Torah-Scroll [Kabbalistic Circle of Shem Tov ben Abraham ibn Gaon, Northern Spain: late 13th century]
LOT SOLD. 398,500 USD
Torah-Scroll [Kabbalistic Circle of Shem Tov ben Abraham ibn Gaon, Northern Spain: late 13th century]
LOT SOLD. 398,500 USD

Details & Cataloguing

Important Judaica

New York

Torah-Scroll [Kabbalistic Circle of Shem Tov ben Abraham ibn Gaon, Northern Spain: late 13th century]

Scroll (22 7/8 in. x 120 ft, 3 in.; 580 mm x 36.65 m). Written with black ink on gevil, (i.e. parchment made from the whole hide rather than split, processed for writing on the hair-side only, and prepared with a mixture of salt, flour and mey afatzim [wasp residue/gall-nut water] resulting in the typical brown color of a Spanish Torah Scroll;) comprising 48 gevil sheets, each of three to five columns; total of 221 columns; written in 47 lines. Horizontally and vertically ruled in hardpoint in thirteenth-century monumental Sephardic square script. Occasional erasures or patches with corrected text clearly written over, occasional defects in sewing between membranes, sometimes repaired by vellum patches on verso, occasional tears. 

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Moses Gaster. The Tittled Bible: A Model Codex of the Pentateuch. London, 1929; Menashe Manfred Lehmann, "'Al Pe-in Lefufin," Beit Mikra 30, no. 4 (1985): 449-55; Jordan Penkower, "Maimonides and the Aleppo Codex". Textus 9 (1981):39-128; Jordan Penkower, New Evidence for the Pentateuch Text in the Aleppo Codex. Ramat Gan, 1992 (Hebrew) especially pp.36-50; Yitzhak Razhabi, "Irregular Letters in the Torah," in Torah Shelemah, ed. Menahem M. Kasher, v. 29, 1-234, Jerusalem, 1978; I. M. Ta-Shma, "'Al Tagin ve-Ziyyunin Shel Sefer Torah," in From the Collection of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, ed. Avraham David, no. 17, Jerusalem, 1996; Shlomo Zucker, 'Ha-Otiyyot ha-Meshunnot, Kegon Lefufot ve-ha-Aqumot', in Al Sefarim ve-Anashim 12, May 1977. Sepher Taghin; Liber Coronularum,... nunc primum in lucem edidit..., J.J.L. Bargés, Paris: 1866, (see especially the additional Hebrew preface by Senior Sachs,) published with the addition of the sixth gate of Baddey ha-Aron by Shem-Tov ben Abraham ibn Gaon and a Midrash on the Crowns of the Letters attributed to Rabbi Akiva.

Manuscripts of Sefer Tagey: Ms Sassoon 82 (former), written by Shem Tov ben Abraham ibn Gaon; this manuscript was in the Florsheim Trust collection in 1990; see The Image of the Word: Jewish Tradition in Manuscripts and Printed Books. Catalogue of an Exhibition held at the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, 14 September-25 November 1990); Mahzor Vitry by Simhah ben Samuel of Vitry (11-12th cent.), Ms. Parma, Biblioteca Palatina cod. 2574 (de Rossi, Parma 1803, no. 159); Mahzor Vitry, 13th cent, Ms. London, British Library, Add 27200 – 27201(Margoliouth, 655); Ms. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, héb. 837 (anciens fonds 285), 15th cent(basis for the editio princeps); according to Prof. Jordan Penkower, fragments of the work also survived in the Cairo Genizah.

Catalogue Note

The oldest complete Torah Scroll from Spain and the only Spanish scroll to include the kabbalistic traditions of "anomalous, curved and spiral letters," throughout the entirety of the Pentateuchal text.

In addition to the present lot, only four (perhaps five, see survey below) Torah Scrolls written in Spain before the fifteenth century are recorded, with this scroll being the oldest complete Sefer Torah from Spain. A single older scroll (see # 1 below) is known but it lacks four of its original membranes. In addition and more importantly, the present lot is the only known exemplar which incorporates the ancient kabbalistic schema of embellishment as described in Sefer Tagey (see #2 and 3 below.)

