World’s Smallest Torah at Kestenbaum & Co.’s Fine Judaica Auction

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Kestenbaum & Company will conduct an auction of Fine Judaica on Wednesday, March 12th at 3:00 pm. The sale will be held at the company’s gallery located in New York City. The auction of more than 470 will feature Part II of Rare Books & Manuscripts selected from the Library of the late Hayim Lieberman, personal secretary and librarian of the last two Lubavitch Rebbes. Also included is a selection of correspondences to the late Rabbi Joseph Rosen (1867-1953) of Swislocz and Passaic, NJ. Educated in the great Lithuanian yeshivas of the 19th century, Rabbi Rosen was considered “one of the most learned Talmudic scholars of this age” and a “treasure house of Jewish lore and wisdom.”

A wide selection of printed books are offered for sale; notable categories include Americana, French Judaica, Chassidic texts, first books by the Vilna Gaon, Hagadahs, Holocaust and Eretz Israel related books, Karaitica, books related to the Haskalah Movement and a series of Spinoza texts including many first editions in Russian.

Among the many rare classical Hebrew texts in the sale, especially noteworthy is the second Daniel Bomberg’s second Biblia Rabbinica, printed, Venice, 1524-5 estimated at $40,000-50,000 (Lot 54). Also of significance is Joseph ben Shneur Hacohen’s Minchath Kohen, Kuru Cesme, 1597, estimate $10,000-12,000 (Lot 158) and Moses Chaim Luzzatto’s influential work of ethics: Mesilath Yehsarim, Amsterdam, 1740, estimate $8,000-10,000 (Lot 186). Further highlights include an incunable: David Kimchi’s Sepher HaShorashim, Naples, 1491, estimate $10,000-12,000 (Lot 171); Jacob Landau’s Sepher Agur, Rimini, 1525-26, estimate $12,000-15,000 (Lot 176) and Joseph Karo’s Shulchan Aruch, Venice, 1567, at an estimate of $7,000-9,000 (Lot 169). A later item of interest is Yisroel Meir Kagan of Radin’s Reshimath Hasepharim, a price-list of the Chofetz Chaim’s published works, Piotrokow, 1908, at an estimate of $600-900 (Lot 163).

Important selections among the Passover Hagadot being offered include the first illustrated Amsterdam Hagadah in its original binding, complete with a fine folding engraved Hebrew map of the Holy Land, 1695, estimate $10,000-12,000 (Lot 113), the first illustrated American Hagadah, New York, 1857, estimate $8,000-10,000 (Lot 117) and a WWII-era Hagadah produced by German and Austrian Jews held prisoner by the British in an internment center in Hay, Australia, 1941, at an estimate of $5,000-7,000 (Lot 121). 

Most noteworthy in the American Judaica section is the first Jewish Calendar printed in the United States, examined and corrected by Hazan Gershom Mendes Seixas, Newport, 1806, estimate $8,000-10,000 (Lot 4) and the first Jewish prayer-book in German published in America, New York, 1856, at an estimate of $8,000-10,000 (Lot 20). Further Americana of interest include a rare Yiddish version of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, printed in Vilna, 1868, estimate $2,000-2,500 (Lot 29); Solomon Schechter’s Inaugural Address…as President of the Faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York, 1903, estimate $500-700 (Lot 33) and a printed wedding invitation for the marriage of the daughter of Grand Rabbi Pinchas Dovid Horowitz of Boston, 1920, at an estimate of $200-300 (Lot 37).

An official State of Israel Declaration of Independence from May 14th, 1948, signed by its first Prime Minister, David ben Gurion, estimate $10,000-15,000 (Lot 150) is most prominent in a section relating to Eretz Israel. Also sure to attract buyers is Johann Simonis’ travel book, Onomasticum Veteris Testamenti sive Tractatus Philolgicus with its celebrated Hebrew “Grape-Vine Map” of the Holy Land, Halle, 1741, at an estimate of $8,000-10,000 (Lot 143). A notable Holocaust related text is a complete set of the historic She’erith Hapleitah Talmud published in Munich in 1948 for D. P.s by the American Military Command in Germany, estimate $4,000-6,000 (Lot 134). Also of interest is Takanoth Meshalosh Kehiloth, Hamburg, 1715, a highly scarce printed document reflecting the social mores of early 18th century German Jewry, estimate $2,000-3,000 (Lot 103) and Salomon Maimon’s Moreh Nevuchim, the first Hebrew book in which the philosophy of Benedict Spinoza is discussed, Berlin, 1791, at an estimate of $1,000-1,500 (Lot 188).

