Lot 9
  • 9

Tractate Pesahim [Provence: ca. 1447-1452]

300,000 - 500,000 USD
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  • Paper, Ink, Leather
113 leaves (8 1/2 x 5 5/8 in.; 216 x 143 mm), in gatherings of 16 leaves, 20 lines to a page, written in a fifteenth-century Sephardic hand, the text of the Mishnah is penned in square letters and the Gemara in semi-cursive  script, catchwords decorated with strokes (ff. 1v–89v) and by dots (ff. 90v–112v), foliation and pagination in modern pencil, two scissor-like watermarks (Briquet 3754 and 3770); lacking one leaf between ff. 96 and 97, five leaves between ff. 110 and 111, six leaves between ff. 111 and 112, and approximately 22 leaves at the end, f. 113 supplied from another manuscript with faded text, being Maimonides' Book of Zemanim, Hilkhot Hamez u-Mazzah 3:9–4:2, lower inner margins of ff. 9–31 strengthened or repaired, top margins of ff. 46–64 repaired, some dampstaining and text browning, chiefly to first seven lines but more pronounced after f. 90, closed tears on ff. 111–112 with loss of text in 2 lines of text on each page. Cordoba brown morocco antique, paneled in blind, center panel criss-crossed within border stamped with a leaping hart tool, matching folding case.


(1)  Yitzhak Halfon (inscribed name on f. 1r):

(2)  Abraham Faraj (inscribed name on f. 81r):

(3)  Ezra, Saul and Abraham Makhul and Abraham Faraj (names inscribed on f. 95v):

(4)  David Solomon Sassoon (bookplate loosely laid in and his sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, Zurich, 21 November 1978, lot 31):

(5)  Valmadonna Trust Library, MS 9


Benjamin Richler, The Hebrew Manuscripts in the Valmadonna Trust Library (Jerusalem, 1998), no. 31, p. 23, pl. 6;

David Solomon Sassoon, Ohel Dawid, Descriptive Catalogue of the Hebrew and Samaritan Manuscripts, (Oxford, 1932), Vol. I, no. 594, pp. 98–101.

The Pesahim Codex, Babylonian Talmud: the facsimile of the ca. 1447-1452 Provence [?] manuscript. (Verona: Valmadonna Trust Library, 1984). See especially the "Paleographic Description of the Manuscript" by M. Beit-Arié and the "Introduction" (in Hebrew) by Prof. Eliezer Shimshon Rosenthal.


113 leaves (8 1/2 x 5 5/8 in.; 216 x 143 mm), in gatherings of 16 leaves, 20 lines to a page, written in a fifteenth-century Sephardic hand, the text of the Mishnah is penned in square letters and the Gemara in semi-cursive script, catchwords decorated with strokes (ff. 1v–89v) and by dots (ff. 90v–112v), foliation and pagination in modern pencil, two scissor-like watermarks (Briquet 3754 and 3770); lacking one leaf between ff. 96 and 97, five leaves between ff. 110 and 111, six leaves between ff. 111 and 112, and approximately 22 leaves at the end, f. 113 supplied from another manuscript with faded text, being Maimonides' Book of Zemanim, Hilkhot Hamez u-Mazzah 3:9–4:2, lower inner margins of ff. 9–31 strengthened or repaired, top margins of ff. 46–64 repaired, some dampstaining and text browning, chiefly to first seven lines but more pronounced after f. 90, closed tears on ff. 111–112 with loss of text in 2 lines of text on each page. Cordoba brown morocco antique, paneled in blind, center panel criss-crossed within border stamped with a leaping hart tool, matching folding case.
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Catalogue Note


The "People of the Book" is an appellation accorded to the Jewish people as far back as the early middle ages. The "Book" referred to is of course the Hebrew Bible, the timeless text that begins with the creation of the universe and communicates to its reader the variegated elements of history, faith, and law which have served as the elemental building blocks of the Jewish nation.  But, there is also another "Book" that has, over the past two thousand years, been just as important in maintaining the integrity of this ancient people, who despite all odds have survived as a discrete unit in a changing world that has consigned all other nations of antiquity to the ash heap of history. And while the Hebrew Bible is undoubtedly the foundation upon which Judaism is built, it is the Talmud that serves as the framework that has given form to Jewish life and ritual observance across the centuries.