Survey of the Oldest Recorded Torah Scrolls from Spain

1.        A scroll from the late twelfth or early thirteenth century (sold in our London rooms, 4 December 2007, lot 38). Lacking four of seventy-eight original membranes.

2.        The present scroll, dated to the late thirteenth century. the oldest complete Torah Scroll from Spain and the only Spanish scroll to include the kabbalistic traditions of"anomalous, curved and spiral letters," throughout the entirety of the Pentateuchal text.'

3.        A scroll from the second half of the fourteenth century, sold at Christie's New York, 10 December 1999, lot 171; (includes, in fewer than one third (21 of 67) of its sheets some of the special letters mentioned above.

4.        A fourteenth century scroll listed by G. Margoliouth, Catalogue of the Hebrew... Manuscripts in the British Museum, 1899, I: no. 1.

5.        Another fourteenth century scroll listed by Margoliouth, Catalogue of the Hebrew... Manuscripts in the British Museum, 1899, I: no. 2.

6.        A scroll from either the fourteenth or fifteenth century (the Rhodes scroll, now in the holdings of JNUL, Heb 40 7404).

(Dr. Moshe Zucker informs us that the scroll in the holdings of the JNUL, Heb 40 5935, which was previously believed to have been written by Rabbi Nissim Gerondi, is now believed to be no earlier than 1500 and is accordingly omitted from the survey.)


Spanish Origins of the Scroll

The present scroll is written in the characteristic thirteenth-century monumental Sephardic square script. In addition to the nature of the script, there are numerous textual indicators that enable researchers to identify the locale in which a manuscript was produced by examining certain scribal traditions which varied according to location. The biblical passages that most readily lend themselves to this type of analysis are the two poetic songs included in the Pentateuch, "The Song at the Sea" (Shirat-haYam) Exodus 15 and "The Song of Moses" (ha-Azinu) Deuteronomy 32. By analyzing the scribal traditions of the two songs as preserved in the present scroll, we can further identify the scribal traditions that place this Torah Scroll squarely in medieval Spain.

Perhaps the best use of this comparative technique is the groundbreaking work of Professor Jordan Penkower of Bar-Ilan University, on the Aleppo Codex (Jordan Penkower, New Evidence for the Pentateuch Text in the Aleppo Codex. Bar-Ilan University Press: Ramat Gan, 1992 (Hebrew).  The Aleppo Codex, an Oriental manuscript of the Hebrew Bible written in Tiberias in 930 CE, and which was housed in the Rabbanite Synagogue in Fostat, Egypt between ca.1100- 1375 CE, was declared by no less an authority than Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) to be the most accurate of all early Tiberian manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. It served as the basis for his "Laws of Sefer Torah" (Mishneh Torah, Sefer Ahavah) as well as the model for the Torah Scroll which he wrote for himself.

Though the "Song of Moses" is still present in the surviving section of the Codex, the majority of the Pentateuch section, including "The Song at the Sea," was destroyed in the twentieth century and no photographic record exists. By an astute examination of a 1490 printed Bible, which had been annotated to reflect the text of the Codex, and by comparison to the only known endorsed copy of Maimonides' aforementioned legal code, Professor Penkower was able to reconstruct the Aleppo Codex' arrangement of the "Song at the Sea."

The layout of the "Song of the Sea" in the present scroll follows the original, authentic version of Maimonides' Code, where the final two lines of the song are divided into only two sections.  As Penkower has proven, this is the exact arrangement of the Aleppo Codex, and of Maimonides' own scroll. (Penkower only found two Spanish manuscripts that accurately reflected the entire layout of the Song at the Sea (MS. JNUL Heb. 4o 791, copied in Burgos, Spain, 1260, and MS Trinity 13 written much later, in the late fifteenth century). Almost all other Spanish manuscripts followed the teaching of Maimonides' contemporary, Rabbi Meir ben Todros ha-Levi Abulafia who posits a different division for the final two lines of the Song.