Other printed books of interest include Flavius Josephus’ De Antiquitate Judaica, depicting first century Jewish life and history, Venice 1499, estimate $4,000-6,000 (Lot 159); two rare works on Hebrew grammar bound in one volume printed in Leuven, Belgium, 1528 and 1529, estimate $6,000-8,000 (Lot 177) and two lots relating to Daniel Mendoza, the boxing champion in England from 1792-1795: The Art of Boxing, London, 1789, estimate $700-900 (Lot 196) and Memoirs of the Life of Daniel Mendoza, London, 1816, estimate $600-900 (Lot 197). Further books of note include the Dillengen, 1564 edition of Canones et Decreta and the Index Librorum Prohibitorum including the ban on printing the Talmud, estimate $4,000-6,000 (Lot 225); and Baron Karl Rothschild’s personal copy of the Rodelheim Machzor, 1800, at an estimate of $1,000-1,500 (Lot 209).

A significant lot among the numerous Manuscripts offered for sale is an important collection of historical letters and documents from the archives of R. Shmuel Salant pertaining to the issue of cultivating the land of Israel during Sabbatical Year and the question of Heter Mechirah, 1876-95, at an estimate of $20,000-25,000 (Lot 270). Other lots include a copy of the formal election results of the Eight Knesset of the State of Israel signed by all elected members, Jerusalem, 1974, estimate $5,000-7,000 (Lot 274); a rare Yiddish manuscript detailing the art of preparation and distillation of fine liquors, c. 1800, estimate $5,000-7,000 (Lot 289); and the personal diary from 1964-65 of Haham Yitzhak Kadourie, estimate $3,000-5,000 (Lot 275). Also notable is a richly illustrated Marriage Contract issued in Singapore, 1918, estimate $4,000-6,000 (Lot 280); Myer Joel Wigoder’s autographed memoir of his life in Dublin, Ireland in the early 20th century, estimate $1,000-1,500 (Lot 307) and an illuminated manuscript painted in multi-colors on parchment depicting the journey of the Queen of Sheba to meet King Solomon in Jerusalem, Ethiopia, mid-20th century, at an estimate of $800-1,200 (Lot 257).

Among the Autograph Letters in the auction are those from celebrated Rabbinic leaders such as Rabbi Zelig Reuven Bengis, Rabbi Moshe Yitzchak Gewirtzman, Rabbi Mordechai Gifter, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Grunwald, The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, Rabbi Baruch ber Leibowitz, Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rabbi Elazar Menachem Man Schach and Rabbi Shimon Yehudah Shkop. Of particular importance is a signed letter by Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, written in 1921 to the Chofetz Chaim concerning a Jewish leader’s ultimate responsibility to guide the Jews of his generation, estimate $8,000-10,000 (Lot 261). 

The Graphic Art section of the sale features the auction catalogue cover lot, a celebrated portrait from 1887 of Yom Tov Lipman Heller, the “Tosfos Yom Tov”. This large, striking oil on canvas painting is beautifully framed and estimated at $12,000-18,000 (Lot 318). Further highlights include three exquisite framed Rabbinic portraits in oil on board by Alois Heinrich Priechenfried, Austrian (1867-1933) estimated at $10,000-12,000 each (Lots 321-323), Arthur Szyk’s Gloire A La Folie Des Braves, in pen and ink on paper, London, 1939, estimate $6,000-7,000 (Lot 330) and Moise Kisling’s pastel on paper, Study for Femme au Chale Polonaise, (1891-1953), estimate $5,000-7,000 (Lot 332). Rounding out the Graphic Arts section is a standout group of framed American WWI-era Jewish-related posters including the iconic “Share, Jewish Relief Campaign” poster designed by Alfred F. Burke, Brooklyn, NY, c. 1914, at an estimate of $5,000-7,000 (Lot 308).

The offerings in the Ceremonial Art section covers all categories including Kiddush cups, Chanukah Lamps, Ethrog Boxes, Scrolls of Esther, Charity Boxes and Synagogue-related objects. A wonderful selection of Bezalel Judaica is also being offered. Of particular prominence above all is a contemporary miniature Torah Scroll housed in an eye-catching, elaborate custom silver ark. Featured on the auction catalogue back cover, this extraordinary Torah Scroll is purported to be the smallest ever written. It is estimated at $100,000-150,000 (Lot 406). Further fine selections include an exquisite, intricately detailed Russian silver Chanukah Lamp, Zhitomir, c. 1870, estimate $100,000-150,000 (Lot 471), a pair of Russian Gardner Biscuit porcelain Jewish figures, Moscow, c. 1880-1890, estimate $12,000-15,000 (Lot 431) and a Bosnian-related Austrian silver binding, 1872-1922, estimated at $2,000-3,000 (Lot 432). 

The auction exhibition will be held in the Kestenbaum & Company gallery at 242 West 30th Street in New York City from Sunday, March 9th through Tuesday, March 11th. For further information, to request images, or any other queries, please contact Jackie Insel at 212-366-1197 or Jackie@kestenbaum.net.

Image courtesy of Kestenbaum & Company.

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