Lot 147
  • 147

A Six-Volume Set of the Sephardic Liturgy with English Translation, Translated by Alexander Alexander, London: 1771-1776

7,000 - 9,000 USD
16,250 USD
bidding is closed


  • paper, ink, leather
6 volumes:

Vol. 1 (Rosh Hashanah): 133 folios (7 7/8 x 4 7/8 in.; 198 x 125 mm).

Vol. 2 (Yom Kippur): 276 folios (8 1/8 x 4 7/8 in.; 205 x 125 mm).

Vol. 3 (Daily Prayers): 208 folios (8 1/8 x 4 7/8 in.; 205 x 125 mm).

Vol. 4 (Sukkot): 240 folios (8 1/8 x 5 in.; 205 x 127 mm).

Vol. 5 (Passover and Shavuot): 227 folios (8 1/8 x 4 3/4 in.; 205 x 120 mm).

Vol. 6 (Fast Days): 212 folios (8 1/8 x 4 7/8 in.; 205 x 125 mm).

See the Condition Report for further details.

Catalogue Note

The rare first printed translation into English of the Sephardic liturgy for the entire year, with distinguished Jewish American provenance.

Alexander Alexander (d. ca. 1807), an Ashkenazic Jew living in London, began printing Hebrew books in 1770. Over the course of his pioneering career, he would produce many liturgical works with accompanying English translations, including siddurim, mahzorim, and Haggadot according to the Sephardic and Ashkenazic rites, as well as a Hebrew-English edition of the Pentateuch.

The present lot is a rare, six-volume set of the first edition of Alexander’s Sephardic prayer book for the entire liturgical year, which was also the first-ever translation of that text into English to appear in print. The series seems to have begun modestly, as an edition of the High Holidays mahzorim alone (one volume for Rosh Hashanah and the other for Yom Kippur), issued in 1771 at the press of W. and J. Richardson. Two years later, these were followed by a translation of the daily prayers published at Alexander’s own press under a new title, without reference to the previous books and apparently as an independent project. But then, in 1775-1776 – perhaps on account of the success with which the other volumes had met – Alexander completed the set with three more volumes, marked as parts four through six, containing translations of the prayers for Sukkot (vol. 4), Passover and Shavuot (vol. 5), and the various Jewish fast days (vol. 6). In his introductions to volumes 1, 4, 5, and 6, Alexander justified this trailblazing undertaking by explaining that translations were needed in order for the petitioners of his day to understand their supplications and devotions properly.

Aside from the rite they follow, these prayer books display a number of other uniquely Sephardic features. For instance, the prayer for the British royal family generally includes their names and titles in Spanish, rather than Hebrew; the rubrics for the Haggadah are printed in Judezmo (vol. 5); and the haftarah (prophetic reading) for the fast of Tish‘ah be-Av is not only translated into English but also paraphrased in Spanish, in large part based on Targum Jonathan to that section of Jeremiah and in accordance with an old Sephardic tradition (vol. 6).

Beyond their scarcity and their important place in the history of Jewish liturgical translation, these books are also distinguished by their provenance. It seems that at least four of the volumes were owned by Ezekiel Solomons (ca. 1735-ca. 1804-1805), a German-born immigrant to North America, in 1786 (see vol. 5, f. [i]). Solomons, one of the most prominent fur traders in the Great Lakes and Ontario regions, originally arrived in Fort Michilimackinac in 1761, making him the first Jewish settler of what would eventually become the State of Michigan. While he spent most of his time each year in the Mackinac region, he was also an active member of the Sephardic Shearith Israel synagogue in Montreal, the oldest Jewish congregation in Canada. From Solomons, the volumes appear to have passed to J. D. B. Witherell on July 22, 1819 (vols. 4-5, flyleaves of upper boards), and shortly thereafter, in 1821, to Rev. John Monteith (1788-1868) (vol. 4, flyleaf of upper board). The latter, a Presbyterian minister, educator, abolitionist, and founding father of the University of Michigan, was offered a professorship in May of that year teaching Latin and Greek at Hamilton College, to whose library he later bequeathed these volumes (vol. 2, f. 1r). Also interesting is the provenance of the final part, which was owned by Joseph Mendes da Costa (1863-1939), considered the father of modern Dutch sculpture.


Vol. 2:

J. D. B. Witherell (ff. 2r-v, 3r, 275v)

John Monteith (f. 1r)

Hamilton College Library (f. 1r, pastedown of lower board)

Vol. 3:

J. D. B. Witherell (ff. [i-ii])

John Monteith (f. [i])

Hamilton College Library (pastedown of lower board)

Vol. 4:

J. D. B. Witherell, Detroit, July 22, 1819 (flyleaf of upper board, f. [ii])

John Monteith, 1821 (flyleaf of upper board)

Solomon (f. [190v])

Hamilton College Library (pastedown of lower board)

Vol. 5:

J. D. B. Witherell, Detroit, July 22, 1819 (flyleaf of upper board, f. 1r)

Ezekiel Solomons, Michilimackinac, April 16, 1786 (f. [i])

Hamilton College Library (pastedown of lower board)

Vol. 6:

J. Mendes da Costa (f. 38v)


Sheldon J. and Judith C. Godfrey, Search Out the Land: The Jews and the Growth of Equality in British Colonial America, 1740-1867 (Montreal; Buffalo: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1995).

Joseph Jacobs and Lucien Wolf, Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica: A Bibliographical Guide to Anglo-Jewish History (London: Office of the “Jewish Chronicle,” 1888), 174 (no. 1522).

Cecil Roth, “Ha-defus ha-ivri be-london: nissayon bibli’ogerafi,” Kiryat sefer 14,1-3 (1937): 97-104, 379-387, at p. 101-102 (nos. 24, 32).

Simeon Singer, “Early Translations and Translators of the Jewish Liturgy in England,” Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England 3 (1896-1898): 36-71, at pp. 53-55.

Avraham Yaari, “Millu’im la-ma’amar ha-kodem,” Kiryat sefer 14,3 (1937): 388 (no. 1).

Vinograd, London 64, 76