Abulafia also differed from Maimonides on the manner of writing the other epic biblical poem, "The Song of Moses." According to Abulafia and in agreement with the ancient Spanish traditions, Abulafia held the opinion that the poem should be written in 70 lines, as in our scroll, while Maimonides, again following the Aleppo Codex, felt that it should be written in 67 lines.

It is not surprising that Maimonides, though born in Spain, relied on the Oriental traditions embodied in the Aleppo Codex, which was readily available to him in Fostat, Egypt, where he lived most of his adult life. By contrast, the opinions of Abulafia, who lived in Spain for his entire lifetime (ca. 1170-1244), reflect the early Spanish traditions of the divisions of these songs. In addition to the difference in the number of lines, the present scroll, despite some emendations (in a later hand) to lines 22-23 of the "Song of Moses," makes clear that Abulafia's accurate rendering of the early Spanish tradition is being followed. These traditions appear in Abulafia's own Massoret Syag la-Torah, (first printed edition, Florence 1750, fols. 85v-86v) as well as in the Pentateuch codex copied by Israel ben Isaac in Toledo 1241 (see the introductory remarks by Prof. Nahum M. Sarna: The Pentateuch: Early Spanish Manuscript (Codex Hillely from the Collection of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York; Jerusalem: Makor, 1974).

The fact that the present scroll presents the Maimonidean division of the Song at the Sea and the Abulafian version of the Song of Moses is a clear indication that it was written in Spain. In Sephardic Torah-scrolls written after the expulsion in the lands of the Sephardic diaspora, both songs are always according to Meir ha-Levi Abul'afia, while only the Yemenites follow Maimonides' order in both songs. As pointed out by Shlomo Zucker, this distinctive combination, whereby the present scroll presents the Song of the Sea according to Maimonides and the Song of Moses according to Abulafia could only be from medieval Spain.


The Tradition of Tagin and Anomalous Letters

Even more significant than its great age, the unique nature of the present scroll must be seen in the light of its most important feature, and certainly the most striking in visual terms. The application of the ancient scribal tradition of special tagin (crowns or tittles) and the "anomalous, curved and spiral letters," to the complete text of the Pentateuch simply does not exist in any other recorded Torah scroll from Spain.

According to this tradition there are over two thousand instances in the Pentateuch in which the scribe should adorn particular letters with tagin (i.e. 'crowns' or 'tittles' of one to seven strokes as prescribed by the tradition,) or the letter itself should be written ornamentally. The most frequent of these anomalous letters are the spiral forms of the letters peh and tet and the elongated, and often curved, extensions on the letters nun and ayin, though there are examples of anomalous forms for each of the 27 different letters in the Hebrew alphabet (22 letters plus 5 final forms.)

The tradition of "affixing crowns" to letters in the Torah is already attested to in the Talmud (Menahot 29a), in the well-known aggadic account of Moses ascending on high to receive the Torah and finding God affixing what appeared to be decorative ornaments to the Hebrew letters of the text. In response to Moses' questioning, the Creator replied that these ornaments, tagin, would, in the future, serve as the inspiration for a great scholar named Akiva to derive "from each tag, heaps and heaps of new laws." This exchange between the Giver of the Law and its recipient are compelling testimony to the importance of the tagin and anomalous letters as well as to the antiquity of their association with the biblical text.  In theory, if not in practice, each of the thousands of unique instances of tagin and anomalous letters contained exegetical connotations or mystical implications. Complementary and necessary to the Torah itself, they represented the physical manifestation of the Oral Law.

