View full screen - View 1 of Lot 56. TAJ (YEMENITE PENTATEUCH), [YEMEN: 16TH CENTURY].



30,000 - 50,000 USD




30,000 - 50,000 USD

Lot sold:




2 volumes: Vol. 1 (Genesis and Exodus): 312 pages (10 3/8 x 7 1/2 in.; 265 x 190 mm) (original collation: i9 [i1 lacking], ii-viii10, ix9 [ix3 lacking], x-xv10, xvi8) on Yemenite (unmarked) paper; Vol. 2 (Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy): 364 pages (9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in.; 242 x 190 mm) (original collation: i9 [i1 lacking], ii-v10, vi9 [vi5 lacking], vii-xviii10, xix4 [original xix4-6 lacking but later replaced with xix4]) on Yemenite (unmarked) paper; modern pagination in pencil in Arabic numerals in lower margins at center; first and last folios of each quire signed in ink at head and foot, respectively, of recto and verso, respectively (some signatures cropped, especially in Vol. 2); written in elegant Yemenite square (text body) and semi-cursive (Masorah) scripts in black ink (1:163, 2:108-109, 242 blank); single-column text of sixteen lines per page, except in the cases of the two Pentateuchal songs and 2:38, 202, 363-364; ruled with a mastara (ruling board); justification of lines via dilation or contraction of letters (see esp. 2:176, 325), slanted inscription of final words (producing a “carpet fringes” effect; see, e.g., 1:33, 35, 94, 2:22, 240), insertion of space fillers (see, e.g., 1:9, 2:114), and use of anticipatory letters (see, e.g., 1:120, 156-157, 161, 170, 173-174, 185, 251, 264, 282, 294, 298, 2:23, 75, 99); complete Tiberian vocalization and accentuation of biblical text throughout (with occasional, typically-Yemenite confusion of pattah and segol vowels), except on 2:138-142; Masorah magna and Masorah parva written in micrography in margins, except on 2:363-364; Tetragrammaton represented via three yods in the Masorah; corrections added in margins intermittently throughout (see, e.g., 1:4, 19, 36, 68, 88, 133, 176, 182, 280, 2:125, 131, 154, 226); last line of 1:280 repeated at the top of 1:281; pen trials on 1:1, 235, 237, 260, 2:194. One ornamental section divider each at the end of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers (1:311, 2:107, 243) featuring the rubricated words of an Aramaic mnemonic for the names of the parashiyyot, surrounded by rubricated geometric frames; new parashiyyot generally indicated via decorated, rubricated marginal pe or samekh and accompanied by a verse tally and mnemonic for the previous parashah (though see 1:152); later parashah headers on many rectos and some versos in Vol. 1 but very infrequently in Vol. 2; enlarged rubricated Hebrew letters (bet through zayin) generally used to mark the start of new aliyyot; rubricated decorative devices used to mark the start of some festival lections and the end of Genesis and Leviticus (1:55, 162, 201, 225, 237, 278, 2:82, 106, 146, 302); decorated, rubricated marginal Masorah markers used at some biblical halfway points (see 1:81, 238, 2:24, 33, 55); books generally end with masoretic notes on the number of verses and paragraph breaks they contain (1:162, 309, 2:106, 241); Masorah magna inscribed in various geometric patterns in upper and lower margins, sometimes with an extra decorative flourish; Arabic tha used to mark the end of many masoretic notes; where a full-line paragraph break occurs in the first or last lines of a page, a pe (standing for petuhah [open]) and/or three dots are written on that line to indicate that it has been intentionally left blank (see, e.g., 1:123, 181, 2:102; though see 2:352); the Song of the Sea (1:212-214) and the Song of Moses (2:356-360) are either (in the second case) written in two mini-columns with a space in between or (in the first case) made to look like brickwork; rubricated decorative panel at the bottom of 1:309, marking the end of Exodus. Lacking ornamental section dividers for Genesis and Deuteronomy, as well as final two leaves of Deuteronomy (supplied by a later hand as 2:363-364); scattered staining (more intense on 1:67-68), smudging, and thumbing; ink episodically deteriorating; periodic worming, mostly marginal and not affecting text (though see 1:291-308, 2:77-140, 153-162, 191-202, 341-364); outer edges of Vol. 1 frayed and torn in places, usually without loss; outer edges of Vol. 2 cropped; corners of Vol. 1 rounded; 1:1-2, 63-64, 139-140, 218-218, 253-258, 2:355-356, 363-364 remargined without loss; 1:307-310, 2:1-2 remargined with some loss of Masorah; 1:3-4, 59-62, 2:83-84, 317-318 reinforced along gutters; parts of outer margins of 1:13-14 lacking, without loss; tear causing minor loss on 1:29-30; minor repairs on 1:59-60, 186, 273-274, 2:2-3, 91-92, 146, 148, 197-198, 241-242, 314, 317; more serious repairs on 2:159-160, 357-362; lower-outer corner of 1:61-62 and upper-outer corner of 1:281-282 lacking, with some loss of Masorah; small holes on 1:69-70, 141-142, affecting individual words; short slits/tears within the text on 1:119-120, 267-268, 2:1-2, 17-18, 135-136, 213-216; longer slits in outer margins of 1:117-118, 191-192, 259-260; small patches on 1:248, 2:117-118, affecting a few letters; 1:311-312 loose and with slight damage to decorative border; 2:359-360 mostly loose; slight damage near upper edge of 2:351-356, with some loss of Masorah. Modern green buckram, slightly worn around edges; shelf marks lettered in gilt on spines; loose paper labels placed below upper boards; modern paper flyleaves and pastedowns.

