Upcoming Auction Review:
By Dan Rabinowitz and Eliezer Brodt
In recent years a number of auction houses specializing in Hebrew books, manuscripts and ephemera have opened. In some instances, these have displaced and surpassed more well-established houses and certainly provide more opportunities for the collector. A new house, Legacy Auctions, is holding its first auction on April 13. One can view their complete catalog here [There is also a link to a PDF if one scrolls down here.] As we have done in the past, we wanted to highlight some of the available items.
Lot 23 is R. Samuel David Luzzato’s, (Shadal), the Italian biblical scholar and relative of R Moses Hayyim Luzzato (Ramchal), translation and commentary to the Torah, published in 1871-76 (lot 23). While Shadal modeled his edition based upon Mendelshon’s Pentateuch, unlike Mendelsshon’s version that translates the Torah in German using Hebrew characters, Shadal’s contains an Italian translation, in Latin characters. In both Mendelsshon and Shadal’s works the accompanying commentary is in Hebrew. Ironically, Shadal, in the introduction takes a much more aggressive stance regarding the ability to reinterpret biblical texts contrary to established conventions while Mendelsshon’s introduction defends traditional positions, most notably the positon that the Zohar dates to the 2nd century and was authored by R. Shimon bar Yochai. Mendelsshon’s version was banned which never occurred with Shadal’s version. Worth mentioning is that Shadal's work was just reprinted with much new material from manuscripts [for a sample email Eliezerbrodt@gmail.com]
Ha-Torah ve-Hochmah by R. Zechariah Isaiah Jolles (lot 28) [See here] is interesting for a number of reasons – it includes a portrait of the author – and some are discussed in the lot’s descriptions, but others include his work Megilah Nikrat. In an attempt to answer the “question” why the generic word “megilah” refers to Esther even though there are other megilot, he posits that the entire story of Esther can be told using the acrostic of Mem, gimil, lamed, heh, and then proceeds to do so. Especially noteworthy is his mentioning of a custom he attributes to the Gra, a repetition of a “suspect” word in Tanach, le-hasmeid (vev) le-harog in Megilat Esther. There are numerous words that we are unsure of their pronunciation yet, we never repeat them. Indeed, the custom he records, and its expanded form of repeating zekher/zekher, is a very late custom as this book wasn’t published in 1913, and thus evidences the modernish basis of the custom.
Lot 43-44 are two books regarding the Cleves Get controversy, both of which belonged to R. Ruderman the late Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel. A number of books in this auction come from his collection, which evidence a very eclectic scope. This is somewhat ironic in light of the alleged tale that at Ner Israel, even the Abrarbanel’s commentary was kept under lock and key. (Many also bear the stamp of R. Ruderman’s son-in-law, R. Yaakov Weinberg.)
Returning to the Get of Cleves controversy. The bet din of Cleves accepted a get from a husband whose sanity was questioned. A get requires awareness and insanity void the get. Another bet din, Frankfort, however, questioned the validity of that annulment. Because questioning the ruling of another bet din runs afoul of the accepted ruling of Rabbenu Tam, this immediately escalated into a major battle with each side publishing books justifying their respective positions. The Cleves’ Rabbi, Israel Lipchitz, published Or Yisrael, defending his position and his work was subject to censorship – mainly to excise the rulings of others who agreed with him. In this particular copy other passages critical of some rabbis have been crossed out. And, while the Cleves controversy occurred in the late 18th century, this issue is far from settled. Regularly, (indeed, as recently as the past six months) courts, and sometimes just individuals, attack the divorce ruling of their sister courts. Although, depending upon the circumstances, the original courts, rather than defending themselves as the Frankfort court did, do not defend or even recant their original rulings.
Another work that touches on censorship, although there is nothing controversial in the book, is R. Hutner’s Torat Ha-Nazir (lot 49). This is first edition of the book, Kovno, 1932, in paperback, and includes the approbation of R. Kook, among others. And, like other books containing his approbation, in reprints of Torat ha-Nazir the approbation does not appear. Unlike other examples, however, in this instance it was not only R. Kook’s approbation depending upon which reprint of Torat ha-Nazir, either all the approbations are missing or all the ones on the page that R. Kook’s appears. For other examples of censorship of R. Kook, see here.