The traditions surrounding the tagin were so important that according to many early authorities, without them the text was essentially incomplete and ritually unfit. According to Judah he-Hasid (12th century), founder of the Jewish pietist movement known as Hasidut Ashkenaz:

"It is forbidden to add to [the authorized list of tagin], nor may one omit even a single tag, since they are precisely as they were given at Mount Sinai ... One must take great care not to diminish or to add even as much a hair's breadth, for several explanations and several mysteries can be derived from them, for each one contains several interpretations. Any Torah scroll that lacks them is not fit to be read from." (See I. Ta-Shma, "'Al Tagin ve-Ziyyunin Shel Sefer Torah")

Similar rulings that Torah Scrolls without the accurate tagin were invalid, emanated from such luminaries as Saadiah Gaon(9-10th century) and Judah ben Barzillai al-Bargeloni (late 11th-early 12th century). The great sage Maimonides wrote:

"One ought to take great care with regards to the letters ... that have unusual shapes, like the wrapped pehs and the twisted letters...[and] with regard to the tagin and their proper number; [for] sometimes a letter requires one tag, and others have seven." ( Mishneh Torah, Sefer Ahavah, Laws of Tefillin, Mezuzot and Torah Scrolls)

Maimonides ruled however, that notwithstanding their importance, the omission of these tagin and special letters does not disqualify the scroll and later halakhic authorities concur with this ruling. Examination of actual Torah scrolls reveals considerable variation in the degree to which different Jewish communities actually implemented the traditions about the "strange letters." Diverse traditions of writing these letters and ornaments developed in a variety of communities as disparate as Yemen and Bohemia, both of which maintained quite faithfully their own traditions of, in particular, the peh lefufah or "spiral peh." (See Lehmann, "'Al Pe-in Lefufin," Beit Mikra 30, no. 4, 1985).

These traditions were maintained in Italy as well though the list of anomalous letters which appears in Shiltei ha-Gibborim by Abraham Portaleone (Mantua 1619, fols. 176c-177c) reflecting a slight divergence from the earlier tradition of Sefer Tagey (see below). After explaining that the unusual letters contain mystical secrets, Portaleone provides salient evidence for the disappearance of the tradition as a result of a ruling by the rabbis of Safed. He quotes the scribe and printer Meir of Padua, who reported that Torah scrolls from Safed did not contain unusual letters as a result of a ruling from the rabbis of that city that scribes were no longer sufficiently knowledgeable in the tradition of tagin and "special" letters and must refrain from including them in their scrolls (cf. D. Kaufmann, "Meir b. Ephraim of Padua, Scroll-Writer and Printer in Mantua," in JQR 11, 1899, pp. 266-290).

The decline in the actual usage of tagin and special letters represented a fundamental inherent contradiction given the tradition that deemed the presence of these letters and decorations as essential components of the Torah. The halakhic innovation that recognized the inability to maintain the tradition and dispensed with the legal requirement to do so brought about an innovative response as well. As early as the twelfth century (and perhaps even earlier) some scribes and communities devised a practice that maintained a tenuous connection to the ancient tradition albeit in a totally new form.

The Talmudic passage in Menahot cited above is followed by a notation that seven letters (shin, ayin, tet, nun, zayin, gimel, tzadi, often referred to by the acronym shatnez getz.) require tagin of three strokes (called zaynin or daggers) on each letter. These thin strokes are clearly understood by medieval halakhists as referring only to mezzuzot, the amuletic scrolls affixed to the doorposts of virtually every Jewish home. However, by the late Middle Ages we have sources that indicate that many scribes were including these zaynin even in Torah Scrolls.  Over the ensuing centuries, this practice became the norm and in the majority of scrolls produced with any form of tagin, it is only this later practice of placing three strokes on the letters shatnez getz that obtains. The original practice of ornamenting specific letters in the Pentateuch according to the time-honored tradition embodied in Sefer Tagey is almost non-existent in the vast majority of Torah Scrolls after that period. In the few surviving examples of scrolls that included the traditional ornamentation of Sefer Tagey, the scribes placed zaynin on the letters shatnez getz, as well. The present scroll is the only known example of a Torah Scroll whose original scribe followed the ancient scribal tradition of ornamenting only specific letters with tagin and did not apply in a wholesale manner the 3-stroke zaynin to the letters shatnez getz.


