Auction Closed

December 17, 05:06 PM GMT


100,000 - 200,000 USD

Lot Details



262 folios (7 7/8 x 5 1/2 in.; 200 x 137 mm) (foliation: 1-34a, 34b-163, 165-219, 221-263) (collation indeterminate) on paper (ff. 14r-v, 28v-29v, 32v-33v, 36r-v, 63v, 68r-v, 78r-v, 91v-93v, 111v-112v, 127r-v, 148v, 154r-v, 156v, 165r-v, 167r-v, 175v, 176v-177v, 189r-v, 211v, 262v blank); early foliation in pen in Hebrew characters in upper-outer corners of recto (except ff. 1-10, which are foliated in pencil in Arabic numerals); written in Baghdadi square (prayer texts) and semi-cursive (instructions and commentary) scripts in black ink; generally eighteen lines of prayer texts per page (number of lines of commentary varies); ruled in blind (prickings visible on, e.g., ff. 131, 211-213); justification of lines via dilation or contraction of final letters, abbreviation, and hyphenation; occasional headers; catchwords at foot of most pages (though not as much at head of manuscript); intermittent vocalization and corrections; some text circled on ff. 160r, 248r, 255r, 262r. Enlarged incipits; numerous prayers laid out decoratively (see, e.g., ff. 51r-52r for the Song of the Sea); floral ornaments on f. 37r; unfinished menorah illustration on f. 37v; some letters embellished with tagin on ff. 224v, 232r. Slight scattered staining, dampstaining, and smudging; ink biting; some ink chipped or worn; periodic dogearing; short tears in lower edges of ff. 5, 210 and in upper-outer corner of f. 145; f. 137 loose and worn at upper and lower edges; nick at foot of f. 213; lower-outer corner of f. 223 and upper-outer corner of f. 262 lacking; ff. 235-237 were stuck together and subsequently pulled apart, causing damage to parts of ff. 235, 237, which are now glued to 236, obscuring its text; small holes and puncture on f. 238, affecting several few words. Nineteenth-century red Morocco, tooled in blind, worn around edges, and stained; paper ticket with shelf mark on spine; wear to spine, especially headband and tailband; some paper edges speckled blue; nineteenth-century marbled paper flyleaves and pastedowns.

A daily prayer book owned by the great Rabbi Joseph Hayyim of Baghdad, author of Sefer ben ish hai, with his manuscript notes.

Rabbi Joseph Hayyim of Baghdad (ca. 1834-1909) was one of the most prominent halakhic authorities and kabbalists of Iraqi Jewry in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Born into a rabbinic family, he was selected to succeed his father as de facto spiritual leader of the Jews of Baghdad in 1859, a post he held for half a century until his death. In addition to serving as the community’s primary halakhic decisor, he delivered daily lectures and weekly sermons to its members, often attracting large crowds. Despite his substantial educational and pastoral duties, however, R. Joseph Hayyim never took a salary, relying instead on his four brothers for financial support. His prodigious knowledge, charisma, piety, and literary output earned R. Joseph Hayyim esteem and accolades far and wide, making him the subject of legends and folktales told down to the present day. In the words of one of his admirers, “His place in the lives and hearts of Sephardim throughout the world is analogous to that of the Vilna Gaon or the Ba’al Shem Tov in the hearts of the Ashkenazic Jews – and the number of his followers is continually growing.”

Perhaps R. Joseph Hayyim’s most famous work is Sefer ben ish hai, first published in Jerusalem in 1898. Like several of R. Joseph Hayyim’s other books, it takes its name from a phrase in II Sam. 23:20, which describes Benaiah ben Jehoiada, the chief of King Solomon’s army, in dominating terms. (R. Joseph Hayyim perceived that his soul was connected to that of Benaiah ben Jehoiada while praying and meditating at his grave during his only visit to the Holy Land in 1869.) Arranged according to two cycles of the weekly Torah portion, the volume combines two genres for which its author was particularly well known: homiletics and halakhah. Each section begins with an exposition of an idea from the Torah portion, which then introduces a series of halakhot related to that idea.

