Manuscripts Worth Millions

Artifacts

By Rick Harrison

Published September 24, 2004, issue of September 24, 2004.

If you’re struggling to find a gift for that person who has everything and you’ve got a few hundred thousand dollars to spend, then Sotheby’s New York has the right auction for you.

On October 27 and 28, the Montefiore Endowment at Ramsgate, England, will auction off a wide array of rare Hebrew manuscripts that Marcia Malinowski, senior vice president of books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s New York, touts as “the most significant collection to appear on the market in decades.”

The 433 manuscripts on the docket include biblical, legal and historical texts — many unpublished and dating back to the medieval period — that all together are expected to sell for between $8 and $11 million. A Kabbalistic manuscript from late 14th-century Italy, which explains the 72-letter name of God and illustrates the proper method for mystical meditation, is valued at about $30,000, while a 15th-century Hebrew Bible from Spain is expected to fetch about $300,000.

“It’s an incredibly beautiful penned manuscript,” Malinowski said in an interview with the Forward. “Just an extraordinary thing.”

Proceeds from the sale will fund scholarships and education — the stated purpose of the Montefiore Endowment.

The collection features Bibles, Kabbalistic essays, sermons, talmudic commentaries, halachic writings, responsa literature (rabbinic responses to questions of Jewish law), prayer books and papers covering a vast range of subjects in arts and sciences.

Culled from works across Europe and North Africa, the bulk of the offerings were acquired around 1900 by Moses Gaster, a Romanian scholar who served as principal for the college founded by Victorian gaslighting tycoon, banker and philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore.

Gaster acquired the manuscripts from Leopold Zunz, a founder of the Science of Judaism, and book collector Solomon Hayyim Halberstam. Most were donated to Jews’ College in London, where they spent the last century.



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