Sefer Tagey

Widely known throughout the medieval Jewish world, as early as the ninth century in Babylonia, Sefer Tagey is recorded in the writings of Sa'adiah Gaon (commentary to Sefer Yezirah). In Spain, Nahmanides relates that King Hezekiah showed a copy of Sefer Tagey to the emissaries of the king of Babylonia (introduction to Nahmanides' commentary on Shir ha-Shirim). In Ashkenaz, a version of the text is included in the Mahzor Vitry. According to Prof. Jordan Penkower, who is working on a critical edition of Sefer Tagey, the text and tradition have their origin in a very early time in the Orient, notwithstanding the lack of any traces in the oriental biblical codices.

Representing a tradition that hearkens back to the earliest narrative account of the written transmission of the Hebrew Bible, Sefer Tagey connects its own origins to the scriptural command given by Moses to the Children of Israel and fulfilled by Joshua to inscribe the entire text of the Five Books of Moses in stone. According to tradition, the text that was on the twelve stones set up by Joshua at Gilgal, was an exact replica of the Torah Scroll written by Moses in his own hand, which traveled in the Ark of the Covenant. This was the authoritative version of the Pentateuch, in its entirety, including the anomalous letters and decorative tagin.




As part of an attempt to bring the scroll into conformity with a later tradition, some time after the original writing of our scroll in the late thirteenth century, a later hand using different ink added the three-stroke tagin to the shatnez getz and a single stroke upon the letters (bet, dalet, kof, het, yod, he, known by the acronym bedek hayah). The letter lamed, which is usually not crowned with a tag, has also been modified. Apparently the same scribe who made the modifications to the anomalous letters and added the zaynin to the letters shatnez getz also modified the appearance of almost all of the more than 21,000 instances of the letter lamed. Most instances of the letter lamed in the present scroll have had an additional horizontal stroke added to cover the top of the original, straight ascender and augment it with the "flag" of later scribal traditions. (See illustration)


"Anomalous, Spiral and Curved letters"

The same later hand attempted to eradicate or change some of the special letters which were originally written in accordance with the Sefer Tagey. These alterations were accomplished both by erasure and addition. Fortunately, the original scribe's intentions and writing remain distinct from the later emendations despite the efforts of the later hand.  An example of such an erasure may be seen in Genesis 1:26: let us make man in our image, after our likeness. According to Sefer Tagey, the Hebrew words be-tzalmenu ki-demutenu, should have the both instances of the letter nun depicted with a backward- facing leg, resembling a tail. The same is true of the two instances of the letter nun in the words beini u-veineihem in Genesis 9:19 :([this is the token of the covenant, which I make] between me and you.) In our scroll, examination of both these verses reveals that the letters were originally written with curved tails and shows clear evidence of the later attempt made to erase them. The original strokes, however, are still noticeable (see illustration). Similarly, according to Sefer Tagey, in the verse: "by the mouth[s] of two witnesses... but at the mouth of one witness" (Deuteronomy 17:6), both instances of the word peh (mouth) should be written with a spiral letter peh. Indeed, in our Torah-scroll both pehs were originally made in spiral form and later made over into the non-spiral form. Once again, the original strokes are still visible. (See illustration)


Controversial Readings

In a very few places in the Pentateuch there is a discrepancy between different traditions regarding the spelling of certain words. Among these controversial readings: the present scroll reads va-yehi kol yemei Noah (Genesis 9:29) instead of va-yiheyu; and pazua daka' (Deuteronomy 23:2) with an aleph rather than a he. There are however, clear signs that in both locations, the text has been emended, perhaps more than once. The original reading remains indeterminate. All instances of Kedarla'omer (Genesis 14:1 ff.) are rendered as a single word, while each of the three instances of Poti fer'a (Genesis 41:45, 50 and 46:20) are in two words. In several places, the later hand has made emendations to attempt to modify the original tradition of the scroll regarding plene and/or defective spellings by erasing certain letters and rewriting others. (see illustration)


