June 16, 07:04 PM GMT
700,000 - 1,000,000 USD
A powerful prayer book owned and used by the legendary “defender of Israel.”
Rabbi Levi Isaac of Berdychiv (ca. 1740-1809), one of the luminaries of Hasidic tradition and Jewish folklore, was born into a rabbinic family in Ochakov and educated in Jarosław, where he earned himself the moniker “the prodigy of Jarosław.” After his marriage, he was introduced by Rabbi Samuel Shmelke Horowitz to Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezhirichi, under whose influence he became a devotee of Hasidism. Levi Isaac served as rabbi of several communities, including those of Ryczywół, Żelechów, and Pinsk, before finally, in 1785, taking up the rabbinate of Berdychiv, where he was able to spread Hasidic teaching freely, without the interference of the Mitnaggedim (opponents of Hasidism). Although he apparently did not establish a Hasidic court, he earned great renown on account of his disciples, his highly-acclaimed Sefer kedushat levi (Slavuta, 1798; Zhovkva, 1806; Berdychiv, 1811), and his reputation as saneigoran shel yisra’el, one who always sought in his prayers before God to find points of merit in the Jewish people’s favor.
The present lot is an early siddur printed with the kavvanot (mystical intentions) of Rabbi Isaac Luria Ashkenazi, known as “Siddur Rabbi Asher,” that was passed down in the family of the Berdychiver Rebbe, generation after generation, until it reached Rabbi Hayyim Phinehas Derbaremdiker (1905-1996). The latter was the son of Rabbi Samson Aaron of Buhuşi, son of Rabbi Mattithiah Ezekiel of Negrești-Oaș, son of Rabbi Phinehas of Negrești-Oaș, son of Rabbi Mattithiah Ezekiel of Berdychiv, son of Rabbi Israel of Pików, son of Rabbi Levi Isaac. The book’s pages bear the names of at least two of these rabbis: Rabbi Mattithiah Ezekiel of Berdychiv on the front flyleaf and Rabbi Phinehas of Negrești-Oaș on f. [30r]. According to family tradition, the Berdychiver Rebbe prayed from this siddur during his lifetime, and after his death the first portion (the weekday and Sabbath prayers) was given to his son Reb Dov Berish and the present portion (the holiday prayers) to his other surviving son Rabbi Israel, who also inherited his father’s rabbinate in Berdychiv. Numerous inscriptions within the volume record the requests of petitioners seeking intercession on their behalf, particularly for children, health, and sustenance (banei, hayyei, mezonei).
Rabbi Derbaremdiker owned a number of other items passed down from his illustrious ancestor, including silver utensils, a gartl (belt) used by the Berdychiver on festivals, a piece of cloth taken from his yarmulke, a shofar (ram’s horn) from which he blew one fateful Rosh Hashanah, and a Torah scroll apparently given to him as a gift. Family lore has it that when Rabbi Levi Isaac would be approached about someone who had fallen deathly ill, they would break off a piece from the scroll’s atsei hayyim (wooden rollers), grind it into powder, and mix it into a potion for the patient. The scroll had come into the possession of Hayyim Phinehas before the Holocaust, when he was serving as rabbi of Vashkivtsi, and with the Nazis approaching he made sure to bury it in a secret hiding place. Subsequently, having survived the war years in Transnistria, arrived in the Land of Israel in 1948, and adopted the surname Rahamani (the Hebrew equivalent of Derbaremdiker=“the merciful one”), Rabbi Hayyim Phinehas was appointed head of the Synagogue Division of the Ministry of Religion, in which capacity he was responsible for, among other things, having Torah scrolls coming to Israel from Europe fixed and distributed to houses of worship across the country. In later life, he reflected: “Among one of the shipments from Romania, I identified, to my great delight, the holy Torah scroll that was so close to my heart. The identification was, obviously, made possible by the broken and missing atsei hayyim.”
The present siddur, too, was saved from falling permanently into the wrong hands. After years working at the Ministry of Religion and as rabbi of synagogues in Jaffa and Tel Aviv, Hayyim Phinehas moved to a retirement home in Kiryat Vizhnitz, a neighborhood of Bnei Brak. On the first day of Passover in 1996, Rabbi Derbaremdiker was on his way to synagogue for the morning prayers when he tripped and fell. He was taken to the hospital, where he later passed away, and in the chaos that ensued, robbers broke into his room at the retirement home, turned the place inside-out, and escaped with the Berdychiver’s prayer book. Because Rabbi Hayyim Phinehas died without children, the burial arrangements were made by members of his extended family, who mentioned the theft to Rabbi Joel Tobias of Bnei Brak. Shortly after the funeral, Rabbi Tobias called the family to tell them that the siddur had miraculously been returned and that they should come pick it up!