An elegantly decorated example of Yemenite scribal virtuosity.

Rabbinic law requires that a Torah scroll be written without punctuation, vocalization, or accentuation in order to be considered fit for ritual use in the synagogue. Words are separated by spaces, paragraph divisions break up the flow of the text, and four letters (alefhevav, and yod) are frequently used to mark certain vowels, but even with these devices, the correct pronunciation and parsing of the biblical text into intelligible units is not readily apparent from its appearance in a scroll. Instead, Jews in antiquity relied on inherited reading traditions, passed down orally from one generation to the next, in order to understand the Bible.

In the early Middle Ages, not before the sixth century but also not later than the seventh, systems of committing these reading traditions to writing in biblical codices (not scrolls) developed in Palestine, Babylonia, and eventually specifically in Tiberias (Palestine). The last system, referred to as Tiberian, would, with time, become the standard one used throughout the Jewish world to record the vowels and accents of the Hebrew Scriptures.

In addition, extensive lists containing the details of the consonantal skeleton of the Bible, as well as its proper vocalization and accentuation—collectively known as the Masorah (lit., Tradition)—were drawn up in order to ensure that scribes would copy the text correctly. The tradition of Aaron Ben-Asher (first half of the tenth century), scion of a famous family of Tiberian Masorah scholars, was considered particularly authoritative, especially after Rabbi Moses Maimonides (1138-1204) wrote of his decision to use a Bible edited by Ben-Asher (the famous Aleppo Codex) as the exemplar for a Torah that he himself copied.

While the Jewish community of Yemen, whose roots stretch back to antiquity (and possibly to Second Temple times), had long used the Babylonian (supralinear) system of vocalization and accentuation when transcribing Torah codices, it, too, gradually adopted the Tiberian method, probably under the influence of Maimonides, whom Yemenite Jews revered as a halakhic authority. Because of the high degree of exactitude with which Yemenite biblical manuscripts, known as tijan (sing., taj; Arabic for “crown”), were copied, as well as their adherence to the prescriptions of the Masorah, modern researchers consider these volumes to be valuable witnesses to the Ben-Asher tradition. Indeed, the great Bible scholar Mordechai Breuer saw the fact that the eclectic version of the Bible that he had edited turned out, post facto, to match the tradition reflected in tijan as proof positive of the soundness of the methodology he had employed in making his editorial determinations. The present lot is a manuscript taj comprising the text of almost the entire Pentateuch, with only two original folios from the end of Deuteronomy (33:13b-34:12) and two section divider folios lacking (the former have been replaced with a single leaf inscribed in a nineteenth-century hand).

The main differences between tijan and Hebrew Bibles copied in other parts of the Jewish world concern minute details of the biblical text, its vocalization, and its accentuation. Examples include the use of the plural form va-yihyu (they were), rather than the singular va-yehi, in Gen. 9:29 (see 1:26) and the spelling of the word dakka (crushed) in Deut. 23:2 with a final alef, rather than a he (see 2:323). Another distinctive feature of tijan is their scrupulousness in laying out the biblical text, especially the songs, in consonance with Maimonides’ prescriptions. This means that the last two lines of the Song of the Sea (Ex. 15:1-19; see 1:212-214) each split their text into two blocks separated by an empty space and that the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:1-43; see 2:356-360) is transcribed on sixty-seven, rather than seventy, lines.

