May 5, 2014
Medieval Torah sells for millions at auction
by Nick Davies
A copy of the Torah dating back more than 500 years was sold at auction by Christie’s last week, going for several million dollars, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports (published here in the Jerusalem Post).
Christie’s places the book as dating back to January 1482, when it was written in Hebrew, in Bologna. With three would-be buyers bidding on the tome by phone on Wednesday, it ultimately went for $3.87 million, about 92% of its estimated value before auction, which Christie’s placed at $2.02 million. The sale—to an anonymous buyer—breaks the record for the most expensive Hebrew-language book.
Per the Christie’s website, is accompanied by Aramaic paraphrase and commentary by commentary by Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac (also known as Shlomo Yitzchaki or the acronym Rashi). While Rashi’s commentary is present on texts a dozen years before this one, the targum in Aramaic— spoken paraphrases, explanations, and expansions of the Jewish scriptures that a rabbi would give in the common language of the listeners—is the first documented instance of the famous commentary by Onkelos, a Roman convert to Judaism who lived in the first and second centuries A.D.
The Torah is printed on vellum, and authenticated by way of signatures from three 16th- and 17th-century censors. The auction house says that this is only the third copy of this very rare edition to be sold in the past hundred years, “the first in 1970, printed on vellum and complete, the second in 1998, printed on paper and missing eight pages.” The copy sold last week is complete, and “in exceptionally fresh condition.”
Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.