The books of the Hebrew Bible are referred to as the "Written Law" signifying their immutability and fixed position within the Jewish tradition.  The Talmud, however is an integral part of what is often called the "Oral Law," a necessary and complementary corollary to the "Written Law," Traditionally, the "Oral Law" is no less authoritative or important than the "Written Law" and by tradition, its basic tenets were in fact delivered to Moses at Sinai.  What distinguishes the "Oral Law" and in fact allowed it to remain both resonant and relevant for Jews over the centuries was its ability to adapt and grow.  The ancient traditions that formed the nucleus of the "Oral Law" were themselves the basis for innumerable rabbinic dialogues that over the first five centuries of the Common Era evolved into the Talmudic corpora of Mishnah and Gemara

Given that the sheer volume of Talmudic text amounted to over two and a half million words, a method of subdivision became necessary. Sometime after the destruction of the second Temple (70 CE), the approach of organizing the materials by subject became prominent. This opened the way to the development of large scale "essays" on topics of law. Later tradition and many modern scholars ascribe the basic subject classification into six sedarim (orders) and some 63 massekhtot (tractates) to Rabbi Akiva who flourished at the Yavneh academy c. 80–132 c.e.  Originally, in keeping with the designation "Oral Law," these accumulated teachings were indeed transmitted orally, from teacher to student, generation after generation. While we know that some individuals kept written notes, there is very little information available concerning the transition of the Talmud to a written text.  It can only be said that written manuscripts of the Talmud are first mentioned after the Islamic conquest in 634 CE, and that the dissemination of these manuscripts continued throughout the Middle Ages until the rise of printing over eight hundred years later.

Throughout this period, single tractates were painstakingly hand-copied by scribes and scholars. Only a very few communities, and even fewer individuals, were able to compile complete sets of the Talmud. Only a few witnesses to the tradition of the handwritten Talmud text remain. Most of those cherished manuscript copies of the Talmud have perished, often at the hands of ecclesiastical authorities in times of bitter persecution. Occasionally the sturdy parchment leaves of a destroyed Talmud codex would be repurposed as part of a binding for a notarial register or some other non-Jewish book. Today, there are numerous scholars dedicated to the discovery and rescue of these individual leaves in an effort to help fill in the gaps in the ongoing study of the development and transmission of the Talmudic text. Even more important are the few Talmud codices which somehow, against all odds, survived the vicissitudes of Jewish life in varying degrees of completeness, for they provide us with additional knowledge of medieval paleography and codicology as well. The few surviving copies of Talmudic tractates which predate the era of printing are extremely rare and equally precious. It should be remembered that in the entire world there is only a single extant exemplar of a complete text of the Babylonian Talmud that dates back to the Middle Ages.

In addition to the present copy, the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts in Jerusalem records only seven known exemplars of complete or substantial partial copies of tractate Pesahim which predate the sixteenth century.


The present manuscript contains chapters 1-4 and 10 of the tractate Pesahim of the Babylonian Talmud. The entire Mishnayot of each chapter are copied at the head of each chapter, followed by the Gemara. This content reflects the manuscript tradition, in which the last chapter of the printed edition, chapter 10, is copied after chapter 4. According to some Provencal Rabbinic sources, the tractate was divided into two parts. The first one included chapters 1-4 and 10, and was called Pesah Rishon, while the second one contained chapters 5-9 and was called Pesah Sheni, hence the plural name of the whole tractate, Pesahim. Thus, the existing manuscript presents the first half of the tractate Pesahim. Nevertheless, it may be supposed that the manuscript originally comprised the entire tractate.

Considerable parts are missing in this manuscript, mainly from chapter 10. Taking into account the composition of the quires employed in this codex, and assuming that the manuscript contained only the first part of the tractate, one can calculate accurately the number of the missing leaves. One leaf is missing from chapter 4, between fol. 96 and fol. 97 (corresponds to fol. 55r, line 13 to the last, in the printed edition) and most of chapter 10 is wanting: five leaves are missing between fol. 110 and fol. 111 (correspond to fol. 107r, line 20 - fol. 110v, line 25, in the printed edition), six leaves between fol. 111 and fol. 112 (fol. 111r, line 21 - fol. 113v, line 1, in the printed edition), and about 22 leaves at the end of the manuscript (fol. 113v, line 40 - fol. 121v, in the printed edition).

These missing leaves comprise an outer sheet of the seventh quire (a leaf between fol. 96 and fol. 97, and the corresponding leaf after fol. 110), four outer sheets of the eighth quire (four leaves preceding fol. 111 and four corresponding leaves following fol. r r2 )  three inner  sheets of the eighth quire (six leaves between fol. 111 and fol. 112) and one complete quire, which was probably composed of nine sheets (18 leaves), at the end of the codex, provided the manuscript contained only the first part of the tractate.1

The manuscript is written on watermarked paper in Sephardic types of script. The Talmudic text is written in a semi­ cursive, so-called mashait script,2 while the Mishna, copied at the head of each chapter, and the Pisqa'ot, the beginning of the Mishnayot quoted in the Talmudic discussions, are copied in square script. Such types of handwriting were employed in the late Middle Ages not only in the Iberian peninsula, but also in Provence (including Languedoc) and North Africa. However, the manuscript was most likely produced in Provence. The Provencal provenance of the manuscript is attested to by at least part of the marginal notes and glosses, which are written in a Provencal cursive handwriting, and by the water marks of the paper used.