Shem Tov ibn Gaon

In the instances cited above as well as in numerous other examples in the text, the present Torah-scroll accords closely to the Sefer Tagey as detailed in the copy of that work written by the thirteenth century Spanish Kabbalist Shem Tov ben Abraham ibn Gaon in Soria in 1312. Ibn Gaon added the text of Sefer Tagey immediately following the end of the Pentateuch in his important bible codex.  The main function of biblical codices in general and of ibn Gaon's in particular, was to serve as models for the writing of Torah Scrolls, just as Maimonides had used the Aleppo Codex as the model for his Torah. In addition to writing the text of Sefer Tagey at the end of his manuscript, ibn Gaon actually incorporated the tagin and special letters into the biblical codex itself.

The tradition of Sefer Tagey was implemented in several places: Torah Scrolls from Northern France and Ashkenaz; manuscript codices in Persian Hebrew script emanating from Central Asia and to a limited extent, in Torah-scrolls and codices from Yemen. Still, except for the present scroll, in the very few surviving Torah Scrolls from Spain, this tradition was clearly not put into practice (save for the single abandoned attempt in #3 of the survey above). There is also no trace of this tradition in the surviving Spanish biblical codices, the main function of which was to serve as models for the writing of Torah Scrolls, just as Maimonides used the famous Oriental Aleppo Codex – except in one instance, the ibn Gaon Bible. In fact, Dr. Shlomo Zucker of the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem (ret.) reports that to the best of his knowledge, except for the present Torah-scroll, the only serious attempt of a Spanish scribe to carry out Sefer Tagey's tradition of tagin and anomalous letters was that of Shem-Tov ben Abraham ibn Gaon in the Pentateuch of his biblical codex, MS Sassoon 82 (Soria 1312.)

The correspondence between the present scroll and ibn Gaon's codex is especially conspicuous in those cases where the present scroll deviates from the Sefer Tagey. In these cases, the same deviation from the standard Sefer Tagey tradition often occurs in ibn Gaon's Bible as well. By way of example, the name Poti Fera', appears in Genesis three times, twice in chapter 41 (verses 45 and 50) and once in chapter 46:20. According to Sefer Tagey the second occurrence of this name should have two occurrence of spiral peh, but in the present scroll the two spiral peh appear in the first, not the second, Poti Phera. Remarkably, Shem-Tov ibn Gaon's Bible displays the same deviation. This, in spite of the fact that ibn Gaon's copy of the Sefer Tagey plainly indicates Poti Fera' bathra, "the second Poti Fera." (see illustration)

A similar phenomenon is seen in Numbers 10:29-32: in which four separate variations of the word tov (good) appear in close proximity and The illustration in ibn Gaon's Sefer Tagey, calls for these four letters to have four zaynin and no spiral.  In our Torah-scroll, however, in addition to the four ornamental strokes or tittles, the right downward arm of the tet is spiral. Notwithstanding the contrary instructions in the appended Sefer Tagey, upon examination of the text of the codex itself, the same unique shape which occurs in our Torah Scroll, is found in the text of ibn Gaon's Bible.

While it cannot be proven that the present scroll was written by ibn Gaon himself, and scholars have expressed varying opinions about whether the handwriting of Ms Sassoon 82 is indeed identical with the hand of the scribe of the present scroll, it is nevertheless clear that paleographically, the two are very closely related. Given Shem Tov's own testimony concerning his personal copying of a Scroll of Law (albeit smaller than the present lot; see his introduction to Baddei ha-Aron) and his preoccupation with the mystical manifestations of the tagin, it is tempting to consider that the present scroll may in fact be ibn Gaon's own autograph copy.

The Kabbalistic character of the present scroll

In his introduction to Baddei ha-Aron u-Migdal Hannanel, another of his writings on the kabbalistic importance of the special letters and the tagin, Shem Tov ibn Gaon himself writes emphatically about the mystical importance of the endeavor upon which he was embarked:

"And it came to pass in those days, after a length of time that I had been searching into the mysteries of the twenty-four biblical books, and especially of the Sefer Torah which I copied with my own hand, ...and on the crowns upon the letters and the curved and spiral letters. It is hard to imagine how much I labored until the Lord blessed me and I received the Sefer Tagey which had been handed down from generation to generation, after being copied from the text of the Torah that was written on the twelve stones in Gilgal..."