In his will, dated 27 Nisan 5732 (April 11, 1972), Rabbi Derbaremdiker had provided for the disposition of his assets, including two important books: the Berdychiver’s siddur and a copy of Me’ir nativ signed by his great-great-grandfather Rabbi Mattithiah Ezekiel of Berdychiv. The volumes were to be given, based on the results of a lottery, to descendants of his two sisters: his nephew Samson Aaron Heller and the children of his nephew Mattithiah Ezekiel Rosenberg. In this way, the prayer book came into the possession of the Rosenberg family after Rabbi Hayyim Phinehas’ death.
In 2009, Rabbi Tobias composed a letter confirming the prayer book’s authenticity: “I herein attest that I know with complete certainty that this siddur belonged to the great ga’on Rabbi Hayyim Phinehas Derbaremdiker, may the memory of the righteous be a blessing. According to him, this siddur belonged to his ancestor, saneigoran shel yisra’el, the holy Rabbi Levi Isaac of Berdychiv, may the memory of the holy and righteous be a blessing, and he inherited it from his father, who inherited it from his ancestors […] All of us who had a connection with him in his lifetime know that Rabbi Derbaremdiker, may the memory of the righteous be a blessing, would celebrate, rejoice, and take pride in this important siddur, which was one of the sacred objects that he had inherited from his holy Berdychiver ancestor.”
Indeed, among all the personal effects of this great leader, the siddur stands out as a powerful symbol of the Berdychiver’s eternal love of, and unstinting advocacy for, his people.
1. Rabbi Levi Isaac of Berdychiv (family tradition), to his son
2. Rabbi Israel of Pików (family tradition), to his son
3. Rabbi Mattithiah Ezekiel of Berdychiv (front flyleaf, recto), to his son
4. Rabbi Phinehas of Negrești-Oaș (f. [30r]), to his son
5. Rabbi Mattithiah Ezekiel of Negrești-Oaș (family tradition), to his son
6. Rabbi Samson Aaron of Buhuşi (family tradition), to his son
7. Rabbi Hayyim Phinehas Derbaremdiker (Sefer nahalat pinhas, p. 33), to his sister’s family:
8. Rosenberg family (Ya‘akovi and Malkiel)
Third section of siddur only: 111 of 118 folios (7 x 4 1/8 in.; 177 x 110 mm) (collation: i-xxvii4, xxviii3 [xxviii4, xxix1-4, xxx1-2 lacking]) on paper; no foliation (final 13 pages paginated in modern pencil in Arabic numerals in upper-outer corners); various decorative elements scattered throughout; censor’s stamp in lower margin of f. [1r]; “eye letters” on ff. [86r-88r]. Scattered staining; heavy thumbing; slight dogearing; short, periodic tears in outer edges; minor repairs in outer edges of ff. [1-4, 11, 56, 58]; small puncture in f. ; ff. [105-106] reinforced in gutter; minor repairs in upper and/or lower edges of ff. [105-110]; much more significant repairs on f. , with loss of text. Upper board nineteenth-century leather, warped and extensively worn around edges, with nineteenth-century flyleaf and pastedown; spine and lower board modern leather replacements, with modern paper flyleaves and pastedown; spine in five compartments with raised bands. Housed in a modern quarter-calf brown cloth folding case; red leather lettering piece with title gilt on spine. Accompanied by 7 loose paper leaves (approx. 7 3/4 x 5 3/4 in.; 197 x 147 mm), 6 of which contain Rabbi Derbaremdiker’s handwritten will and 1 of which his handwritten family tree.
Anon., “Living Higher,” Mishpacha 741 (December 26, 2018): 45.
Hayyim Phinehas Derbaremdiker, Sefer nahalat pinhas, ed. Solomon Joseph Ovitz (Tel Aviv: Keren Izzevon ha-Rav, 2001), 9-15, 30-33, [180-181].
Baruch Katz, “Bein berdychiv le-kozienice,” Az nidberu 90 (1990): 36-42, at p. 39.
Yisrael Levanon, Am seridei harev: perakim be-toledot ha-tsiyyonut ha-datit be-romanyah (Jerusalem: Ariel, 1998), 103-104, 211-215.
Meir Malkiel, “Taglit historit: ha-siddur she-sarad bo hitpallel ve-shafa[k]h siah saneigoran shel yisra’el,” Ha-mevasser kehillot 462 (November 20, 2018): 12-15.
Vinograd, Lemberg 1305
Eli Ya‘akovi, “Alilotav ha-mufla’ot shel sefer ha-torah shel ha-berdychiver,” Be-hadrei haredim (June 24, 2014), available at: https://www.bhol.co.il/news/757893 (accessed May 11, 2022).