The Halpern Judaica Collection: Tradition and Treasure | Part I

The Halpern Judaica Collection: Tradition and Treasure | Part I

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 30. A Russian Carved Wood Presentation Torah Ark for Baron von Günzburg, signed Meir Moebel, Vilna (now Lithuania), dated 1903.

A Russian Carved Wood Presentation Torah Ark for Baron von Günzburg, signed Meir Moebel, Vilna (now Lithuania), dated 1903

Auction Closed

December 15, 09:26 PM GMT


30,000 - 50,000 USD

Lot Details


A Russian Carved Wood Presentation Torah Ark for Baron von Günzburg, signed Meir Moebel, Vilna (now Lithuania), dated 1903

elaborately carved with the Tablets within a Star of David formed of roses, enclosed in thorns, with Hebrew presentation inscription and the blessing Moses gave Naphtali, enclosed within a border of knotted fringe, plain sides and interior, signed on the inner edge

Height 23 in. by width 17 in. (58.2 by 43 cm)

Anon., “Dos yubileum fun dem baron gintsburg,” Der fraynd (February 9, 1903): 2.

Anon., “Hag ha-yovel le-ha-baron naftali herts gintsburg,” Ha-melits (February 9-10, 1903): 1-2.

Anon., “Mikhtavim mi-peterburg (yovel ha-baron gintsburg),” Ha-tsefirah (February 12, 1903): 2-3.

Anon., Heshbon va‘ad ha-hevrah li-temikhat benei yisra’el ovedei adamah u-ba‘alei melakhah be-surya u-ba-arets ha-kedoshah (Odessa: Abba Dukhno, 1905), 43.

Anon., “Reb me’ir moebel a”h,” Der morgn zhurnal (January 6, 1913): 8.

Around the edge of the front: “A token of thanks and blessing in honor of God’s chosen one, the noble Naphtali Herz Baron Gintsburg, from the Jewish community in the city of Vilna, those who esteem and revere his name, on Sunday, 11 Shevat [5]663 [February 8, 1903].”

In the center, above the image of a deer: “May Naphtali be sated with favor and full of the Lord’s blessing” (see Deut. 33:23).

In the tablets below: “And the knowledgeable will be radiant like the bright expanse of sky, and those who lead the many to righteousness will be like the stars forever and ever” (Dan. 12:3).

Repeated on all four sides, between images of the Tablets of the Law, the Star of David, and the menorah, bisected by tsitsit strings: “That you and your children may endure” (Deut. 11:21).

On the inner edge: “The woodcarver Meir Moebel, Vilna.”

Baron Goratsii Osipovich Gintsburg (Horace Naphtali Herz von Günzburg; 1833-1909), born in Kiev, was a prominent Russian banker, businessman, philanthropist, patron, and activist. He was a member of the state council, a councilor for St. Petersburg until 1892, and managed the affairs of Grand Duke Ludwig III von Hesse and bei Rhine, who ennobled him in 1870.

Like his father Baron Evzel’ Gavriilovich Gintsburg (1812-1878), who founded the family bank, the younger Gintsburg led the Jewish community of Saint Petersburg and supported virtually every major Jewish charity in the Russian Empire. He was also heavily involved in advocating on behalf of the rights of Jews and in their defense against antisemitic policies. In 1863, the elder Gintsburg founded the Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia (OPE), an educational and civic association devoted to the acculturation of Jews in the Pale of Settlement. Goratsii was a charter member of the society and became its president following his father’s death. 

In 1903, celebrations were held in the United States and Europe to mark Goratsii’s fortieth year of involvement in the OPE and his seventieth birthday. In Saint Petersburg, the festivities began on the Sabbath, January 25, 1903 (February 7 on the Gregorian calendar), with a special service held in the choral synagogue, the construction of which had largely been funded by the Gintsburg family. The following day, January 26 (February 8), a ceremony was organized at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, at which numerous officials and dignitaries spoke. Many Jewish communities sent delegates to deliver their blessings and well-wishes to the honoree, including the Jewish community of Vilna, then part of the Russian Empire. It appears that the present miniature Torah ark was presented to Gintsburg on this occasion.

The verse invoking Naphtali is an obvious nod to the honoree’s Hebrew name, Naphtali Herz, as is the image of a deer, the symbol of that tribe, which also appeared on Gintsburg’s coat of arms. The verse from Daniel, with its reference to the knowledgeable (maskilim), pays tribute to Gintsburg’s yearslong leadership of the OPE, known in Hebrew as the Hevrat Marbei (or Mefitsei) Haskalah. And the verse bisected by tsitsit strings, part of the Shema prayer, constitutes a blessing to the honoree and his descendants for long life.

In 1901, Vilna was home to some 76,000 Jews, about half of the total population of the city. It was also known for its woodcraft; a museum of its wooden urban architecture opened in May 2022. The woodcarver, Meir Moebel (the surname means “furniture” in German and Yiddish), was active in Vilna until at least 1904, when he is recorded as having donated three rubles to a charitable society that supported Jewish handicraft and agriculture in Syria and Palestine. When he passed away in 1913, a notice in the American Yiddish daily Morgn zhurnal invited “friends, acquaintances, and countrymen from Vilna” to attend his funeral procession, beginning at his last residence at 352 Wallabout Street in Brooklyn, New York.