In addition to its value as a witness to the Yemenite textual tradition, this taj also boasts extensive rubrication of aliyyah and decorative parashah and Masorah markers, as well as delicately interwoven micrographic Masorah forming geometric patterns. Moreover, three of the biblical books (Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers) are followed by an ornamental section divider with geometric borders enclosing the rubricated text of a popular Yemenite Aramaic mnemonic for all of each book’s parashiyyot. The first volume contains two further distinctively Yemenite features: Rabbi Judah Halevi’s (1075-1141) liturgical poem Yehidah, shahari beit e-l ve-sippav with supralinear vocalization (p. 1), as well as most of the alphabetical acrostic prayer E-l, libbi petah recited by some Yemenite schoolchildren every day before commencing their study sessions (p. 310).

Written in a clear, bold hand, elegantly decorated, and staunchly faithful to the Yemenite biblical manuscript tradition, the present lot truly embodies the superlative coronal meaning of taj as it was originally intended.


“This was my portion from all of my labors: I, the humble Salim ibn Joseph al-Aziri, may his soul be bound up in the Bond of Life. I have donated this object; he who reads it shall rejoice, while he who steals it shall be obliterated—and the nation of God shall dwell in peace” (1:1).

“This was my portion from all of my labors: I, the humble Salim, son of my master, my father Joseph ben Salim al-Aziri, may his soul be bound up in the Bond of Life. I have donated this object, known as the holy taj […] to my synagogue, which God gave me the opportunity to build in the city Asade [?], may the Uppermost prosper it. It shall be called by my name as a source of merit and as a remembrance. He who reads it shall rejoice, while he who steals it shall be obliterated—and the nation of God shall dwell in peace” (2:1).


Mordechai Breuer (ed.), Torah nevi’im ketuvim muggahim al pi ha-nussah ve-ha-masorah shel keter aram tsovah ve-kitvei yad ha-kerovim lo (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1989), 395.

Bat-Zion Eraqi Klorman, Yehudei teiman: historiyyah, hevrah, tarbut, vol. 3 (Raanana: The Open University of Israel, 2008), 282-283.

Moshe Goshen-Gottstein, “Biblical Manuscripts in the United States,” Textus 2 (1962): 28-59.

Moshe Goshen-Gottstein, “The Rise of the Tiberian Bible Text,” in Alexander Altmann (ed.), Biblical and Other Studies (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963), 79-122, at pp. 119-120 n. 133.

Judah Halevi, Shirim, ed. Israel Levin (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University Press, 2007), 154 (no. 68).

Shelomo Morag, “Ha-mikra u-mesirato be-teiman: he‘arot ahadot,” in Shalom Gamaliel, Mishael Massuri Kaspi, and Simeon Avizemer (eds.), Orhot teiman (Jerusalem: Mekhon Shalom le-Shivtei Yeshurun, 1984), 26-35.

David Solomon Sassoon, Ohel Dawid: Descriptive Catalogue of the Hebrew and Samaritan Manuscripts in the Sassoon Library, London, vol. 1 ([Oxford]: Oxford University Press; London: Humphrey Milford, 1932), 24 (nos. 330-331).

David Stern, “On the Term Keter as a Title for Bibles: A Speculation About Its Origins,” in Shmuel Glick, Evelyn M. Cohen, and Angelo M. Piattelli (eds.), Meḥevah le-Menaḥem: Studies in Honor of Menahem Hayyim Schmelzer (Jerusalem: JTS-Schocken Institute for Jewish Research, 2019), *259-*273.

Eli Stern, “Shirei simanim le-parashiyyot ha-torah ve-sifrei ha-nakh: shirah didaktit be-teiman,” Notrikon 25 (2014), available at:

Yosef Tobi, “The Taj in the Yemeni Tradition,” in Aaron Amram (ed.), Keter taj ve-zot ha-torah, 2 vols. (Petah Tikva: Aaron Amram, 2004-2005), 1:11-17 (English section).

Doron Ya‘akov, “Yemen, Pronunciation Traditions,” in Geoffrey Khan, Shmuel Bolokzy, Steven Fassberg, et al. (eds.), Encyclopedia of Hebrew Language and Linguistics, vol. 3 (Leiden: Brill, 2013).

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