Sunday, June 11, 2017

Interesting Legacy Judaica Auction lots

Legacy Judaica is holding an auction on June 13, 2017, and we wanted to highlight a few items of interest (for our previous post regarding the auction house and previous auctions see here.  There are, of course, some old and rare books from the 16th and early 17th centuries (lots 1-7), and over forty manuscripts and a number of letters from rabbinical luminaries, R. Yosef Dov Solovetchik (Beis ha’Levi) (lot 198), R. Yitzhak Ze’ev Solovetchik (Brisker Rav) (lot 199), R. Hayim Ozer (lot 172), R. Kook (lot 183), R. Henkin, R. Yechiel Michel Epstein (Arukh ha-Shulkhan) (lot 168), and the Netziv (lots 161-62), (there is also an amulet (lot 163) from his son, R. Chaim Berlin, that apparently was written at the Netziv’s direction).

Two particularly important manuscripts relate to the late 18th century controversy regarding the nascent Chassidic movement.  One, lot 84, is a copy of the 1796 letter condemning Chassidim that is signed by the Gaon, among others (this is a transcript of the letter and does not contain the Gaon’s actual signature).  The second, lot 85, is contains two virulent letters against Chassidim, both of which have been shown to be forgeries.  The first is written in the name of R. Akiva Eiger, and the second is attributed to R. Yoel of Amtzislav.  Wilensky analyzed both and concluded that they are forged.  The document also includes the (real) transcript of the proclamations of the Bet Din of Shklov against the Chassidim. Unrelated to the forgery, the various condemnations against the early Chassidim were the subject of a recent controversy when many of them were reprinted in a three volume history of the Vilna Gaon, Ha’Gaon.  The book was burnt (with hametz) and subject to bans, one by the Bedatz Bet Din (see our earlier posts herehere, and  here).

Other items include, R. Aaron Shmuel Koidonover, Birkat ha’Zev’ah, Amsterdam, 1669 (lot 12).  That book contains a number of bibliographical items of note. The title page indicates that the book was printed by two different publishers, the first abandoned because of poor workmanship. But the identity of the sloppy printer is not provided.  This led to complaints by one of the (then) two Amsterdam publishers, Uri Phoebus.  He alleged that many were wrongly assuming him to be the offending publisher.  To address Phoebus, in some number of copies a page was added that identified the culprit as Joseph Athias, the other Amsterdam publisher.  There was little love lost between Athias and Phoebus, and ten years later they famously clashed over competing luxury editions of Yiddish translations of the Bible.

The title page of the book itself is elaborately illustrated, and depicts at the top, King David surrounded by two cherubs, and on the sides of the page, four biblical scenes with corresponding verses relating to various events in David’s life.  A similar title page, although significantly more controversial appears in the Amsterdam 1706, book, Hemdat Tzvi.  In that instance, however, the illustrations were used to broadcast the author, Tzvi Hirsch Chotsh’s affinity for Shabbatai Tzvi (see Bezalel Naor, Post-Sabbatian Sabbatianism, 80-82).

A book related to Shabbatai Tzvi appears in lot 16, R. Shmuel Aboab’s D’var Sh’mu’el, Venice 1702.  This copy contains the section, Zikharon L’veni Yisra’el, that provides two documents regarding the Shabbatai Tzvi episode.  Many copies of this edition lack this section. 

The book, Zeh Sefer Shevach v’Zimra, (lot 124) relates to the Napoleonic wars. This book, printed in 1796, relates that when Fasano, Italy (it is located in the heel of the boot), was under siege by Napoleon, the Jews were charged as spies on his behalf.  The Jews holed up in the synagogue and a mob formed outside.  When all seemed lost, a French cannon went off and the mob was scared off, saving the Jews.  This book contains the story and a poem written in commemoration of the event that was to be said yearly.  Napoleon was a mixed bag for the Jews.  Many welcomed him and saw him as an opportunity to improve the lives of the Jews (some even considered him a messianic figure).  R. Shneur-Zalmen of Lyadi, the founder of the Habad movement, was famously against Napoleon, and explained that “if Bonaparte wins, the wealth of the Jews will be increased and their status raised, but they will be distanced in their hearts from their father in heaven.”  On the other hand – and R. Shneur-Zalman was writing in the Russian Empire – “if Tsar Alexander wins, poverty will increase among the Jews, their status will be lower, but they will be bound and tied in their hearts to their father in heaven.”  

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