Having grown up in a home and cultural milieu suffused with Kabbalah and having become, according to Gershom Scholem, “the preeminent kabbalist of Baghdad,” R. Joseph Hayyim naturally incorporated Jewish mystical teachings into much of his literary work. His liturgical poetry, sermons, biblical commentaries, and even halakhic rulings betray pervasive kabbalistic influence, with figures like Rabbis Isaac Luria Ashkenazi, Hayyim and Samuel Vital, Shalom Sharabi, and others frequently quoted, especially in the context of prayer and its associated rituals and intentions. His publications, particularly the tikkunim (mystical rites) that he compiled, played an important role in simplifying and popularizing kabbalistic concepts and practices among the masses throughout the Middle East.

The present lot, a Baghdadi siddur containing the prayers for much of the liturgical year accompanied by an anthologized kabbalistic commentary, is distinguished not only by the high quality of its penmanship and its excellent state of preservation but by the presence on several folios of notes and prayers in the hand of none other than R. Joseph Hayyim of Baghdad! These texts, which appear yet to have been published, focus mainly on the liturgy of the High Holidays and Sukkot, including a discussion of the process of nesirah (separation and reconfiguration of the Sefirot) that takes place during this period. Sources cited include the Sefer emet le-ya‘akov (Livorno, 1843-1844) of Rabbi Jacob Shealtiel Ninio, the Sefer zimrat ha-arets (Jerusalem, 1892) of Rabbi Abigdor Azriel, as well as the works of Luria Ashkenazi. It would seem, then, that these handwritten notes were added by R. Joseph Hayyim sometime in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

R. Joseph Hayyim wrote on several occasions that he was not able to print significant parts of his oeuvre due to financial constraints. Indeed, though over a century has passed since his demise, many works remain in manuscript, scattered in collections in Israel, America, and elsewhere. The present prayer book not only bears the distinction of having been used by the Ben ish hai himself but also contains a treasure trove of his unpublished reflections on the liturgy of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar. While any original handwritten material from R. Joseph Hayyim is considered by many to be imbued with an ineluctable level of sanctity that serves as a source of both metaphysical protection and blessing, how much more so would this be true of the comments in the present siddur, which, if printed, would surely bring great merit to all those involved!

Sotheby’s is grateful to Shalom Hillel for providing information that aided in the cataloging of this manuscript.


Gifted by Rachel, wife of Moise Abraham Sassoon, to Solomon David Sassoon, July 1958 (annexed documentation), and assigned shelf mark 1279


Michael Gross, “Ha-reah ha-tov bein morav le-talmidav: mekomo shel ha-rav yosef hayyim be-shoshelet ha-kabbalah ha-bagdadit,” in Avishai Bar-Osher (ed.), Ha-reah ha-tov: rabban shel kol benei ha-golah ge’on yisra’el rabbi yosef hayyim zetsuk”l (Jerusalem: Avishai Bar-Osher, 2009), 263-276.

Moshe Hallamish, “Yahaso shel r. yosef hayyim la-rashash,” Masorah le-yosef 6 (2009): 438-440.

Yaakov Moshe Hillel, Ben ish hai: toledotav, korot yamav u-morashto le-dorot shel rabbeinu ha-gadol … yosef hayyim (Jerusalem: Shalom LaAm Center, 2011), 409.

Yaakov Moshe Hillel, The Ben Ish Hai: The Life and Legacy of Rabbi Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad (Jerusalem: Kehillot Yisrael Institute, 2018), 384-388.

Jonatan Meir, “Toward the Popularization of Kabbalah: R. Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad and the Kabbalists of Jerusalem,” Modern Judaism 33,2 (2013): 148-172.

Nehama Consuelo Nahmoud, Parables from Bagdad (Brooklyn: Lightbooks, 1981), 9.

Shaul Regev, “Hanhagot u-minhagim she-hiddesh ha-rav yosef hayyim (ben ish hai) be-bavel – bein halakhah le-kabbalah,” in Avi Elqayam and Haviva Pedaya (eds.), Hallamish le-ma‘yeno mayim: mehkarim be-kabbalah, halakhah, minhag ve-hagut muggashim li-prof. moshe hallamish (Jerusalem: Carmel, 2016), 516-541.

David Solomon Sassoon, A History of the Jews in Baghdad (Letchworth: Solomon David Sassoon, 1949), 149-156.

Mosheh Sofer, Ari mi-bavel: pirkei hod mi-massekhet hayyav ha-mufle’ah shel ha-ga’on ha-gadol maran rabbeinu yosef hayyim ztsuk”l (Jerusalem: Yerid ha-Sefarim, 2010), 174.