The first edition of the Vilna Goan’s commentary on Shulchan Orach Yoreh De’ah (lot 92) is among the many sifrei ha-Gra offered. The first edition of the Shulchan Orach is unique not only being the first time his commentary was published but also because of the format. Unlike, the Ba’al haTanya, who successfully began the publishing of his commentary during his lifetime, the Gra’s commentary was left to his sons to publish. By this time, however, the format of the Shulchan Orach had been standardized with the main body in the middle of the page and, depending upon the volume, two commentaries on surrounding it with a handful of others filling the page. Adding the Gra’s commentary posed a problem, where on the page should it be? If the regular layout was retained, the Gra’s commentary would be relegated to the bottom of the page, something that was unconscionable to some. Thus, in this volume, Yoreh Deah, (the Gra’s commentary to Shulchan Orach wasn’t published at once, the final volumes on Hoshen Mishpat were not published until 1866), removes the standard commentaries of the Shach and Taz, and only the Gra’s comments and that of his ancestor, the Be’ar ha-Goleh appear. Apparently the removal of the standard commentaries led to a minor insurrection and in the middle of the volume on Even ha-Ezer they were restored. Consequently, up to siman 25, the format of just the Gra appears and beyond that the regular commentaries were restored. Apparently R. Hayim Volhzhin had to approve of moving the Gra’s comments to “below the fold,” for this to occur.
In the history of the Hebrew book, one of the greatest authors (in terms of his literary output alone) and bibliographers is R. Hayim Yosef David Azulai, Hida. Lot 136, is his commentary on Horayos and some responsum, Sha’ar Yosef. But this copy was a presentation copy and contains a dedication from Hida, in his hand, to “the great scholar and friend R. Shmayah Seryannu.”
One of the unique representations of Aaron the High Priest appears on the frontispiece of Ma’aseh Rokeach, Venice, 1742 (lot 147). Aaron is carrying a slaughter knife. Beyond the frontispiece, the work itself is important as it contains Rambam’s comments from manuscript that were recorded by his son, Abraham.
Another unique item is Ahavat Dovid (lot 18) from R. Eleazar Fleckeles (see here) which is series of derashot he gave against Shabbatai Tzvi and Jacob Frank. In general, throughout R. Fleckeles writings, there are interesting statements about Kabbalah and the Zohar especially, in this work he prints a letter from R. Naftali Hertz Wessley which says:
כי שמעתי מפי הגאון המקובל הגדול שהי' ידוע הזוהר וכל ספרי האר"י ז"ל בעל פה הוא הרב ר' יהונתן אייבשיטץ זצ"ל שהיה אומר לשומעי דבריו בעיני הקבלה כשראה שהם מפקפקים בהם ואמר אם לא תאמינו אין בכך כלום כי אין אלו מעיקרי אמונתנו, וכן היה אומר לאלו המביאים הקדמות מדברי קבלה לישב איזה גמרא או מדרש לא חפצתי בזאת ומה חדוש על פי קבלה תוכל ליישב מה שתרצה אמור לי הפשט הברור על ידי נגלה ואז אודך וכל זה אמת...
This letter is censored out of some of the editions of this work See Marc Shapiro, Changing the Immutable, p. 220.
Also worth mentioning is his description of R. Yeshaya Pick in this work:
Some other first editions worth mentioning are, Minchas Chinuch published anonymously in 1869 (lot 35), and Nefesh HaChaim, Vilna 1824 (lot 86).
There are many other noteworthy lots, including one incunabula (lot 17), and many letters and other ephemera related to important pre-Holocaust Yeshivot, including the Mir and Telshe and letters from R. Hayyim Heller, R. Kook, Seridei Eish, R. Mordechai Banet. Hopefully this is just the first of many auctions for Legacy.