Despite repeated attempts to discover a text of Sefer Tagey, and despite the importance attached to the ancient tradition, ibn Gaon's efforts were met with a marked indifference by many of his contemporaries.

"When I asked [about the spiral and curved letters, I was told] that these belong to esotericism, and were unknown. [... and when I met important scribes, I learned that they did not pay attention to this matter, although it was written about in works that were in their possession. When I asked them about it, they said that nobody had ever asked them about this matter and nobody ever demanded it since the times of the ancient Rabbis, but they agreed with me that this system is beyond compare [...]."

Finally, relates ibn Gaon, he met Rabbi Meir ben Abraham ben Asquira, who:

"...reached his hand into his bosom and took out from it that very book named Sefer Tagey ...exactly as it had been copied from the twelve stones that Joshua erected in Gilgal..."

Shem Tov ibn Gaon was not the only important rabbinical figure to treat the mystical character of the special letters and tagin. Other important treatises on the special letters include the seminal work on the laws of writing a Sefer Torah entitled Kiryat Sefer, by Menahem ha-Meiri (d. 1316) of Provence who writes extensively about the "spiral, curved and reversed letters whose tradition goes back to Ezra the Scribe and to our Master Moses." Perhaps the most prominent endorsement of the mystical tradition embodied in Sefer Tagey was written by the great Spanish Torah scholar Nahmanides (1194-1270), who authored halakhic and exegetical works in addition to his kabbalistic writings. He held Sefer Tagey in profound reverence, associating the tagin with the mysterious "gates of understanding" that had been bestowed upon Moses when God wrote out the Torah for him at Sinai. The significance of the special letters was a mysterious secret, claimed Nahmanides, whose own "... secret allusions can be known only through the oral tradition that originated with Moses at Sinai."

The rapid growth of mysticism in medieval Spain, and in particularly in the Northern regions closest to the wellspring of Kabbalistic innovation in Provence, is well attested to in the scholarly literature (see eg Scholem, Origins of the Kabbalah). It was here that Shem Tov ben Abraham ibn Gaon flourished before he journied to Safed in the early fourteenth century. The circle of kabbalists active in the area of ibn Gaon's native Soria during the late thirteenth century included the leading luminaries of mysticism in Northern Spain and Provence. In addition to Shem-Tov ibn Gaon, this circle included his kinsmen Isaac ben Jacob ha-Cohen and Isaac's older brother, Jacob ben Jacob, and their illustrious pupil Moses ben Solomon of Burgos.


Radiocarbon Dating

Professor Hong Wang, Director of the Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory, Illinois State Geological Survey, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has examined and tested the scroll and has determined that the scroll has an age of  690 carbon-years (±) 20 years, making the most likely date for the creation of the present scroll somewhere between the years 1278- 1295 CE.  The complete radiocarbon dating report is available upon request.



The dating of the present scroll, both paleographically and by means of objective scientific examination, to the end of the thirteenth century, as well as the marked similarities between the present scroll and Ms Sassoon 82 in both the comparison of their monumental square Sephardic scripts and the extensive correlation between the tagin and anomalous, curved and spiral letters in both works, leads to an almost ineluctable conclusion regarding its origin. After further taking into consideration the absolutely unique nature of the present scroll, and the absence of any other exempla of this type throughout the known universe of pre-expulsion Spanish Bible codices or Torah Scrolls, save for the aforementioned ibn Gaon Bible, it is evident that this Torah Scroll was produced in the last quarter of the thirteenth century in the kabbalistic milieu that was burgeoning in Northern Spain among the circles of mystics that included Shem Tov ben Abraham ibn Gaon and his pupils.


Sotheby's gratefully acknowledges the information used here from a report by Dr. Shlomo Zucker. The complete report is available upon request.


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