The identification of the watermarks seen in the paper sheets forms also the main basis for the dating of the manuscript. There are two kinds of watermarks in the codex. One appears in the first six gatherings (fols. 1-96), the other one is found in sheets of the rest of the manuscript (fols. 97-112). Both kinds belong to the scissors family or motif of watermarks. The first watermark is similar to the type listed as number 3754 in the corpus of Briquet,3 while the second one is undoubtedly identical to the type recorded by Briquet in number 3770.4

While the first type was found by Briquet in documents from Provence (Perpignan and Arles) and Sicily (Palermo and Ca­tania), dated  between  1456 and 1467, the second type was found only in one single document from Montpellier (Provence), dated 1447-1452. Thus, we can date our manuscript in the middle of the fifteenth century, around 1447-1452, and we may localize it in Provence.

The paper sheets of the codex are glossy. The glossiness appears as strips in various directions. These trips are probably traces left by burnishing the paper with smooth stones, as practiced in Spain (including Provence) and North Africa.5

The quires of the codex are composed of eight sheets (16 leaves) in each gathering.6 The first six quires (fols. 1-96) are complete. The outer sheet of the seventh quire (fols. 97-110) is missing. Only one single sheet was left from the eighth quire (fols. 111- 112) - the fifth sheet of the eight sheets which comprised the gathering. If the original codex did not have additional text apart from the first part of the tractate Pesahim, it would seem that the last missing quire was composed of nine sheets (18 leaves), according to our calculation.

Catchwords, ensuring  the right order of the leaves, are placed at the bottom of the leaves; most of them are decorated simply by strokes or dots. The manuscript was ruled by hard point, leaf, on the recto side.7

Devices employed in producing even left margins include filling out short lines by graphic fillers,8  preventing the margin from being exceeded by using cursive shapes of certain letters (like He and Tav) and ligatures,9 and placing exceeding letters above the end of the line.10

A detailed codicologic and paleographic examination of the manuscript reveals striking differences between two parts, so much so that one is easily tempted to conclude that it was indeed copied by two scribes. One notices in the tenth leaf of the sixth quire (fol. 90v), a change in the colour of the ink accompanied by a change of the nuance of the handwriting, which seems to be caused by a change of the reed calamus.

These changes coincide with some other codicologic and scribal features. The most obvious one is the decoration of the catchwords. In fols. 1v-89v, catchwords are usually decorated by strokes, while in fols. 90v-112v, all the decorated catch­words are drawn by dots. These changes are followed by a shift in the ruling technique and form. In the first go leaves, 22-24 horizontal lines were ruled, while only 20 lines were written, hence 2-4 ruled lines were left unwritten at the bot­tom of each page. The ruling in this part of the manuscript is wide and easily visible. From fol. 91 onward, the ruling is hardly distinguishable, and no ruled lines are left at the bottom of the pages. To the end of the sixth quire (fol. 96), 20 lines are ruled and written - so as not to distort the homogeneity of the quire - while in the rest of the manuscript, the seventh quire (fols. 97-110) and the single sheet left from the eighth quire (fols. 111-112), 21 lines were ruled and written. In addition, there is a striking difference between the paper employed in the first six quires and the one used in the rest of the codex, as is clearly demonstrated by the watermarks.

Considering these facts, one is undoubtedly justified in attempting to conclude that fols. 1v-90r were copied by one scribe, while fol. 90v to the end of the manuscript was written by another one. The assumed second scribe started to copy on the verso of a leaf already ruled and in a quire already prepared by the first scribe, thus he introduced his own technique and form of ruling on fol. 91, while he changed  the number of the written line in the first quire prepared by him, in which he was also able to use his own paper.

Nevertheless, it seems that despite all these technical and graphic changes, one single scribe copied the entire manuscript.  Similar changes of the variant of the script, which should be ascribed to a change of the calamus, can be noticed a few times before fol. 90v, and the regular variant of the script is also to be found after fol. 90v. The decoration of the catchwords by dots occurred once in the first part (fol. 34v), and the same form is used for singling out words other than catchwords. All other scribal characters are shared by the two parts and appear along the entire manuscript. They include the extraordinary and unknown practice of vocalizing initials, the devices employed in producing even left margins, and the form of the tetragrammaton.

It does seem, therefore,  that  the entire  manuscript was copied by one single scribe, who had stopped his writing on fol. 90r, and resumed it after some lapse of time. Such a recess may well explain the technical and the graphic changes.

