012, when it went on public display for the first time in a decade at the National Museum of American Jewish History, in Philadelphia.

The letter is halfway through a three-year loan from the Morris Morgenstern Foundation. Josh Perelman, the NMAJH’s chief curator, said, “We continue to be in conversation with the lender about a longer-term arrangement.”

The Newport congregation celebrates its links to the Washington letter each August, with a public reading. This year, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan delivered the keynote address.

Mandel said that the December rededication ceremony would be a little more low-key, and that he consulted several sources for information on the ceremony, including Rabbi Morris Gutstein’s “The Story of the Jews of Newport,” published in 1936.

The most recent work in the canon of Newport’s Jewish history is “A Genesis of Religious Freedom,” published this year by historian Melvin Urofsky.

Like those before him, Urofsky leaned heavily on Stiles’s diaries to describe how, when the Torah scrolls arrived at the synagogue, “three knocks came from outside upon the closed front door, and the voice of [hazan] Isaac Touro could be heard chanting in Hebrew, ‘Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, that the King of glory may come in.’”

After the congregation responded in Hebrew, the doors opened and in marched Isaac Touro, followed by the congregation’s officers “carrying with them the scrolls of the Torah, covered in beautiful mantles.”


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