The marginalia added to the manuscript is quite considerable. Most of the marginal notes should be ascribed to the scribe himself. He proof-read  his copy, corrected it, added variae lectiones, deciphered initials (e.g. fols. 2v, 58v), using his square script and his semi-cursive one, in accordance to the type of script employed in the related  text. In addition, the copyist added sometimes in the margins notes and commentaries in cursive script. That these notes in cursive script were written  by the scribe, is proved by those ones in which he explicitly stated "I the scribe say" (fol. 100v),11 "so it seems to me, I the scribe" (fol. 111r, note written in the right margin; fol. 112r, note written in the left margin). We can rightly conclude that the scribe copied the manuscript for his own personal use, and that  he was a learned man, who had been studying manuscript, compared the text with other copies, and added his notes after the completion of the copying. Of the rest of the marginalia, a crude cursive Provencal is singled out, for example in the margins of fols. I2V, 25v, 28r, and the scribbling of texts not related to the tractate and written in a late Sephardic cursive hand in the margin of fol. 90v, and fol. 91r (where this hand recopied a few words of the Talmudic text).

The history of this manuscript is unknown. Apart from its vicissitudes reflected by the marginalia, there are indications of some of its owners: on fol. 1r, Isaac Hak[im?] Dayyan signed his name; on fol. 81r, the name of Abraham Farag is written, and on fol. 95v - Ezra and Saul and Abraham; both inscriptions were written in red ink and by the same late Sephardic hand. The names in the second inscription had been followed by another word, presumably Farag, which was rubbed out. These Ezra, Saul and Abraham Farag must have been  brothers, who shared the manuscript.


1·  At the head and at the end of each quire, placed in the middle of the lower margins, signatures in Hebrew letters were added by a later hand. The first quire is numbered 22, thus implying that the present copy was preceded by twenty-one quires, which may have contained another tractate of the Talmud, or some other text. There is no reason to reject the possibility that some time in the past our copy was indeed bound with another manuscript, or another copy written by the same scribe. To the end of the manuscript is attached a single faded written leaf (fol. II 3). This leaf has neither codicologic nor textual connection with the codex. It is made of completely different paper, its size is smaller than the size of the leaves of the manuscript, it is written in a different Sephardic square script, and it is foliated  by a later hand in Hebrew letters. The faded text copied in it is Maimonides' Mishne Tora, Book of Zemannim, Hilkhot Hamez u-Maza, end of chapter 3 -beginning of chapter 4 (I am indebted to Dr. E. Kupfer of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts at the Jewish National and University Library for the identification of the faded text). On the verso of this faded leaf one can notice the stamped reflection of another text. Prof. Rosenthal has identified this text as the beginning of Ms. Sassoon 593 (responsa by Rav Sherira Gaon, published by S. Asaf, Ginzei Qjdem, v, I934, pp. 108 ff.). This manuscript, which was probably not bound, as was also the case with our present manuscript, had  naturally been shelved side by side with it, thus causing the ink to imprint itself on the adjoining leaf.

2. The term was first coined by Birnbaum, following Medieval sources. See S. A. Birnbaum, The Hebrew scripts, I, 1971, cols. 189-190.                   '

3.  C. M. Briquet, Les filigranes; dictionnaire historique des marques du papier des leur apparition vers 1282 Jusqu'en 1600, (a facsimile of the I907 edition with supplementary material edited by A. Stevenson), Amsterdam I968. Type No. 3754 is a unique type among the scissors family. Our watermark is somewhat bigger than the watermark traced by Briquet, and may be identical with the var. ident. listed by Briquet.

4.  In comparison to the watermark in our manuscript, the one reproduced by Briquet seems to be deformed. In addition, Briquet traced a chainline crossing the watermark, whereas no such chain line can be seen in our manuscript.

5·  See M. Glatzer, "D'apres des manuscrits hebreux, la stade finale de la fabrication du papier", La pateographie hebrai'que midievale (Colloques internationau xdu Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 547), Paris I974, pp. 5I-53; M. Beit-Arie, Hebrew codicology; tentative typology of technical practices employed in Hebrew dated Medieval manuscripts, Paris I977, pp. 36-37.

6.  Such  a composition was quite common in Sephardic paper manuscripts, though quires of six sheets were more frequent. See Hebrew codicology, p. 49·

7. This was the usual technique employed in Sephardic paper manuscripts; see Hebrew codicology, p. 85.

8. ibid, p. 88

9. ibid, p. 89

10.  ibid, pp. 102-103

11.  First noticed by Prof. Rosenthal.

Adapted from Malachi Beit Arié's essay: "Paleographic Description of the Manuscript" in The Pesahim Codex, Babylonian Talmud: the facsimile of the ca. 1447-1452 Provence [?] manuscript. (Verona: Valmadonna Trust Library, 1984).